Consent Theory

Consent Theory

Consent Theory is derived from John Locke's idea that "all men are created equal." While this is sometimes interpreted to mean that all men are created equally good, or equally able, it actually means that no person has natural authority over any other.There is, however, legitimate authority, but this is certainly not natural, and must be instituted by consent. In the absence of evidence of expressed consent, the State's assumption of authority is derived from an d consent on the part of its citizens, see Theory of Consent from an anarchocapitalistic point of view.

Types of Consent

Actual Consent - Actual Consent is consent that has to be given through a sign. There are two types of actual consent.

:"Expressed Consent" - This is consent that is given through an obvious or intentional sign. For example, a signature or a handshake is expressed consent.

:"Tacit Consent" - Tacit Consent is consent that is inadvertently given through a sign. For example, living in a country and choosing not to move is tacit consent, in that staying is giving authority to the state.

Theory of Consent

In the absence of expressed consent, the State (at least in democracies), assumes that consent has been given by the populace for conventions of convenience, the classic example being that we all stop at red lights. All state legislative and police powers are executed under this premise, despite the parallel supposition of equality of all "subjects" under the law, and the lack of expressed consent on the part of those being policed. This is why it is called the " of " -- because no express consent has been obtained, the Powers That Be work on an assumed premise, which they acknowledge is merely theoretical in nature...

The most obvious question regarding the Theory is simply whether all members, or any given member, can realistically be taken to assent to being governed. But the lack of any practical resolution to that question perhaps succeeds in concealing the greater problem for Those In Authority, which is "governed by whom?". It is a long stretch from "I assent in principle to the idea that we need some common government with agreed and publicised laws", to "I agree to be governed by "you" and whomever you designate appropriate to govern me".

Beyond this question lies a third, even supposing the first two were to be settled expressly with certain designated parties put "at the helm", so to speak, then what occurs when dissatisfaction arises with their rule? Some propose a Right of Rebellion as a way to rescue the validity of the concept of Theory of Consent, ie that we Consent unless we are in Rebellion. Just what should happen to Rebels at times of general Consent is rarely formalised in Constitution, and is not explicitely laid out as part of the Theory of Consent, but examples of consequence can be found in the record of historical events.

A number of proposals exist for resolving the issue of who governs with minimal issue, and several are considered "works in progress" by a large number of adherents. However it is clear at this date to any observer that there are dissenters at all three of the above catching points.


Consent theory is criticized for a number of reasons. For one, after the original administering of consent by the people, subsequent generations are only able to give tacit consent to the government at best. However, in order to give consent, one must be able to not give consent as well. Tacit consent can be restrictive to this latter notion. For example, a person may not want to give consent to their state at all, but cannot move because it is not financially feasible for them.

ee also

* Consent
* Social contract
* John Locke


* [ Theory of Consent - A Philosophy of Natural Order] by Norbert Lennartz (2005)
* Happy Slaves: A Critique of Consent Theory by Don Herzog (1989) ISBN 0-226-32925-9

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