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Do We Really Consent to Be Governed?

• fee.org by Robert Higgs

hat gives some people the right to rule others? At least since John Locke's time, the most common and seemingly compelling answer has been "the consent of the governed."

Political legitimacy presents a multitude of difficulties when we move from the realm of theoretical abstraction to that of practical realization.

When the North American revolutionaries set out to justify their secession from the British Empire, they declared, among other things: "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed." This sounds good, especially if one doesn't think about it very hard or very long, but the harder and longer one thinks about it, the more problematic it becomes.

Political Legitimacy 

One question after another comes to mind. Must every person consent? If not, how many must, and what options do those who do not consent have? What form must the consent take—verbal, written, explicit, implicit?

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