"And what is a good citizen? Simply one who never says, does or thinks anything that is unusual. Schools are maintained in order to bring this uniformity up to the highest possible point. A school is a hopper into which children are heaved while they are still young and tender; therein they are pressed into certain standard shapes and covered from head to heels with official rubber-stamps." ~ H.L. Mencken
Consent and Secession
Column by Paul Bonneau.
Exclusive to STR
Carl Watner wrote an interesting article, back in 2000, concerning an apparent conflict between government by consent, and the difficulty of secession. At first glance, it appears that if government exists through the consent of the people, then secession should be possible and easy. Yet that is not the case today, or ever. How can that be?
For politicians and government, consent theory was loaded with dynamite because it recognized the right of each and every person to choose which government (if any) they wished to adhere to, and allowed that choice to be changed at will. In short, consent theory was the “universal demolisher of all Civil Governments, . . . not the builder of any,” because, as Josiah Tucker wrote in 1781, the principle of secession has no logical stopping place until it has reached the lone individual.
Strangely though, the very people who most often go on about the “consent of the governed” are the politicians themselves. One would think they’d be more inclined to sweep such notions under the rug and to hope people would forget about them.
The answer to this dilemma is simple. When politicians talk about “consent of the governed,” they are crossing their fingers behind their backs. They certainly don’t mean consent of all the governed, each and every one of them--although that is what the phrase seems to imply. What they really mean, but never say out loud, is “consent of the powerful.” So, “consent of the governed” is just euphemism, a bit of propaganda designed to keep dissent tamped down and manageable. That’s probably all it ever was.
Strangely, Watner never quite comes to that fairly obvious conclusion. Instead he gets himself all balled up in discussions about religious notions such as rights.
A majority of those living in the territory defined as New York State have no right to impose their collective will on the minority who do not wish to secede from the United States. The seceders may take their persons and property and remove themselves from the authority of the United States, but they have no right to disrupt the authority of those who accept the United States as their rightful government. Neither do those who accept the United States as their government have the right to impose its jurisdiction over those who do not consent to its authority. Government “by consent” implies the right to not consent, or to withdraw one’s consent at a later date.
What is “collective will” anyway? And rights? Watner seems to take the language of statists at face value. No wonder he is having difficulty.
"To contend that [individual] consent is the moral justification for government is to lay the groundwork for” voluntaryism. (19) There is a large unbridgeable chasm between the idea of consent and political government based on majority rule. For inevitably to contend that government rests on consent is to embark down the slippery slope to secessionism that will eventually lead one to voluntaryism. (20)
Well then, the obvious conclusion is that “consent” is a fanciful notion. There is no groundwork for voluntaryism being laid down here. Those in government don’t have to be consistent or logical. That’s what it means to have power.
Some day in the distant future, when unicorns roam in the parks, the rulers really will concern themselves with the consent of each and every individual. At that point we will be able to merely ask to secede and have it handed to us on a platter, and this apparent contradiction will cease to exist.
I suppose Watner’s audience might be the average Joe, and he is merely pointing out inconsistencies and questioning legitimacy. That’s not a bad idea, but there are limits to how fruitful such an approach may be while using state-approved language, and taking its concepts as a given. Maybe we’ve come a bit farther in understanding since his article was written. To paraphrase Lew Rockwell, just take everything you hear from anyone in government as a lie, and you won’t be far wrong. “Consent of the governed”? Just another lie.