Consent of the Governed
Consent of the Governed is one of five limits on government featured in the KTB Prep American Government and Civics series designed to acquaint users with the origins, concepts, organizations, and policies of the United States government and political system. The goal is greater familiarization with the rights and obligations of citizenship at the local, state, national, and global levels and the history of our nation as a democracy.
Limits on Government
Throughout history, there have been governments that had too much power and
ended up abusing that power. They limited people’s freedom, mistreated people, and even committed mass murders. In some places, that still happens today. Government isn’t evil—but the people who run governments do need to be kept in check so they can’t abuse their power. There are 5 recognized limits on power in Republican governments our Constitution ensures:
- Rule of Law
- Separation of Powers
- Consent of the Governed
- Majority Rule with Minority Rights
Consent of the Governed
The Declaration of Independence says, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” This means a government’s legitimacy and moral right to use state power is only justified and legal when consented to by the people over which that political power is exercised. In fact, the most fundamental concept of democracy is the idea that government exists to secure the rights of the people and must be based on the consent of the governed.
Unanimous consent is when no one present objects to a proposal. This frequently happens in the Senate.
The obligation to obey government depends upon whether the government is such that one ought to consent to it, or whether the people, if placed in a state of nature without government, would agree to said government. This is when consent is rejected.
Overt consent, to be valid, would require voluntariness, a specific act on the part of the consenters, a particular act consented to, and specific agents who perform this action. Overt consent is what is given at the founding of the social contract, when, for example, a constitution is signed by the founders and then is ratified in a free and fair referendum by the people whose law of the land it will become.
Tacit consent holds that if the people live in a country that is not undergoing a rebellion, they have consented to the rule of that country’s government. An example would be if one is born and raised in a society where they have the opportunity to persuade government and does not leave.
Manufactured consent is when coverage of current events are skewed by corporations and the state in order to engineer the consent. The phrase was originally coined by journalist Walter Lippmann in 1922, and was extrapolated upon by Noam Chomsky.
Finally, literal consent holds the logical position that valid consent must, by definition, be both continuous and revocable. This therefore implies that the people have the absolute sovereign power to overrule their government at any time, via popular vote.