UNC-Chapel Hill POLI 271 - Barrett271 (4 pages)

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Barrett271



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Barrett271

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University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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Poli 271 - Modern Political Thought
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PID 730082507 1 360 words William Barrett Locke and Tacit Consent For Locke the idea of consent is absolutely essential foundation of a legitimate political society The Second Treatise of Government Ch 8 part 95 According to Locke The only way whereby any one divests himself of his natural liberty and puts on the bonds of civil society is by agreeing The Second Treatise of Government Ch 8 p g part 95 Yet this theory of the formation of society is problematic because not everyone in society necessarily gives verbal or explicit consent to the government they live under which would delegitimize essentially any large modern government Locke s solution to this massive loophole was to apply the idea of tacit consent The Second Treatise of Government Ch 8 p g part 98 However his theory of tacit consent is an ultimately unsatisfying mechanism for explaining the way individuals join society and their obligations towards it for a variety of reasons Locke explains his idea of tacit consent in the following passage If a man owns or enjoys some part of the land under a given government while that enjoyment lasts he gives his tacit consent to the laws of that government and is obliged to obey them The Second Treatise of Government Ch 8 p g part 119 Locke believes This holds whether the land is the owned property of himself and his heirs for ever or he only lodges on it for a week It holds indeed if he is only traveling freely on the highway and in effect it holds as long as he is merely in the territories of the government in question The Second Treatise of Government Ch 8 p g part 119 His explanation of tacit consent begs an important question however What if you are born or forced into a society where you don t agree with the laws of your nation Locke s simple answer to this question is that if you don t like the laws then go somewhere else The Second Treatise of Government Ch 8 p g part 121 In theory this idea is fine Everyone would simply move to PID 730082507 William Barrett wherever they didn t feel opposed to the laws of the government But when applied to the real world and real societies we see that this idea is highly impractical Take for instance the example a poor farmer who relies on his small farm that he has worked for years for all his sustenance and income If the government were to pass a law that he was fundamentally opposed to Locke would likely tell him simply to find a government that he agreed with or to just set up his own on an uninhabited island The Second Treatise of Government Ch 8 p g part 121 Yet there are often so many barriers preventing people like him from leaving that is hard to say that they have a choice to leave at all In order to leave for just the possibility of a more agreeable government the farmer and his family would essentially have to give up everything there family has ever owned or known They d potentially have to learn a new language undergo the dangers and discomforts of long distance travel and abandon their culture friends and society That is of course if they are even able to afford to travel in the first place These are not just hypothetical barriers These are legitimate obstacles that make relocation extremely difficult even in today s technologically advanced society This is not even considering the fact that such obstacles would disproportionally affect the poor A fundamental idea of consent is that a person must be able to revoke their consent Otherwise they are being forced into obligations against their will an idea directly contradictory to the concept of consent As we can see one crucial reason Locke s idea of tacit consent is unsatisfying is that for many people in society it is not really consent at all Even if they wanted to leave because they no longer respect the government many of them simply don t have the option and are forced to stay by their circumstances How then can it really be fair to say that these people consent to the government If the answer is that they are not actually consenting to the government then governments every PID 730082507 William Barrett where would be delegitimized if they rested solely on Locke s theory of consent as the foundation of political society Proponents of Locke such as John Dunn respond to this idea by criticizing what he sees as the reading into Locke of the modern idea of consent rather than what Locke intended by the idea Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy His argument is essentially that while modern theories require consent to be deliberate and voluntary Locke meant the term in a more ambiguous sense It would be close enough to consent for Locke for people to simply be not unwilling According to Dunn all that is needed for proper consent is voluntary acquiescence Therefore it does not matter that the people might accept their situation only because their circumstances force them to They may not like consenting to the government but the fact that they do not resist is enough to qualify as consent in John Dunn s interpretation of Locke Thereby legitimizing their governments The evidence for this interpretation of consent lies in Locke s explanation of the way we consent to money but John Simmons objects that this ignores the instances where Locke refers to the need for real consent for certain political obligations Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy But here the idea of tacit consent also runs into another objection more logical in nature Locke says that a man gives his tacit consent to a government even if he is only traveling freely on the highway and in effect it holds as long as he is merely in the territories of the government in question The Second Treatise of Government Ch 8 p g part 119 Yet why logically speaking should the simple act of existing in an area mean that you necessarily consent to anything In this theoretically framework a person could be argued to have up many of their own rights without even being aware that they had done so The idea that simply not actively resisting an authority would mean that you have consented to the laws and obligations of that society PID 730082507 William Barrett and therefore the punishments for breaking those laws appears to contradict Locke s own broader theory of consent Locke specifically states that Men all being naturally free equal and independent no one can be deprived of this freedom etc and subjected to the political power of someone else without his own consent The Second Treatise of Government Ch 8 p g part 95 However under


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