Presentation on theme: "John Locke: Political Authority and Consent Dr. Cristian Constantinescu Philosophy, Birkbeck"— Presentation transcript:
John Locke: Political Authority and Consent Dr. Cristian Constantinescu Philosophy, Birkbeck
Historical context Cromwell dies 1658, Charles II reinstated Charles brother, James, a Catholic Locke: aide and confidant of the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury (Whigs) Exclusion bill Glorious revolution
Sir Robert Filmer: the Anglican Doctrine Human beings born into a state of physical and legal impotence Therefore, they are the property of a sovereign monarch The monarchs authority derives from that given by God to Adam
Lockes Two Treatises The first treatise: rejection of Filmers political principles The second: an alternative theory of political authority centred on consent Aim: it is lawful for people to resist their King (T II 19) Note: origin of authority - still God But: consent sets a limit
Locke on Political Authority Like Hobbes: social contract Basic idea: it would be rational for individuals living in a state of nature (anarchy) to want to leave this state and form a political organisation If he finds that god has made him & all other men in a state wherein they cannot subsist without society & has given them judgement to discern what is capable of preserving 8c maintaining that society can he but conclude that he is obliged & that god requires him to follow those rules which conduce to the preserving of society. (Lockes Journal, 15 July 1679)
Note: Unlike Hobbes, Locke takes political obligation to originate from God (more like Filmer in this respect) But: Locke seeks to limit the authority of the government, by making it dependent on the consent of the governed
Lockes account of the state of nature: more convivial than Hobbes - not necessarily a bellum omnium contra omnes Examples: savages in America, civilised persons during a civil war, and independent sovereigns at the international level Importantly: even the presence of government is compatible with SN (e.g., foreigners living in a country whose laws they havent consented to, minors under the age of consent, etc.) Lockes state of nature
Lockes SN, cont'd For tis not every compact that puts an end to the state of nature between persons, but only this one of agreeing together mutually to enter into one community, and make one body politic; other promises and compacts, men may make one with another, and yet still be in the state of nature… For truth and keeping of faith belongs to men as men, and not as members of society. (T II14) unlike in Hobbes, agreements and covenants are possible in SN - so there's an element of trust the social contract is a special covenant: it must be made with the explicit purpose of establishing a body politic; and it must be consensual
Lockes SN, cont'd Simmons: A is in the state of nature with respect to B iff A has not voluntarily agreed to join (or is no longer a member of) a legitimate political community of which B is a member.
Locke on consent People can only exit SN by freely consenting to a sovereign government: Men being by nature all free, equal and independent, no one can be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent (II, 95). No government can have a right to obedience from a people who have not freely consented to it. (II, 192) In leaving the SN, people give up two of their rights: (i) their natural executive right, which now goes to one common judge (ii) a portion of the right to self-government, but only as far forth as the preservation of himself and the rest of society shall require (II 129).
Locke on consent, cont'd Reply: very few of us, if any, have ever explicitly given our consent to government. We were not born in SN, nor have we left that SN by establishing a government through express agreement. Typically, we are not given the opportunity to consent or dissent.
Locke on consent, cont'd Response: consent does not need to be explicit - it can be, and most often is, tacit I say that every man that has any possession or enjoyment of any part of the dominions of any government, does thereby give his tacit consent, and is as far forth obliged to obedience to the laws of the government, during such enjoyment, as anyone under it; whether this his possession be of land to him and his heirs forever, or of a lodging only for a week; or whether it be barely travelling freely on the highway; and in effect, it reaches as far as the very being of anyone within the territories of that government (II, 119).
The Marxist critique Locke's excessive emphasis on property as a means of tacit consent implies that people who are devoid of property have no stake in political life Macpherson: "the native with no estate, like the resident foreigner, is simply subject to the jurisdiction of the government". This would imply that all persons are members for the purposes of being ruled, but only those with estate can be full members; only they have the right to rule and the voice about taxation, for only they have a full interest in the preservation of property. The labouring class, being without estate, are subject to, but not full members of, civil society. (The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, Oxford, 1962)
The Humean critique Should it be said that, by living under the dominion of a prince which one might leave, every individual has given a tacit consent to his authority, and promised his obedience; it may be answered, that such an implied consent can only have place where a man imagines that the matter depends on his choice. But where he thinks (as all mankind do who are born under established governments) that by his birth, he owes allegiance to a certain prince or a certain form of government; it would be absurd to infer a consent or choice, which he expressly, in this case, renounces and disclaims. (Hume, Of the Original Contract)
The Humean critique Can we seriously say that a poor peasant or artisan has a free choice to leave his country, when he knows no foreign language or manners, and lives, from day to day, by the small wages he acquires? We may as well assert that a man, by remaining in a vessel, freely consents to the dominion of the master; though he was carried on board while asleep and must leap into the ocean and perish, the moment he leaves her. (Hume, ibid.) Possible reply: distinguish between free and voluntary
One final worry I work as a cleaner in the offices of a multi-national corporation. My task this morning is to clean the windows in the board room. But theres a board meeting in progress. Not to worry: the President, whos a nice man, assures me that I wont be causing any disruption if I do my work silently - this is a routine meeting, and no confidential issues will be discussed. So I get on with my job. At some point, a proposal is made for the wages of the auxiliary personnel (including cleaners like myself) to be raised, and members of the board are invited to vote. Those who consent to our proposal, the President says ceremoniously, should raise their hand. I fall prey to a sudden urge and raise my hand. Some of the board members look bemused, others break into nervous laughter. But no one takes my vote seriously. I have not succeeded in my attempt to vote, i.e. to express consent. Why? Because I lacked the required authority to vote: I wasnt a board member. But that seems to imply that in order for one to be capable of consenting, one must have the authority to do so in the first place. So consent cannot ground political authority, because it presupposes it!