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john locke
tacit and explicit consent

 
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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 1: Sat Nov 13, 2004 10:02 am  john locke Reply

in one of my classes, we had a discussion on the meanings of john locke's tacit and explicit consent which eventually led to a debate about the responsibility of a citizen before the state. the crux of the question was basically this: "if i elect an official into office and he commits a blunder (e.g. watergate i suppose), who is responsible? am i to be held accountable because without my vote he wouldn't have had the opportunity, or is he the sole bearer of fault?"

if anyone can come up with an absolute answer, that is to say either i am solely responsible or the elected official is, then that would be preferable to a middle of the road approach. thanks.
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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 2: Sat Nov 13, 2004 7:32 pm  Re: john locke Reply

Locke generally believed that the state of nature of humans is that no one person has any power over another. In order to give, receive, or accept that power, there must be some kind of consent from both parties.

Locke specifically referred to the people being governed as giving the implied consent to be governed by not rebelling against it. But we could generalize this to the governors accepting this same consent -- and even extending a different kind of consent to govern in the manner for which they were installed. For example, a king receives implied consent from the kingdom (silence = consent), but also gives implied consent to the kingdom that he will act in the interests of the kingdom. This has not always the case, and revolutions have been known to happen.

Similarly, an elected official in a representative democratic republic that America is, would have both implicit and explicit consent. The difference here is that the consent is not implied with the lack of information (silence does not equal consent). In an election, only those who voted for an individual are exercising their explicit consent, and those who voted against the individual are exercising implicit consent. This is because they actually participated in the election, which itself implies an acceptance of the result, no matter what it may be.

However, it could be argued that the people who did not participate in the election are not giving any type of consent to the individual, but are giving consent to the system by not rebelling against it. In this way, the elected official must be accountable to the three groups: those that give him the permission to govern, those that allow him to govern, and those that allow him to participate in the system. I believe that, according to Locke, this official would not be accountable to those individuals who would seek to remove him from office outside of an election. I don't know this for sure. Come to think of it, I don't know any of this for sure, some less sure than others. I hope you're not using this for a school assignment (which brings up a whole other issue about ethics).

Anyway, by making this argument, I am trying to show that the elected individual is solely responsible for his actions. If we were to program a computer and then have it make decisions for us, that would be our responsibility. But the responsibility of action is with the individual acting.

Through the consent of the governed -- contrasted with the required service of the governed -- the elected individual must operate within the scope of this consent. This means that even if the official used misleading advertising or lied during the campaign in order to get people to vote for him, his actions after the election that run counter to his advertising before the election are solely his responsibility. Similarly, if he does exactly what he says he's going to do, this is also his responsibility. When we vote, we are not only giving consent that the official may govern, we are also voicing our agreement with what the official (says he) wants to accomplish. Remember, the elected official is not an appointed prince nor a chosen savior. He is a representative of the people to the great meeting of other representatives we call government. In this way, he is accountable to us and to the system.
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