Friday, January 30, 2009

The Argument from Implicit Consent

For my own personal benefit, since I will cover it in teaching in the next few years, here is why the argument from implicit consent fails to account for the legitimacy of a state. Refutation of this argument is important, since it is common for people to say things like, "well, you aren't forced to support the state, or pay this tax, or obey the draft, since you can avoid doing so simply by emigrating. If you choose to live in this country, you implicitly consent to support the state/pay that tax/be subject to the draft."

However, breaking the argument from implicit consent down premise by premise shows that it is logically flawed:

The conclusion of the argument is "therefore state is legitimate." The premises are, as follows,

1: The state has a legitimate claim to the territory it claims sovereignty over.
2: Continued residence within that territory indicates consent to the sovereignty of the state, and its laws.
3: If a state rests on consent it is legitimate.

and so the conclusion: therefore the state is legitimate.

The only trouble is, premise 1 assumes your conclusion, for if the state is not legitimate, it can have no legitimate claim to the territory it holds sovereignty over. So for premise 1 to be true, the conclusion of the argument would have to first be true. But that is what the argument is supposed to show.

If premise 1 is not true, though, then continued residence does not indicate consent.

3 Comments:

Blogger Secede said...

Check out Moral Principles and Political Obligations by A. John Simmons, Princeton University Press, 1979? By far the best and most accessible treatment of this subject. He also has two books on Locke which touch on this and a collection of essays called Justification and Legitimacy which deal with consent theory and political obligation. Simmons is the author who turned me from a political agnostic to an anarchist.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Thanks for the recommendation, but I have the book. Indeed, it is a textbook in the teaching I mentioned. The argument I just gave is not one he mentioned, I think. Another argument may be that implicit consent processes can be framed as threats: A government that says "you consented to pay taxes by continuing to live here when you could have left" is actually framing the demand for taxes as "unless you either give us your money or leave the country, we will do X bad thing to you." Few people would say that if I said "I will shoot you unless you either cut your own arm off, or your fathers arm off," that your decision to cut your father's arm off was thus a voluntary one, just because you chose not to cut your own one off or be shot.

9:32 PM  
Anonymous A student who studies social science said...

Thanks for your interpretation.
I have read similar statement in The Social Contract by Rousseau("When the state is instituted, residence indicates consent; to live in its territory is to acknowledge the authority of its sovereign"). I thought it is strange but i am not able to explain to myself.
Thanks!

9:25 AM  

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