Dueling Twins

Consent

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The 'Dueling Twins'

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Enter the 'HALL' of the Dueling JAMES Twins!

"The only idea they have ever manifested as to what is a government of consent,
 is this --- that it is one to which everybody must consent, or be shot."
(Lysander Spooner)

Point:

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The Consent of the Governed According to Jefferson
 
James Hall, From the Left

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"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among them are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness; that to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..." Declaration of Independence, 1776

When the founding fathers set up that government which derived its powers "from the consent of the governed," they knew exactly what they'd been missing.  As colonists they'd had their taxes and their foreign and domestic policies determined for them by a distant government in which they'd had no representation whatsoever.  People who lived thousands of miles away made decisions for them without their input and without recourse to anything but eventual revolution and separation.

When the founding fathers conceived of the "consent of the governed," they thought of the people as a whole, realizing that not every individual would or could approve of every act of government.  Indeed, it is inconceivable to think of a government acting in such a way that each person in the nation agrees with each decision arrived at by their government.  The reality is that even in a government wonderfully representative of its people, some decisions are made that some people will disagree with.

Was "consent of the governed" created with this problem in mind?  Must government keep every citizen completely happy and in agreement with each law and regulation it promulgates?

Not according to Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson envisioned the "consent of the governed" he wrote about not as individual consent, but as the consent of the people coming together to make their political decisions.  Jefferson wrote "It must be acknowledged that the term 'republic' is of vague application in every language...Were I to assign to this term a precise and definite idea, I would say purely and simply it means a government by its citizens in mass, acting directly and personally according to rules established by the majority; and that every other government is more or less republican in proportion as it has its composition more or less of this ingredient of direct action of the citizens." (To J. Taylor, 1816)

In another letter to F. von Humboldt in 1817, Jefferson called the first principle of republicanism the "majority law," and considered a majority of one to be as binding upon the whole as an unanimous vote.  "This law disregarded, no other remains but that of force, which ends necessarily in military despotism."

For Jefferson this was a simple equation.  A government of minority interests supports its own self-interest and inevitably oppresses the majority.  No government at all--anarchy--leads inevitably to evil forces organizing oppressive regimes.  Only a government by and of the majority has the capability of preserving the individual's rights.

The sacredness of a one-vote majority for Jefferson was based on his understanding of the contentious nature of humanity.  "An association of men who will not quarrel with one another is a thing that never yet existed, from the greatest confederacy of nations down to a town meeting or a vestry." (Letter to J. Taylor, 1798)

What then, of the rights of the minority?  Jefferson was well aware that a majority rule could be oppressive if the equal rights of minorities were violated.  In his first inaugural address, he said, "Bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression." (1801)

But Jefferson relied on a polticially active, fair-minded majority to insist that individual rights of those they disagreed with be respected, if for nothing else, through their own self-interest.  No other mechanism, no government or piece of paper can protect those rights.  Power inevitably leads to corruption, so the power to protect the people's rights must be invested in the people themselves.  It thus becomes each citizen's responsibility to look after his or her own rights and the rights of his neighbors.

But what about an apathetic or ignorant citizenry?  How do we overcome the people not acting in their interests, or acting in a way we think foolish?  Jefferson had an answer to this, too:  "I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.  This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." (Letter to W. Jarvis, 1820)

Perhaps nothing is more important to an understanding of individual self-determination than the phrase, "consent of the governed." Individuals continually confront others with different experiences or prejudices at odd with their own.  In such an environment, a community must make its political decisions according to the will of the majority.  It is that majority which, fairly instituted, constitutes the guarantor of individuals rights and the consent of the governed.

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Rebuttal:

I won't play SARTRE's shell game which makes Jefferson's phrase "consent of the governed" apply to individual states, to counties, to townships, to individuals, or anything but what Jefferson meant it apply to. "Consent of the governed" refers to our nation's people, as Jefferson constantly made plain.  Had it meant anything less, we would have remained a confederation of states, become a collection of balkanized states or the anarchy that SARTRE himself desires so much.

Despite SARTRE's weaseling, the Declaration of Independence is a national document and "consent of the governed" refers to the people as a whole--"the mass of the people" as Jefferson himself stated it.  Jefferson helped create a nation and presided over that national government in 1801--nothing could be plainer.

Jefferson's insistence that a majority of one be accepted as an unanimous vote also made it plain that he would not accept even a near equally divided minority opinion as the nation's choice.  No minority opinion can dictate the nation's policies.  As Jefferson frequently pointed out, the idea that a minority knows better than a majority what policies to promote and what rights to protect is what created the British tyranny to begin with.

Jefferson's 'majority rules' attitude makes it hard for SARTRE to characterize Jefferson in any other way.  The government of the people requires that the will of majority makes policy.  SARTRE can quibble about who votes and who doesn't, but our legal traditions, which go back to English common law, agree that "silence means assent."  The voters of our nation have the opportunity for vote for candidates from many parties, many backgrounds and experiences, and their failure to vote makes them another minority who have made a choice.

The state that SARTRE hates is the people's state.  As Jefferson once wrote to George Washington: "I consider the source of authority with us to be the nation.  Their will, declared through its proper organ, is valid till revoked by their will declared through its proper organ again also." (1792)  Heed the will of the people, SARTRE, or do your best to change it through argument.  But don't declare its exercise illegitimate when it is not.

James Hall, From the Left

Counterpoint:

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What Jefferson Really Meant By Consent

"...Were not this great country already divided into states, that division must be made, that each might do for itself what concerns itself directly, and what it can so much better do than a distant authority. Every state again is divided into counties, each to take care of what lies within its local bounds; each country again into townships or wards, to manage minuter details; and every wad into farms, to be governed each by its individual proprietor." Page 74, from his Autobiography - Thomas Jefferson: Writings - The Library of America, Copyright 1984, ISBN 0-94-450-16-x.

Consent is required for the legitimacy of any government. For Jefferson, the essence of consent originates and lies in each individual unit of jurisdiction. This idea is so basic and irrefutable that even the most maniac Statist must rest their argument on the foundation of the smallest unit. So why do they continually steer the discussion and limit the inquiry to the central government and seek to avoid the smaller components of independent government? The simple answer: if a State is sovereign, their consent must be obtained.

Defenders in the supremacy of the central government wish to shield their argument in a claim that the majority has a rightful authority to decide for the entire country. Even when a government is organized as a republic, they reason that a majority voice elects the representatives. What they ignored is that less than a majority participates within the political process of elections. Consent is not equivalent to any majority. Nor is consent required for every law. Consent is correctly defined as the individual decision by each citizen that the authority of a particular unit of government has earned their allegiance.

Voting is a mere tabulation of who will serve in office. Can one assume that a non voter has implicitly acknowledged their support of a regime by refusing to vote? Any presumption might well consider the opposite . . .

No, consent can only be determined by individual behavior. James wants to argue legitimacy of the majority and measures for minority protections. But this path misses the entire point. Fundamental consent is the essential element that is necessary to establish legitimacy. Laws are obeyed because people agree that they represent a fair and equitable code for conduct. Penalties and sanctions can never compel willful approval. Conduct is based upon agreement and loyalty to a governing body is achieved through a voluntary acceptance.

Since Jefferson is cited to be the authority for this subject, we must appreciate that widespread recognition; through consent, must be built upon each governmental unit. A central government can never destroy the state authority, even if a consensus of a hollow majority votes accordingly. Constitutional limits were defined for the state and federal authority. But consent is required and necessary at each level for the entire whole to be bona fide.

James wants to recognize the central government as the ultimate authority, superior to any separate state. But how can that be if each state is the source of legitimacy within its own borders? Citizens from any state, have direct contact with local authorities everyday, while federal intervention is less frequent. One does not have to suggest that any state must possess all the same powers that a central government exercises to be sovereign in their own. Was it not the will of individual states that formed the federal authority, in the first place?

States have evolved into providing different functions than the federal government. That is not only proper but is the great strength that encourages agreement and support for every component of government. But the Statist must confuse the issue of consent with distinctions that only concern the central authority. They evade the need to secure the permission at each level of organization that more closely represents the will of citizens. The central authority understands all too well that different regions and communities have very distinct interests and viewpoints. So what is their formula for compromise? Voiding the legitimate concerns of local communities with the platitude that the national whole must be served . . . not exactly the optimum reflection of the will of the people!

Jefferson wanted government closest to the people. James wants government by the State for the people. Jefferson favored limited government whenever possible. James wants comprehensive 'collectivism' for the people, decided by the bureaucrat. And Jefferson understood the tyranny of the majority, while James worships the compulsion of conduct under the guise of electoral consent.

The reason that most people have given up on the political process is because they perceive that their wishes are betrayed by the federal politicians and government culture. Consent is no longer a willful act, but has become a resignation and surrender to the inevitable. This is not the vision of Jefferson. "Consent Of The Governed" just rings with a false interpretation of what America represents. The correct mindset is: "Government WITH and BY the Consent of Citizens". Each government unit is beholden to the willful acceptance of responsible citizens. The legitimacy is established by the consent, which seeks trust in the assembled authority and endows permission to govern. Jefferson understood this principle, while James refuses to accept the authority of the people.

James Hall aka SARTRE

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Final Word:

How revealing that James must elude dealing with all the levels of government organization. By dodging that America is a republic form of government, based upon a federalism of shared authority, balance of powers and separate jurisdictions; our lover of central power exposes himself for what he is -  an oppressor of plurality democracy. Jefferson also said: "The concentrating [of powers] in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. It will be no alleviation that these powers will be exercised by a plurality of hands, and not by a single one."  And follows with - "The republic is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind."

The peoples' comrade would have you believe that "silence means assent" when it has been reduced to casting a ballot that offers no real choice. Then we must accept that the single act of registering a meaningless vote constitutes our willful consent! By this tortured logic, why not just hold a referendum and allow 'none of the above' to be elected? Let's just have a plebiscite that asks for your consent of the present central State and be done with the issue? Anyone believe that the Feds would relinquish their power, if the vote went against them?

For James, states' rights means only obedience to democratic tyranny. And we are supposed to accept that this version of 'majority rule' is legitimate? The commissar of the plurality would have you maintain that each of our fifth state are a vassalage of one fiefdom, and you are but a serf to the feudal czar. A sharing of power and a balancing of different and complimentary roles of functions is what made the federalism organization of America different from other countries.

When was consent needed for a Collectivist to inflict their plebeian democracy? Jefferson himself allowed for the concept of state nullification in the 1789 Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions against the alien and sedition laws. This summary from Tolkien v. Power explains why individual consent is paramount. Read the entire account if you dare.

James Hall - 'The Right'


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Political liberty is by some defined, a liberty of doing whatever is not prohibited by law. The definition is erroneous. A tyrant may govern by laws . . . Let it be thus defined; political liberty is the right every man in the state has, to do whatever is not prohibited by laws, TO WHICH HE HAS GIVEN HIS CONSENT. This definition is in unison with the feelings of a free people. (Emphasis per original.)
 
"Essex Result" (Report of Convention of Towns, Essex County, Mass., rejecting first proposed Constitution for Mass., 1778)

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