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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Consent

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Tuesday, April 04, 2017 03:44 pm

This is a disturbing article: "Americans no longer believe in the consent of the governed."

Governments derive their just power from "the consent of the governed." That is the fundamental principle of the Declaration of Independence and the foundation on which our republic is built. And it was understood from the beginning that it was a form of corporate consent. We expressed it by voting and by conferring it on our elected representatives. We were not questioned every day about whether we approved or disapproved of specific policies or programs.

The Declaration made much of a distant king imposing taxes without our consent. There was an objecction to a standing army "among us . . . without the consent of our legislatures." 

Of note is that the Americans were not complaining about the level of taxation. A modest tax without consent was objectionable; a high tax with consent was fine. The moral significance of this is difficult to understate if this consent is real: A government with extremely high taxes under the consent theory is no more objectionable than, say, a person having high car payments to pay because that person chose to buy an expensive car.

But, alas,  this belief has changed in the intervening couple of hundred years:

On both left and right, Americans now talk about taxes being forced on them to pay for things for which they disapprove, even though their respective legislatures adopted the taxes. I doubt many Americans today seriously believe that they've consented to most of the laws and taxes that their legislatures adopt. What changed?

For most of our history it has been understood that a government with extremely high taxes under the consent theory is no more objectionable than, say, a person having high car payments to pay because that person chose to buy an expensive car.

But today just about any American complaining about a tax or policy would retort, “But I didn't choose for the government to do that,” and think the point obvious. But that retort, and the sense that it's obvious, is what's new. That's the change.

Clearly we have lost faith in the represntative system. That loss of faith is why many are clamoring for a more direct democracy: We point, our politicians follow. And it might be why some are going the other way, to someone more authoritarian like Donald Trump, as long as we can stay convinced he is on our side.

The question is why, and the article doesn't really get into that.

I'm sure the sheer size and scope of the government is one factor. We can always find things we don't like the government doing. Liberal citizen A might not want his tax money going for the military, and conservative citizen B might not like it funding welfare. But we can usually let that slide because overall we trust that the people in government know what they're doing and that we approve of most of it. But when government is so big and doing so much that members of Congress don't even know what they're voting on, and when over half of it is imposed by bureaucrats with no congressional vote, it becomes impossible for us to understand what government is doing, more and more likely that we have a sense of "this is not what we want."

But I think the attitude of those governing us is a big factor, too. They have become so arrogant, so disdainful of the ability of the great unwashed to take care of themselves, so sure that only they know what is right, that they seem more and more like that distant king who pissed us off so much way back in the beginning.

Our brilliant legislators in the Indiana General Assembly just passed a bill allowing all legislative employees to carry guns at the statehouse. Judges, police officers and members of the Legislature can already carry deadly weapons at work. So guess who are the only ones who still can't take a gun into the Statehouse? Ordinary citizens. When there is a general sense abroad that there is a ruling class treating iself with a special privilege not available to the masses, "consent of the governed" is a thing of the past.

Where do we go from here? Who can say?

We can argue whether there's a way to defend or re-found the Founding-era view. The point here is, whether it can be defended philosophically, as a practical matter, most Americans have already jettisoned belief in the proposition. Americans now almost universally reject one of the most-fundamental claims in their Founding document. Something those early Americans believed in strongly enough to fight and die for. That's a pretty big change. 

Disturbing and depressing.

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