“If you consent to being governed, is that a form of governing?”
Irami: If you consent to being kissed, is that a form of kissing?
The attraction of consent for liberals is that they don’t have to engage in the activity with the other person in mind, in order to do the activity. When I consent to be kissed, I’m not agreeing to DO anything, and if I don’t have to do anything, I don’t have to think about the other person as I’m doing it. I don’t have have to be responsible for doing it badly, well, or thoughtfully. If just about my consent, it’s all about me without any responsibility to anyone else. A liberal paradise.
The question about governing pops up in political philosophy because for Locke — and a great many Americans — government itself isn’t an institution of freedom; rather, government exists to secure pre-political freedoms. The heart of Lockean freedom is the capacity to do what you want with what you make. That’s right: property. The need for government emerges out of the way people have disputes over property and what counts as mine or thine, and so you need a civil government to settle those disputes.
Within Locke’s civil government, the community can agree to be governed by a monarch, an oligarch, or in a democracy. This ceding of governing to others isn’t a problem because however the community is governed, the government’s only real concern is to secure pre-political rights to property and personhood, and personhood is just another form of property right for Locke because we are God’s property. Locke’s argument against slavery runs that if you make it, it’s yours, but since we didn’t make ourselves, God did, we are God’s, so we can’t abuse ourselves as if we owned ourselves.
But what’s interesting is that since the government itself isn’t an institution of freedom, merely a public order to secure pre-political freedom, it’s perfectly appropriate to just cede the burden of governing to someone else.
Here are two concerns, both of which are relevant to our contemporary political confusions:
- The obvious one is that there seems to be something dubiously passive in allowing someone else to govern, and calling that single choice and everything that follows out of that, self-governance. It’s kind of like going to a restaurant and calling it cooking because you picked the restaurant. You aren’t really worried about government transparency or accountability because you aren’t really worried about governing, only that it’s a secure public authority. Hobbes, by the way, is even more naked in his aspiration for order. He baldly prefers a monarchy because there is no doubt who is in charge of the public order. No small number of Americans don’t want to be bothered with governing, that is, setting down rules for the whole polity through which everyone uses their discretion to secure meaning in the world. If America were a basketball league, they want to play the game and win it, or maybe be an owner of a team, but they don’t want to be the commissioner who is deciding the exact distance of the three point line. That latter work is governing. We even see this aversion to government in local government, where elected officers come and go, but there is often a bureaucrat, or City Manager, who hoards information and power, and the local commission depends upon the City Manager or the City Lawyer way more than is consistent with self-government.
- The second concern is the quality of the engagement. You can consent to be governed by someone else without engaging in political thinking, that is, you aren’t thinking about the whole polity. A characteristic difference in political vs. civil thinking, a difference that is given outstanding expression in Plato’s Republic, is that the proper political ruler rules with an eye to the whole polity and the functioning of all of its parts to make it a unified whole. This is contrasted with a civilian who works a job to make money to spend it to satisfy their particular interests. The universal interest vs. particular interest is going to be the characteristic distinction between political and non-political thinking.
What does this have to do with kissing? Well, you can consent to be kissed without 1) actively engaging in the activity, 2) thinking about the kiss as a joint venture. If you are merely consenting to be kissed, it’s a decision you can make that is just about you, and the other person happens to be there kissing on you. This is one reason liberal love consent. They don’t have to do anything, share power, or be implicated in the joint venture. It’s also the reason liberals are alienated, miserable, and medicated. If you engage in institutions in this one-sided manner, you aren’t participating in the institution in a meaningful way because you aren’t actually thinking about the unity such institutional participation entails.
It doesn’t matter if you repeatedly consent, even if you enthusiastically consent, you are still making an essentially joint venture all about your particular interest. You aren’t kissing. Even if you alternate, that doesn’t solve the problem of kissing essentially being a joint venture, so each person need to be accountable and concerned with the other for the action to be what it is.
If you just seek a public order, and deciding which person to preside over that public order is based on your particular interest, you aren’t governing.