In this essay I discuss the arguments of government, consent, and slavery put forth by the three philosophers below.
John Lock (1632 to 1704): an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers and commonly known as the “Father of Liberalism“.
Lysander Spooner (1808 to 1876): an American individualist anarchist, also an abolitionist, entrepreneur, essayist, legal theorist, pamphletist, political philosopher, Unitarian, writer and a member of the International Workingmen’s Association.
Robert Nozick (1938 to 2002): an American philosopher. He held the Joseph Pellegrino University Professorship at Harvard University, and was president of the American Philosophical Association.
Government 1B: Lesson 10
Discuss several of Spooner’s arguments against the idea that Americans have consented to their government in a meaningful way. Do you find Spooner persuasive? Why or why not?
Every single person will consent to contracts or people throughout their lives. When you get a job you are consenting to work under a boss in specific conditions for a certain amount of time, until the contract which you’ve signed runs out. If you rent a house, you sign a contract and consent to pay the rent every month and keep the house in good condition as long as you live there. Even when two people marry, they are consenting, “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish, until death do us part.” These three examples are all examples of people knowingly consenting to a contract. So why is it, that no one has ever knowingly consented to live under and obey the government?
John Locke stated that consent is what separates a legitimate ruler from an illegitimate one. But how do people consent to a legitimate ruler or government? Locke answers this issue of consent with Tacit Consent: where you indicate consent when we accept or receive benefits. i.e. travelling on government roads, buying government-protected land, etc. Defending Tacit Consent is extremely difficult, and the only persuasive argument Locke gives is that it would be impossible for an entire population to sign a contract, so Tacit Consent is easier.
Lysander Spooner rejected the idea of Tacit Consent and made several very persuasive arguments against the idea that Americans have consented to their government. The first being, consent means consent. Consent can be verbal or signing a contract, but it is not given by walking on a road that happens to be made by the government. Well, what about voting? Does that imply consent? Spooner argues that it does not. Not all people have been allowed to vote, and of those that can, not all decide to vote. Voting may also be done in self-defence and not in the spirit of consent to the system. Just because a majority rule is practical, does not mean it is just. An infringement of rights is a crime whether the perpetrator is one person or a bunch of people.
What is Robert Nozick’s point in The Tale of the Slave? Do you think his point is valid?
The Tale of the Slave is a short but very impactful story where a person starts in total enslavement and then slowly ends up in a society identical to our own.
Here are a few of the points in Nozick’s story:
1. There is a slave completely at the mercy of his brutal master’s whims. He is often cruelly beaten, called out in the middle of the night, and so on.
5. The master allows his slaves to go off and work in the city (or anywhere they wish) for wages. He requires only that they send back to him three-sevenths of their wages. He also retains the power to recall them to the plantation if some emergency threatens his land; and to raise or lower the three-sevenths amount required to be turned over to him. He further retains the right to restrict the slaves from participating in certain dangerous activities that threaten his financial return, for example, mountain climbing, cigarette smoking.
7. Though still not having the vote, you are at liberty (and are given the right) to enter into the discussions of the 10,000, to try to persuade them to adopt various policies and to treat you and themselves in a certain way. They then go off to vote to decide upon policies covering the vast range of their powers.
9. They throw your vote in with theirs. If they are exactly tied your vote carries the issue. Otherwise it makes no difference to the electoral outcome.An excerpt from ‘Anarchy, State, and Utopia’ by Robert Nozick
The question he makes at the end of the tale is, at which point is the person no longer a slave? A slave in the most brutal conditions does not consent to it, and a person in a modern society with a ballot to mark also does not consent to it. I would answer that the slave at the beginning of the story is just as enslaved as he is at the end of it, even with better conditions and a ballot. I have never signed a government contract or stood before anyone and declared my consent, yet I am still subject to the rules and regulations of the government. And I believe no one else has either, and that would make the government, according to John Locke, an illegitimate one.