Consent or contestation?

In Jeremy Webber & Colin Mcleod (eds.), Between Consenting Peoples. Vancouver: UBC Press. pp. 188-206 (2010)

Duncan Ivison
University of Sydney
That consent could wholly explain – either descriptively or normatively – the legitimacy of the structure of political community and it’s most important and influential institutions and practices is deeply implausible. There are two general sorts of considerations adduced against such a proposition. First, history simply refutes it: force is an essential feature of the founding of any political society, and arguably, for its continued existence, and power relations, in all their complexity, are imperfectly tracked by consent. Moreover, there are deep questions about what people are actually consenting to, given the plurality and changing nature of political collectivities over time. Second, in modern societies (perhaps in just any complex human society) our conduct is shaped and governed in so many ways so as to influence not only the options we have, but also the interests, desires and capabilities constitutive of our ability to act in relation to them in the first place. This undermines any easy connection between the presence of consent and my being free. A familiar conundrum for consent as a standard of legitimacy is that if it means literally that individual consent is required for non-arbitrariness in public decision-making, then public decision-making – indeed almost any form of collective action –becomes almost impossible. If only tacit or implicit consent is required, then we can find it everywhere, and thus nowhere, and the standard is empty.
Keywords Consent  Legitimacy  Liberalism
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