Did You Consent to be Governed?

Here’s a grand idea that’s never been tried: government by consent.

Everyone agreeing to it; no one being bound by it who has not. Whose right to walk away from it would be respected, if not.

Such a government would work very well because it would be limited in its workings. Really limited – by the always-present threat (to it) of withdrawal of consent. It would be powerless to do to people what the people did not want done to them.

To any of them.

It has been talked about, of course.

Most notably by the man who did the most to end any semblance of it: Abraham Lincoln – while he was talking about it. Here is a man who had the gall to lecture about “government of the people, by the people” after sending his legions to slaughter and subjugate “the people” who only wished to be governed by their consent.

They tried to walk away – and we all know what followed.

It was the same ideal put forward four score and seven years before – and promptly reneged upon once the cannon fodder had served their purpose. Did “the people” consent to be governed by the Constitution? They hadn’t even been asked to give their assent to the secret meeting at which the Constitution was put forward by a self-selected handful of people as the skullduggery replacement for the Articles of Confederation, which were much closer to the ideal of consent of the governed as there was very little in them about governing anyone – at the federal level, at least.

The states and the people retained almost all political authority.

This, of course, presented difficulties for the people who wanted very much to govern the people, without their consent. Which is precisely why they did not seek the consent of anyone – excepting themselves – to meet in secret to conjure a replacement for the Articles more to their liking.

One of the people most involved in removing the people as an impediment to their power was Alexander Hamilton, who was revered by Abe Lincoln for the obvious reason. Hamilton spoke often about the need – as he saw it – for an “energetic” and “vigorous” federal government. The people saw no need for it. So to Hell with them, said Hamilton – though probably not in those exact words. He used lawyerly words instead. Words such as “general welfare” and “necessary and proper” – the according-to-whom never addressed but obviously answered.

The fact that it was considered necessary by patriots such as George Mason of Virginia to amend the Constitution with a Bill of Rights says much about the Constitution’s intended (but unspoken) purpose. Why go to the trouble of formally enumerating what the federal government could not do to the people if the Constitution was designed to enshrine and protect the people from the exercise of power over them without their consent?

What would have happened to the people’s right to speak freely, to assemble for the peaceful airing of grievances, their right to keep and bear arms, had it not been for the lucid foresight and suspicion of patriots such as Mason? The only reason a semblance of these rights are still respected is because of the existence of the Bill of Rights, which has served the same purpose that a mesh screen does in terms of keeping insects from entering one’s home through an open window.

It is, of course, better than nothing.

But the people would have been much better served if the Constitution had been replaced by the Bill of Rights, perhaps expanded to encompass other enumerations such as the right of the people to trade freely among themselves, to travel, to be free to associate – and its essential corollary, the freedom to not associate.

And most of all to be let alone.

Such consensual arrangements do not sit well with those who favor coercive arrangements. The people who always have “plans” – which they will force you to accept. They are not interested in your consent but very much like to pretend you have given it. They speak of implied consent – which of course you’ve not given, but which they nonetheless decree you to be bound by. They talk a great deal about “democracy,” the ancient shibboleth used to destroy the concept of government by consent by conflating the “consent” of some of the people with the consent of all.

Some will say that government by consent is an oxymoron as such a government could not govern without the consent of everyone. Well, of course. But isn’t that the point? And if it isn’t why should we continue the farce of pretending to believe that government by consent is an ideal rather than admit to ourselves it’s a fraud?

Probably because if we did, it’d be harder to accept the fact that we are, indeed, governed – and almost all of it without our consent.

. . .

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