13th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Leung

Kin-Wai Leung

A Consent Theory of Political Authority without Voluntariness

In his Second Treatise of Government, John Locke appears to suggest that a state has political authority over its residents because they have given tacit consent by simply staying in the territory. However, David Hume forcefully complains that normally it is very difficult or costly to avoid giving such tacit consent. If such condition obtains, the tacit consent is not free; but, consent must be free in order to be morally justificatory. In spite of the fact that some contemporary consent theorists more or less agree with Hume, in this paper, I aim to reject what I call the “voluntary consent thesis,” namely that: a particular state has political authority over its citizens within limits if and only if the citizens have given voluntary consent to its governance. I argue that the voluntary consent thesis is false if the concept of voluntary consent is interpreted as below: consent is voluntary if and only it is not made because there is no acceptable alternative to it. I propose a reductio ad absurdum argument against the claim that voluntary consent is a sufficient condition for political authority: this claim justifies political authority in cases where occurrence of coercion reflects that the justificatory force of consent is nullified; later, however, I argue that coercion itself does not give a reason for the nullity and thus the ground for the nullity lies in something else. I also deny the claim that voluntary consent is a necessary condition for political authority because it raises the difficulty of establishing political authority at an unnecessary level which undermines consent theories. I then propose an account of consent, as an alternative to the voluntary consent thesis, which emphasizes that consent is valid if and only if a person give it in a choice situation in which he is given due respect. I call it the “account of egalitarian consent.”