We Consent to be governed by the Majority?
"Hereby it is manifest that during time when
men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that
condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every
then there is this: "The desires,
and other passions of man, are in themselves no sin. No more are the actions
that proceed from those passions till they know a law that forbids them; which
till laws be made they cannot know, nor can any law be made till they have
agreed upon the person that shall make it."
is Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679) in Leviathan, also known as the Matter, Form,
and Authority of Government – which really says it all.
is quite frightening stuff, but remarkably, such sentiments still represent
exactly the modern Liberal Fundamentalist state.
Hobbes is saying is that human beings are too stupid and selfish to act in
their own long term interests, or to ‘know’ what is right and wrong. So, he
says, we need to elect one or more of our number to tell us how to act in our
own best interests, and to tell us what is right and wrong.
doesn’t explain how a group of stupid, selfish people, electing a stupid,
selfish person from their midst, suddenly endows that person with the ‘wisdom’
to know what is right and wrong, and to act in a way that does not reflect his
own stupid and selfish character.
that is precisely what modern day politicians claim is the effect of their
ascendance to power – that somehow they gain some superior ´wisdom´,
´conscience´, and sense of ´justice´, to the rest of us.
although modern day ´philosophers´ will claim that Hobbes´ was too crude, the
fact remains that his formula is precisely the model of modern day Western
Locke (1632 – 1704) ‘refined’ Hobbes’ model. He started his ´philosophy´ of
government with what is my Principle 1 – that no person has any natural
authority to tell another person what to do.
agrees that the natural state of man is "a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their
possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of
nature; without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man."
also said that men are in "a state
also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one
having more than another."
at first sight, it seems as though Locke is heading in the right direction.
Locke carried with him plenty of baggage. He was an academic at Oxford
University, then later the personal physician and companion of a certain
English nobleman called the Earl of Shaftesbury. Locke was also teacher to
always find it ironic that someone so absolutely beholden for his living to
another, especially an English nobleman, should be preaching about freedom.
this quickly comes out in his writing.
Hobbes, Locke looks to the law of nature; "for the law of nature would, as all other laws that concern men in this
world, be in vain, if there were nobody that in the state of nature had a power
to execute that law, and thereby preserve the innocent, and restrain offenders."
within 3 numbered paragraphs of his Second Treatise, Locke is already looking
for someone to govern; to enforce the "law
after justifying, in his chapter "Of
Property", why the likes of Shaftesbury can legitimately 'own'
enormous amounts of property, to the exclusion of "common possession," Locke latches onto the concept of "the majority", and the "perfect democracy."
claims that "no one can be put out
of [his freedom, equality, and independence], and subjected to the political
power of another, without his own consent."
so far so good!
"consent" is exactly what
Locke claims men do, "for their
comfortable, safe, and peaceable living one amongst another."
here is where Locke becomes bankrupt in his ´thinking´. He is unable to
identify any principles to which all people would consent in order to conduct
relations within their new community, so he simply claims that man “divests himself of his natural liberty, and
puts on the bonds of civil society, ... by agreeing with other men to join and
unite into a community, for their
comfortable, safe, and peaceable living one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security
against any that are not of it.”
where do the ´rules´ to govern come from? Alarmingly, Locke says this: “ … the majority have a right to act and
conclude the rest.”
there it is – a “right” of the “majority” to dictate to the rest of us.
done, says Locke, because "when any
number of men have, by the consent of every individual, made a community, they
have thereby made that community one body, with a power to act as one body,
which is only the will and determination of the majority; … it is necessary the
body should move that way whither the greater force carries it, which is the
consent of the majority: … and so every one is bound by that consent to be
concluded by the majority."
a devious little man! But I'm sure his noble Earl was pleased.
´thinking´ is a perfect example of turning logic on its head. We consent to
relinquish our freedom to the majority, so that I have unwittingly 'consented'
to be ruled by "that way whither the
greater force carries it, which is the consent of the majority."??
can I consent to relinquish my consent to the consent of the majority, but
still retain my freedom?
this inverted logic is only the start of Locke's 'treatise'.
goes on to claim that men give up their freedom "to be regulated by laws made by society."
argues that man consents to "give up
the equality, liberty, and executive power [he] had in the state of nature,
into the hands of the society," because of "three defects" which make "the state of nature so unsafe and uneasy."
"three defects", he claims,
are: no "established, settled, known"
laws of right and wrong to settle controversies; no "known and indifferent" judges, with authority to determine
disputes by reference to laws; and lastly, no "power" to execute punishment.
Locke argues, man consents to give up his condition
of freedom (or as Locke describes it, "the
equality, liberty, and executive power [he] had in the state of nature"),
only "with an intention [to] better
preserve himself, his liberty and property."
says Locke, "the power of the
society, or legislative constituted by them, can never be supposed to extend farther
than the common good; but is obliged to secure every one's property, by
providing against those three defects above-mentioned, that made the state of
nature so unsafe and uneasy."
briefly outlining the bounds of government, Locke sets out his idea of the
"The majority having, as has been showed,
upon men's first uniting into society, the whole power of the community
naturally in them, may employ all that power in making laws for the community
from time to time, and executing those laws by officers of their own
appointing; and then the form of the government is a perfect democracy."
then delineates the "bounds"
of government: to govern by promulgated established laws; the laws must be
"designed for no other end ultimately,
but the good of the people;" government "must not raise taxes on the property of people, without the consent of
the people;" and the legislator must not "transfer the power of making laws to anybody else."
"good of the people"? Tax,
by consent of the majority? The "common
good"? The majority 'consenting' on my behalf? "the greater force carries it, which is the
consent of the majority"?
on earth is left of my freedom?
have sacrificed freedom to the common good, to the majority, to the “greater force” of the “consent of the majority”? I have agreed
that the majority can consent to government appropriating my property under the
guise of tax?
Yes, I nearly forgot! If government is naughty and ventures beyond its mandate,
say by imposing additional taxes, we can - wait for it - we can be "aggrieved." And we can take our
grievance to ….? Well - to the government. And if government laughs at us, what
then? "The appeal lies nowhere but
not kidding, that's what Locke says. The nobleman, the Earl of Shaftsbury, must
have been pleased with his child-minder!
it gets worse. "The legislative can
never revert to the people whilst the government lasts; because having provided
a legislative with power to continue for ever, they have given up their
political power to the legislative, and cannot resume it."
Where, and when, exactly did man consent to get 'Shafted' by government.
can we please perhaps vote a government out which has abused and exceeded its
"if [the people] have set limits to
the duration of their legislative, and made this supreme power in any person,
or assembly, only temporary; or, else, when by the miscarriages of those in
authority it is forfeited; upon the forfeiture, or at the determination of the
time set, it reverts to the society, and the people have a right to act as
supreme, and continue the legislative in themselves; or to erect a new form, or
under the old form place it in new hands, as they think good."
here is the first big problem. If the government has abused its mandate to
please the majority who, for example, want the minority to be compelled to hand
over large amounts of property to the majority, how do you get rid of the
can only do so if you can get the majority to relinquish its iron grip on your
possessions! Remember, it's all about the "greater force" of the "consent of the majority." How likely is that?
other possibility Locke envisages is the people expelling the government. But
this he reserves only to the case where government uses force upon the people
without authority and in breach of its mandate. Then, says Locke, "the people have the right to remove it by
this time, government has, by majority consent, usually reserved most or all
force to itself. So the aggrieved have to overcome two obstacles: the majority;
and if they can achieve that, the power the people have vested in government.
And, of course, all governments make insurrection a criminal offence, even a
treasonable offence, entitling government to suspend all 'rights'; in the
common good, and for the preservation of law and order, of course.
himself describes this state as "a
state of war with the people."
anyone thinking this through should quickly see that placing government in the
hands of a majority, and endowing it with absolute authority to use force,
makes it impossible to remove government so long as it attracts majority
support, no matter how much it tramples over its original mandate. And the
easiest way to maintain majority support is to take from the minority and give
to the majority. But we are not talking here about some tiny proportion of the
people having their freedoms trampled on. Usually it means 50% or more of the
people, as any Western democratic election shows.
providing that "a well regulated
Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the
people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed," as in Amendment
II of the United States Constitution, does not come close to curing this
mechanism of oppression.
well regulated Militia would have to be a rival army equal to, or more powerful
than, the government forces, to be effective in such a circumstance. Government
can also simply define what this Militia may comprise, as it does, or simply
maintain that the military forces of the state are that Militia.
governments also simply restrict the "right
of the people to keep and bear arms."
half-wit should know that no government is going to allow an effective rival
army to exist to act as a regulator of its affairs and power.
we follow Locke's 'reasoning' through therefore, we discover that man has
consented to surrender his freedom in order to attain those basic securities
necessary to remedy the defects of man's state of nature, what I call his condition of freedom, the three rather
insignificant "defects" of
his freedom, only to find he will be subject to the whim of the majority,
backed up by a force that he has no hope of challenging. In man’s condition of freedom, the principal
threat came from those of relatively equal strength to himself; under Locke's
formula, the threat is from an immensely more powerful entity, supported by an
easily manipulated majority.
in their right mind would consent to such an inversion of threat?
Boy', Shafter's child-minder and 'companion' - companion? Hmm? - reinforced his
vision of tyranny in a piece of drivel called A Letter Concerning Toleration.
Boy poses himself a hypothetical question: "What if the [government] should enjoin any thing by his authority, that
appears unlawful to the conscience of a private person?"
Nanny Boy says this is unlikely to happen - because remember, there are such great
people in government as Shafter - but if it does, we should follow our
consciences and bear the consequences of the unlawful law.
he goes even further. A private person - note, no longer a free person - should
"abstain from the actions that he
judges unlawful; and he is to undergo
the punishment, which is not unlawful for him to bear; for the private judgment
of any person concerning a law enacted in political matters, for the public
good, does not take away the obligation of that law, nor deserve a dispensation."
compensate for the loss of freedom, Locke offers us religion. As long as we are
all free to follow our own religion, we should be grateful. So our freedom has
been reduced to freedom of religion. But that itself depends on government 'tolerating'
Boy thus distinguishes between "political
society" and "the care of
each man's soul." And the care of our souls must be "left entirely to every man's self."
"political society is instituted for
no other end, but only to secure every man's possession of the things of his
is the duty of government, says Nanny Boy, to safeguard men's lives and their
property. "Therefore the
[government] cannot take away these worldly things from this man, or party, and
give them to that; nor change propriety amongst fellow subjects (no not even by
a law), for a cause that has no relation to the end of civil government."
Nanny Boy poses another hypothetical question. What if government does make
laws taking away from one person and giving to another? What if government
makes laws "to enrich and advance
[it's] followers .. with the spoils of others. What if the [government]
believe[s] that [it] has a right to make such laws, and that they are for the
public good; and [it's] subjects believe the contrary? Who shall be judge
"I answer," says Nanny Boy, "God alone."
there we are! By 'consenting' to relinquish only a tiny fraction of our condition of freedom, so as to have a
common mechanism to protect that freedom, Nanny Boy leads us into servitude.
Our only remedy is to appeal to Heaven, and to God.
all brings me to 'rights'. What a convenient and devious little device.
Boy refers to 'rights' as "civil
"civil interests" are the
governments business, says Nanny Boy, which must be distinguished from "religion", which is not the
"neither can nor ought in any manner
to be extended to the salvation of souls." This is reserved for "religious society", the end of
which "is the public worship of God,
and by means thereof the acquisition of eternal life."
the government even has a part to play here. This is where Nanny Boy throws us
the crumbs left over from our freedom. It is the "law of toleration". The government's "duty in the business of toleration"
is "certainly very considerable."
together with our "civil interests,"
the "law of toleration" in
respect of religion constitutes the sum total of our 'rights'. That’s all that
is left of our freedom; which is nothing!
what exactly are these 'rights', this combination of our "civil interests" and "law of toleration."
'rights', says Nanny Boy, are "life,
liberty, health, and indolence of body; and the possession of outward things,
such as money, lands, houses, furniture and the like."
violating these 'rights' is "checked
by the fear of punishment."
punishment is deprivation of that person's civic interests. Taking away from
him in proportion to what he has taken from another.
to Nanny Boy, government should be restricted to remedying these violations.
That is the end of civil government.
when Locke says the government cannot take property from one person and give it
to another "for a cause which has no
relation to the end of civil government," this is what he means. Civil
government should be restricted to restoring to one person what has been taken
from him by another. It does not entitle government to take from one person and
give to another because government thinks 'justice' requires a different
distribution of wealth between people; or because government believes that
everyone should be 'entitled' to health care; or because government thinks
people should be 'entitled' to an income in their old age; and so on. Those
things are specifically excluded, even by Locke. It is no business of
government, says Locke, to take from one person and give to another because one
person has provided for his health, old age, and so on, and another hasn't.
that I agree with Locke. Freedom includes, and necessarily implies, freedom to
screw up. It does not mean freedom to screw up, and then require another to pay
to sort out the mess.
let me return to the other element of Nanny Boy's 'rights'. That is tolerance.
short, Nanny Boy says we have a 'right' to expect the government to tolerate
whatever religion we wish to pursue in order to save our souls.
there are certain exceptions: "opinions
contrary to human society, or those moral rules which are necessary to the
preservation of civil society"; religions which pay allegiance to
other governments; and atheists.
it is this hodgepodge of 'rights' that today supposedly constitutes our
these 'rights' are a dismal failure. They do not enhance our freedom, they
undermine and diminish it. They are a charter for oppression and tyranny.
constitute a tyranny of 'rights'; the enslavement of man; the enshrinement of
ignorance and oppression.
are the enforcement of pity, sympathy, and compassion. They are charters for
abuse, open to what Nietzsche called “interpretation”.
this is all because Locke, and his imitators, started from the wrong end. They
sacrificed man's freedom for 'rights'. Whereas they should have preserved man's
condition of freedom absolutely,
subject only to those principles men freely and universally agree to adopt. Not
by majority consent, but by universal consent.
Locke took the same ‘social contract’ approach as Hobbes - that man is
compelled by the State and society to act in the common good. But he also
mobilizes God who, by dispensing rewards and punishments in eternity, knocks
some further sense into man.
Schweitzer says, "the essential
point of distinction between them is that with Hobbes society alone plies the
whip, while with Locke God and society wield it together."
could see that before we cede any authority to someone else, including
government, we all need to agree on the principles to which they must adhere in
exercising that authority.
I should give credit where credit is due. Locke did establish rudimentary
procedural safeguards against abuse of power by government; he just couldn’t
come up with any “ideas” when it came to finding substantive safeguards to
protect individual freedom. So he gave us the booby prize – ‘rights’. And now
we are showered with ‘rights’.
we do not build a temple of freedom by stacking one right on top of another
like bricks; instead, we build ourselves a prison, a prison governed by a
tyranny of rights.
a bunch, Nanny Boy!