consent to be governed• Once the people have consented to a government, have they consented to submit to whatever that government does?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The key word is "consent," which requires choice. One cannot consent to anything if he does not have the choice of not consenting. The beauty of our government is that we can withdraw our consent to be governed by those in power at any time through a system of Constitutional remedies.

As a nation of Constitutional law, we are obligated to follow the law, until such time as the majority changes it through the political process. Because we have the power as a people to withdraw our consent in a peaceful process, armed insurrection is avoided and tanks don't roll through American streets.

Countries that experience violent revolution are countries in which the people have no other means of withdrawing their consent to be governed by those in power. Fighting the American Revolution occurred because it was the only means we had to free ourselves from a government in which we had no say. The framers of the Constitution created a document that would guarantee we would never have to do it again.

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thomas Jefferson said it best in the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

There are times when a governed people must withdraw their consent to be governed. This situation arises when the government oppresses the governed. Therefore, the answer to your question is, no, consenting to be governed does not give the government unlimited right to do whatever it so chooses.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I find this a fascinating topic since my tenth graders and I have just finished reading NIGHT.  The Nazis consented to Hitler's regime and policies, but not all of them agreed to extermination of the entire race of Jews.  Some even risked their own lives to rise up and rebel against Hitler by attempting to kill the Furer.  The film Valkerie (ms?) is a good example of this. 

Just because a government promises to do things for a people that it fails to do (Hitler promised to bring Germany out of the economic funk it fell into as a result of WWI and the provisions of the treaty which fell on Germany) does not give the government the right to steamroll over its people who consented to be governed in the hope of those promises.  As poster #3 put it, rebellion and revolution will surely follow.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Social Contract John Locke spoke of in his writings is a reality of all governments.  The people are always the overwhelming majority, and if they feel that they are being fundamentally abused, neglected or that the unspoken yet understood agreement that government is to look out for and protect the population has been violated, then revolution, armed or otherwise, is justified.  At least, this is what Locke argued and his philosophy was perfect for our revolutionary movement in the US.

Dictatorship can only control people by fear and force of arms for so long, and in the end, any population can overcome them and re-establish a government that meets the terms of such a contract.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think such a "consent" is always conditional. Surely if a group of people consent to be governed by people that they choose, it is because they believe that a government will do a better job than living in anarchy. If it becomes clear that the government is not doing their job of looking after the people and their interests and perhaps are following their own interests, then the people are fully within their rights to protest or start a revolution.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yes, but with conditions.  First, they've consented so long as the government does not take away their life, liberty or property without good reason.  Second, they have consented to whatever the government does so long as the government truly does draw its power from the consent of the people (in other words, it truly has to be a democratically elected government).

lrwilliams eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The previous posters make great points. In the United States we are able to revoke our consent. I think the just completed election is proof of that. Many people were obviously not happy with the people they had given consent to and through the election process revoked that consent from those people.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As long as you're referring to America, the answer is obviously no.  That's why we have ways to modify the framework of government (though not easily or on a whim) as well as fire and hire those who represent us to run it.  Consent is given and can be revised or rescinded.

jspartan1 | Student

How would Locke view how our contract with the U S government?Do we as U S Citizens have consent or is it watered down?

epollock | Student
Of course not, but only in America where people have rights given to them by the Bill of Rights and The Constitution. In other parts of the world where there are dictatorships, despots, and absolutism, no matter what people do, they could be pout down and made to suffer at the hands of the government.