Consent of About Half

[T]o secure [life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . . Declaration of Independence.

As a market anarchist, I have no problem with this statement.

The problem is when “consent of the governed” actually isn’t consent. Iraq’s constitution is a good example of “consent” in action. 63% of Iraq’s adult populace turned out, 78% voted in favour. That’s 49%. 49% of the adult population just bound the other 51% (and their children) to a form of governance they did not choose, and in 2.5m cases, actively rejected. This is consent of the governed?

We are the people of Iraq, who in all our forms and groupings undertake to establish our union freely and by choice . . . Preamble, Constitution of Iraq, AP translation (emphasis mine).

Or not, as the case may be.

26 thoughts on “Consent of About Half”

  1. Consent of about half? No, as Spooner explained we can’t even assume that those who voted consent. Many may have seen the elections as inevitable and voted defensively. That would not imply consent to the process or result.

    A vote is best understood as simply an attempt to influence the outcome of an election. It has nothing in principle to do with consent.

  2. Well, actually, the “half” I referred to is the half of the adult Iraqi populace who did positively vote for the Constitution. So far as I’m concerned, that counts as consent (although there should be exit provisions, as there are in most contracts). I certainly wouldn’t count the non-voters or “no”-voters as having consented.

    – Josh

  3. The votes do not imply consent, many could simply have been voting defensively to avoid consequences that would be imposed on them if the measure failed.

    Many of them may in fact consent, but a vote is simply not a means by which they can demonstrate that.

  4. Well, that’s one of the problems when you subjugate people with the threat of overwhelming violence. You can’t ever know if they consent or are scared.

    If you had a harem, and any woman in it who didn’t profess to love you would be beaten or executed, how would you go about finding out if any of them loved you?

  5. If I thought there would be radical repercussions against people who vote no, I think JTK’s argument would have more power. I tend to doubt the new Iraqi government is going to round up and execute several million “no” voters.

    If there were some actual threat of harm to those who voted “no” or didn’t vote, I would accept that “yes” didn’t necessarily mean consent. I don’t see that here.

  6. You can’t forget the pressure of tribal/religious demands to vote one way or the other. If you don’t do what the Group wants, you get punished in a variety of ways, often escalating up to violence.

    Remember when there was all the credulous talk about 99-97% of the voting population going one way or the other on the issue? Remember how commentators across the political spectrum almost instantly discredited the results or viewed them with skepticism? You’d think all these “consent of the governed” folks would be looking just for that kind of result, the kind that shows just about everyone is for (or against) something. But those commentators know such consensus is impossible to get on political issues. You could probably put a vote up for a ballot initiative to have the local sheriff kill everyone who has a vowel in their names and you’d get high-90’s…but not on all these commonly proposed political issues.

  7. I wasn’t aware that the results of the vote were known. Were the Iraqi ballots secret? If so, you could vote “no” and lie about it.

  8. If there were some actual threat of harm to those who voted “no” or didn’t vote, I would accept that “yes” didn’t necessarily mean consent.

    It’s possible that the “yes” voters were choosing what they saw as the least of evils. Spooner:

    Doubtless the most miserable of men, under the most oppressive government in the world, if allowed the ballot, would use it, if they could see any chance of thereby meliorating their condition. But it would not, therefore, be a legitimate inference that the government itself, that crushes them, was one which they had voluntarily set up, or even consented to.

    Therefore, a man’s voting under the Constitution of the United States, is not to be taken as evidence that he ever freely assented to the Constitution, even for the time being. Consequently we have no proof that any very large portion, even of the actual voters of the United States, ever really and voluntarily consented to the Constitution even for the time being. Nor can we ever have such proof, until every man is left perfectly free to consent, or not, without thereby subjecting himself or his property to be disturbed or injured by others.

    Thus the “yes” votes aren’t any evidence of consent at all. Answering “Your money or your life” with “Here’s my money” doesn’t mean I consent to the matter.

  9. What a load of self serving crap. The US constitution was voted into existence by a small all male cabal in the then 13 states. Does that mean the USA is an illegitimate polity?
    If people are being asked any question in a referendum, or voting for a government for that matter, the only result it is practical to act on is that of the majority of the people who actually bother to turn up to vote.
    The only other way is to force people to vote, as happens in many countries, Norway being an example. Even then, in the case of an election, if there are more than two candidates, it is possible and even likely that the winner will represent a minority of people, to claim this does not constitute consent is nonsense.
    The fact that you personally do not like the result of the first ever free election to be held anywhere in the Arab world does not entitle you to question the legitimacy of the result by your completely spurious, not to say mendacious use of statistics.

  10. PMJ,

    What a load of self serving crap.

    Who else ought I serve?

    The US constitution was voted into existence by a small all male cabal in the then 13 states. Does that mean the USA is an illegitimate polity?

    The reasons for the illegitimacy of this government go far beyond the “small male cabal”. For example, do you see my signature on the thing? No, it’s imposed on me without a pretense of my consent.

    If people are being asked any question in a referendum, or voting for a government for that matter, the only result it is practical to act on is that of the majority of the people who actually bother to turn up to vote.

    No, the only practical result is not to waste your time on the matter.

    The only other way is to force people to vote, as happens in many countries, Norway being an example. Even then, in the case of an election, if there are more than two candidates, it is possible and even likely that the winner will represent a minority of people, to claim this does not constitute consent is nonsense.

    Forcing people to vote means that they then consent to the results? How does that follow?

    The fact that you personally do not like the result of the first ever free election to be held anywhere in the Arab world does not entitle you to question the legitimacy of the result by your completely spurious, not to say mendacious use of statistics.

    Statistics have dick-all to do with this, a 100% yes vote wouldn’t necessarily mean that the government that resulted from the election was legitimate.

  11. The US constitution was voted into existence by a small all male cabal in the then 13 states. Does that mean the USA is an illegitimate polity?

    More or less, yeah. What Lopez said.

  12. It’s possible that the “yes” voters were choosing what they saw as the least of evils.

    So it’s not possible to consent to something you see as the least of evils or better-than-nothing? I don’t think you mean that, since many of us consent to things we’re not crazy about but deem necessary.

    Therefore, a man’s voting under the Constitution of the United States, is not to be taken as evidence that he ever freely assented to the Constitution, even for the time being.

    Agreed with all of this, but we’re not talking about voting under a constitution, but voting for a constitution. Different situation.

  13. The US constitution was voted into existence by a small all male cabal in the then 13 states. Does that mean the USA is an illegitimate polity?

    You get the gold star, bub.

  14. I think the idea here is that the Iraqis are already under the threat of overwhelming force, so their votes cannot really give us any information. At any rate even if it was 100%, that would still not bind non-voters, wh ich presumably a statist would claim it does.

  15. So it’s not possible to consent to something you see as the least of evils or better-than-nothing? I don’t think you mean that, since many of us consent to things we’re not crazy about but deem necessary.

    We can accept things we see as necessary or inevitable, but as I said earlier, answering “Your money or your life” with “Here’s my money” doesn’t mean I consent to the matter.

    Agreed with all of this, but we’re not talking about voting under a constitution, but voting for a constitution. Different situation.

    Could you explain the difference in principle between voting on a constitution and voting on a president?

  16. We can accept things we see as necessary or inevitable, but as I said earlier, answering “Your money or your life” with “Here’s my money” doesn’t mean I consent to the matter.

    The thing is, the people who voted “yes” could have easily voted “no” or stayed home. Absent evidence of mass compulsion, and under the assumption that this was a secret ballot (since all the constitutional elections under the proposed constitution are), people were free to vote “yes” or vote “no”. This isn’t a case of “your money or your life” because the people who voted “yes” did so in a free, fair, and open manner.

    The problem, of course, with the secret ballot is that we don’t know who consented.

    Could you explain the difference in principle between voting on a constitution and voting on a president?

    A person can choose the type of government he lives under. If he chooses to bind himself to a constitution, he may do so. Unlike voting for a president, there is an “I do not consent” option. Absent evidence of compulsion, those who voted “yes” are voting to bind themselves to the constitution, just as someone who signs a contract with a market security agency is binding himself to a set of rules and procedures.

  17. Absent evidence of compulsion, those who voted “yes” are voting to bind themselves to the constitution, just as someone who signs a contract with a market security agency is binding himself to a set of rules and procedures.

    So anyone here who’s ever cast a ballot has to support the leviathan state to the end, but I get off scott-free since I never voted? Hooray!

  18. This isn’t a case of “your money or your life” because the people who voted “yes” did so in a free, fair, and open manner.

    Again, what if they were choosing as what they saw as the less of evils? Is it beyond belief that a person could make the judgement that the Iraqi constitution was a naked usurpation (which it is), but that what might follow his “no” vote or abstention would be much worse? That’s not a free choice, that’s simply a response to an implied threat.

    A person can choose the type of government he lives under. Unlike voting for a president, there is an “I do not consent” option. Absent evidence of compulsion, those who voted “yes” are voting to bind themselves to the constitution…

    No, it’s perfectly plausible that the voters (whoever they were) who voted for the Iraqi consititution were simply choosing what they say as the least of evils. Bottom line: “There being no legal proof of any man’s intentions, in voting, we can only conjecture them.” – Spooner.

    I’ll grant you that some people, maybe most people or even an overwhelming majority of people, who voted “yes” did so because they loved them some Iraqi constitution.

    But there’s no way to prove it.

    At best you have a probabilistic solution: maybe up to less than half of the populance consented to the Iraqi constitution. And maybe nobody did.

  19. Again, I think Lopez and Kennedy are making the point, albeit in an obfuscated way, that the reason the vote isn’t 100% legitimate is that the body administering the vote has already displayed aggressive behavior toward the Iraqi people and put out many threats, explicit and implied. That means any “mutual exchange” they take part in during the whole process is suspect at best, void at worst.

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