Enjoy Your Vacation with Beach Wheelchairs

In John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, his entire political philosophy hinges upon the fact that humans are moral equals and thus unable to legitimately govern or impose rules upon another without that other person’s consent. For Locke, the perfect answer to this is entitled express consent. According to Locke, “[n]o body doubts but an express consent, of any man entering into any society, makes him a perfect member of that society, a subject of that government” (Locke 64). Express consent is the perfect way to bind the original members together. This however, raises many difficulties for Locke once critics begin to question how someone can consent to a system of government for which they never expressly consented or gave their agreement; simply stated, they were not the founding members, and thus how can it be argued that they are legitimately ruled by the government? Locke’s rebuttal is tacit consent, a method by which any man “that hath any possessions, or enjoyment, of any part of the dominions of any government, doth thereby give his tacit consent” to be ruled by that government (64). Though this seems to be a sound remedy, further holes can be exposed using a hypothetical, but very plausible, situation to demonstrate. The situation is as outlined below:

An adult citizen who was born in this country (and thus never had to take an oath of citizenship) was disgruntled about the lack of funding for education and began protesting on the dmv handicap placard steps of a government building. Shortly thereafter, a police officer confronts her and informs her that she has broken the law by protesting within 100 feet of the public building without a permit. He attempts to arrest her but she explains that, as a moral equal, she never consented to join the body politic and thus these laws do not apply to her.

Using the above situation, it becomes simple to apply Locke’s response, tacit consent. However, to fully understand this issue, a counter argument by the protestor must be offered and tacit consent must be adjusted to include her arguments such that she is still bound by the national law.

Assuming that the police officer is an educated man and familiar with his political philosophy, specializing in Lockean philosophy, his response would be a classic example of tacit consent applied to life. He would start with the beginning – at one point in time, a group of citizens joined together to form a body politic and institute a government on the land now called the United States of America. For the sake of simplifying the situation, one of her direct relatives was amongst these first founders.

The police officer, his name badge proudly displaying his name, Darryl Worley, looked the protestor in the eye. “Look here,” he said, taking out his copy of Second Treatise he kept in his pocket, “this relative took an oath to bind his land to the authority of this government; ergo, he showed his express consent, for he both knew to what he was consenting and was voluntarily agreeing.” He assumed that the woman knew her philosophy as well, but might not be as versed as he in Locke.

Because this protestor owned land in the state which was handed down from her ancestor, one of the country’s founders, she was, according to Locke, a subject of the government as a result. As Locke states, a person who “enjoys any part of the land […] under the government of that common-wealth, must take it with the condition it is under; that is, of submitting to the government of the common-wealth” (64). Furthermore, because this woman is partaking in the services offered by the government, she is giving her tacit consent to be ruled by that government. For Locke, even “lodging only for a week” in a country is a satisfactory condition under which tacit consent may be derived (64). Because she is an adult and a citizen, it is safe to assume that she has used the public roads, post office, or other public services before and at the time of her first use, she gave her tacit consent.

Darryl looked up at the woman. He continued to explain to her why she was violating the law. “Is that your car over there?” he asked. She nodded. “Well, I know you used the public road system to get here and you even deposited money into the meter. Because these are provided by the government, you used the government’s services and gave your tacit consent. Locke says it right here,” he stated, pointing halfway down page 64 in his book. “No one forced you to use the road system to get here, nor did they force you to pay for the meter. You did that voluntarily. You knew to what you were consenting when you used these goods. I am sorry, but you are in violation of a law that very much applies to you.”

Despite these solid conditions upon which Locke builds his concept of tacit consent, there are flaws that can be exploited in some situations. In addition, Locke does not give clear provisions for revoking one’s consent, only conditions in which one’s consent contract is nullified. One of the many possible flaws of tacit consent would be if she did not know the full extent to what she was consenting. Another flaw along this line would be if she did not know she was consenting; both are sufficient, once proved to be true, to show that she did not and would not have consented to the government if given a chance. If she wanted to leave the country but did not have the funds available to do so, she would be in effect withdrawing her express consent and therefore one cannot assume that she had indeed consented if she expressly did not.

Jill, the woman, looked at Darryl and sighed. “Like everyone else, aren’t you? Too caught up in what Locke says to understand that there are critical flaws. I have no money right now but I want to leave this country as soon as I am able to. I furthermore, here and now, renounce my consent to be ruled by this government. I am out of here as soon as possible,” Jill stated, stomping her foot for emphasis. She turned to leave, but Darryl stopped her. “Let me go!” she exclaimed. “As a moral equal to you, you have no right to impose your laws on me. I do not consent to be governed by your state or you. As a moral equal, I demand that you let me go,” Jill said, twisting her arm free of Darryl’s grasp.

Because Locke does not seem to give much thought to citizens renouncing their consent, there is not much textual evidence for the process through which this is done. However, it is possible to surmise, by reversing the express consent process that one can knowingly and voluntarily remove their consent to be governed by the body politic. However, the protestor could bring up a critical point to which Locke does not seem to have ever imagined would happen. If a citizen wishes to leave the state, but does not have the money to do so, what would happen if the citizen renounced their consent? Locke lauds his monetary system as allowing for people to take what is needed and to diffuse the moderate scarcity in the world. However, it appears that Locke did not consider what would happen in a fully monetized economy – it would be impossible to take anything because everything would already be claimed by some other citizen mixing their labor with it. If, like in this case, the citizen had no money at all, they would be unable to partake of this rationing system devised and would be essentially forced to stay where they were. Thus, a catch-22 arises – the citizen does not want to stay and cannot use the system in place because they do not consent, but they cannot leave because the only mode to leave requires using the system by paying money. Indeed, it gives the impression that Locke’s consent system has an insurmountable flaw in it, an inherent catch-22 to keep people locked in the system even though it deprives them of their right as moral equals to not be governed by a law to which they did not voluntarily submit.