The Consent of the Governed

The Declaration of Independence says, in part,

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

“The consent of the governed” is a phrase with much meaning. Of course, the obvious meaning is that we get to vote for our form of government. But there is much more. This phase also means that government power is delegated to it by the citizens.

The concept of delegated powers is virtually missing from public discourse, as is the concept of individual rights.  The Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution reads,

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The idea of delegated powers is part of the idea of the consent of the governed, both of which are derived from the political philosophy of individualism. Individualism holds that all political power rests with a nation’s individuals, its citizens, who are sovereign entities and who band together to form a government for their mutual safety and protection. However, forming or consenting to a government does not strip the individual of his or her basic, natural rights.

So, the reason a policeman can arrest someone is because the citizens delegate their power of self defense to the policeman. The policeman has no power that an individual cannot exercise morally. So if I cannot rob you on the street, the policeman has no right to rob you on my behalf.

The reason you hear so little about the concept of delegated powers is because the idea is so uncomfortable to power-hungry politicians and their media stenographers. By what right does Mayor Bloomberg order restaurants to change their menus? As a fellow citizen I cannot enforce dietary laws on you. So how can my politicians do it? From where does their power derive if not from the citizens? Of course, once upon a time, rulers, pharaohs and kings, told us they were special, that their power derived from God or that they were even relatives of God.

But the doctrine of political equality, that, as it says in the Declaration of Independence, “… all men are created equal…” means that our politicians are no different than we are. Any power politicians have cannot exceed the power we have as individuals. They can defend us because we have a right to self defense. They can prosecute fraud because we have a right to honest dealings. They are supposed to be our servants not our rulers.

And here is the main point; the police have guns because we allow them to have guns. The Mayor of New York and his police force have no more right to small arms than the citizens have. So, if a seven round magazine is forbidden to citizens by some odd law of the universe, then the police have no right to eight or more rounds either.

If this idea makes you uncomfortable you owe that discomfort to a century of wall-to-wall propaganda by politicians from Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama and their army of academics and journalists who have convinced you that they are somehow special, smarter, more noble or more gifted and should rule over you like some czar or potentate. They, without saying it, invoke the Divine Right of Kings. Does Mayor Bloomberg or President Obama look as if God has granted them some sort of super-humanity? They certainly act like it.

Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Diane Feinstein and the rest of that crowd of progressive menaces have no power that you do not consent to giving them. Just because they were elected does not grant them some special authority over your life that you do not empower them to have.

But, you say, a majority voted to give them the power they have. Not legitimately in a free republic. Joining a mob and voting to delegate power the individuals in the mob don’t have is a contradiction to our form of government. Can 51% of us vote to lynch the other 49%? Of course we do things such as tax people unequally, but those laws contradict our Founding.

I won’t go into discussions about jet planes and income taxes this time but keep “The Consent of the Governed” and “Delegated Powers” in mind the next time some evil menace channels Woodrow Wilson and tells you that only the police and army should have weapons. And remember how that worked out for the citizens of well known repressive regimes.


6 Responses to “The Consent of the Governed”

  1. Invisible Mikey Says:

    Your early paragraphs were quite interesting, but I don’t agree with the logic of the later ones. If police have a greater need for more firepower in order to preserve public safety, the first responsibility of government, then that need trumps an individual’s right to have an equal level of weapon. States and municipalities can regulate the ownership and availability of weapons to greater and lesser degrees based on their own local situations. All levels of courts support this, which is why ownership and concealed-carry laws vary all across the country.

    • libertyphysics Says:

      Thank you for the comment. Your view is, by far, the more common. My goal is to make people think about an alternate view of our relationship with government. So, ask yourself this: How much variation do we accept in the First Amendment among localities? Can New York ban Rush Limbaugh because it offends the average voter there? Can Texas ban MSNBC because they offend the average Texan? Are rights rights or are they suggestions? Consider the other Amendments. Does our right to a jury trial or habius corpus vary from town to town depending on what the mayor thinks is best?

      Regarding police firepower, what enemies are the police protecting us from? Are they different enemies than a civilian may encounter if the civilian owns a jewelry store or a gold exchange or a grocery store in a riot-torn area? I’m not saying your view is wildly incorrect but just trying to push back on the notion the we are servants of the state which has unlimited and arbitrary power over us and sticking up for unpopular rights because unpopular rights are the most important.

  2. peaceloveandfreemarkets Says:

    I think to fully appreciate LibertyPhysics’ point, one must be familiar with the distinction between “legislation”, and “the law.” legislation is the rules we have on the books. but “the law” is defined by common morality. sure murder is illegal, and legislation exists which prescribe appropriate punishment based on the crime’s circumstances. but even if there were no particular legislation regarding murder, it violates “the law,” i.e., the norms we universally agree are important for preserving a functioning society.

    It is my opinion LP is addressing moral law in pointing out the absurdity that politicians grant themselves an army of goons with an arsenal of weapons for their own protection; while preaching to the great unwashed masses that they aught not even possess relatively modest means of self defense (such as a glock whose ten round clip fits comfortably in the handle). The fact we have different rules (legislation) in various municipalities regarding gun possession is not inherently a violation of moral law. If police, military, etc. require greater weaponry; it could be justified because the citizens have delegated some of their right of self-defense to these people. but they are using these weapons in principle to defend the public from threats and enforce the law. Nancy “we have to pass the bill to see what’s in it” Pelosi and her ilk offer no such qualities which justify granting them the right to such lethal forms of self defense if the common law abiding man may not also have such tools at his disposal if he chooses.

  3. Godfrey Miller Says:

    “The policeman has no power that an individual cannot exercise morally. So if I cannot rob you on the street, the policeman has no right to rob you on my behalf.”

    I couldn’t agree more! I just read a great book by Michael Huemer called “The Problem of Political Authority”, and this is the same basic point that he tries to make. Here are some key excerpts:

    In his analysis, libertarian political philosophy is based on three simple ideas:

    1) “First, a non-aggression principle in interpersonal ethics. Roughly, this is the idea that individuals should not attack, kill, steal from, or defraud one another, and in general, that individuals should not coerce one another, aside from a relatively narrow range of special circumstances.”

    2) “Second, a recognition of the coercive nature of government. When the state promulgates a law, the law is generally backed up by a threat of punishment, which is supported by credible threats of physical force directed against those who would disobey the state.”

    3) “Third, a skepticism of political authority as traditionally conceived. The upshot of this skepticism is, very roughly, that the state may not do what it would be wrong for any non-governmental person or organization to do.”

  4. 99th Monkey News October 29, 2013 | Pearls of Liberty Says:

    […] The Consent of the Governed […]

  5. 99th Monkey News October 29, 2013 | 99th Monkey News Says:

    […] The Consent of the Governed […]

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