“Because we cannot irrefutably establish the superiority of our first principles to the satisfaction of the general public—because there is no real consensus—political entrepreneurs have been obliged to come up with arguments for forcing others to consent to their principles whether they accept them or do not. This is usually referred to in politics as establishing the legitimacy of a government. Legitimate governments, the arguments go, have the right to coerce citizens into following certain principles, into taking actions that they would not choose to take and forgoing actions they would choose to take. If a legitimate government decides to fight a war with which a particular citizen disagrees, then the citizen still must support the war by paying taxes or by being drafted into the army. (Thoreau went to jail for refusing to pay taxes to support the war against Mexico.) The legitimacy argument generally holds this to be the case even when the action in question is unwise, unjust, or counterproductive, so long as the government is fundamentally and broadly legitimate. Perversely, this power of government to coerce citizens into actions to which they do not consent is based on a criterion of legitimacy derived from the consent of the governed, in an ethical environment in which there is no consensus behind the consent.”

“Legitimacy and consent are two 180-degree arcs that together form a circular argument: A government must be held to be legitimate if people consent to it, and people must consent to it if it is legitimate. (The phrase “must consent” is, if you think about it, an oxymoron.) Using the idea of consent as a justification for coercing those who do not consent is, to say the least, an arrangement that contains a contradiction. Democratic governments hold that they enjoy a general consent that confers legitimacy upon them that supersedes the question of consent in any particular case or on the part of any particular citizen. The social contract is the only contract that somebody else can sign for you, without your consent, and still be held to be valid—and a valid expression of your consent, at that. This amounts to a grand philosophical sleight of hand.”

Excerpt From: Kevin D. Williamson. “The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome.” HarperCollins, 2013-05-01. iBooks.

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