Implied consent means that what one may or may not do is understood without having to ask or say explicitly. In personal relationships, having established some interactions, it is implied that one may continue doing these. If a store is open for business, it is implied that customers may enter, and also that the customers will pay for what they take.
Implied consent has also been applied to the relationship between a resident and the government. The idea is that a person may not agree with some policies, but benefits from others, so it all evens out, and therefore there is an implied consent by all regarding government policies. Some say that if one does not move out, one implicitly agrees with the laws.
Being under the jurisdiction of a government is a major “state” of affairs. We might consider what Lysander Spooner, a 19th-century American philosopher, had to say in his book No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority.
“Neither law nor reason requires or expects a man to agree to an instrument, until it is written; for until it is written, he cannot know its precise legal meaning. And when it is written, and he has had the opportunity to satisfy himself of its precise legal meaning, he is then expected to decide, and not before, whether he will agree to it or not. And if he do not then sign it, his reason is supposed to be, that he does not choose to enter into such a contract.”
In the laws of the United States and many other countries, important relationships are required to be in writing and signed. When one buys real estate, the new buyer must sign a contract. When one gets married, there is a signed agreement. Being under the jurisdiction of a government is just as important.
When one buys a unit of a condominium or homeowners association, one is presented with the community documents, the master deed and bylaws, and the buyer signs an agreement. But this is not done when one moves into a governmental jurisdiction. Why not? Spooner says:
“The most they can say, in answer to this question, is, that some half, two-thirds, or three-fourths of the ... adults of the country have a tacit understanding that they will maintain a government under the Constitution; that they will select, by ballot, the persons to administer it; and that those persons who may receive a majority, or a plurality, of their ballots, shall act as their representatives, and administer the Constitution in their name, and by their authority.”
But, says Spooner,
“No body of men can be said to authorize a man to act as their agent, to the injury of a third person, unless they do it in so open and authentic a manner as to make themselves personally responsible for his acts. None of the voters in this country appoint their political agents in any open, authentic manner, or in any manner to make themselves responsible for their acts. Therefore these pretended agents cannot legitimately claim to be really agents. Somebody must be responsible for the acts of these pretended agents; and if they cannot show any open and authentic credentials from their principals, they cannot, in law or reason, be said to have any principals. The maxim applies here, that what does not appear, does not exist. If they can show no principals, they have none.”
Although Spooner thought that his arguments against a governmental implied consent supported anarchism or voluntary governance under explicit contracts, there is another possibility. Coercion is the opposite of consent, and no consent is needed to defend against invasions. Therefore if there is a government whose sole function is to protect people from coercive harm, and that government does not itself commit coercive harm both in its laws and its public finances, then no consent is needed.
The function of natural moral law is the proper governance of humanity, to prohibit coercive harm. Therefore, as I wrote in Soul of Liberty, “There is no moral authority for government other than to enforce the Universal Ethic.” If government only enforces natural moral law, as expressed by the Universal Ethic, then no consent is needed, regardless of how the governors are selected, even if the governor is a dictator, as there is only protection from coercive harm.
However, in human reality, there is no perfect governance, and people disagree on the details of law, and so, as a practical matter, if we take human equality to its logical conclusion, no person should be above any other. That implies a voluntary governance among peaceful persons, enacted with the explicit consent of signed contracts. As to those who choose to not be peaceful, since they do not honor consent, they implicitly agree to be punished. That is the real implied consent in governance—those who coercively harm others imply that they may be resisted, put on trial, and punished.
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FRED E. FOLDVARY, Ph.D., is an economist and has been writing weekly editorials for Progress.org since 1997. Foldvary's commentaries are well respected for their currency, sound logic, wit, and consistent devotion to human freedom. He received his B.A. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University. He has taught economics at Virginia Tech, John F. Kennedy University, Santa Clara University, and currently teaches at San Jose State University.
Foldvary is the author of The Soul of Liberty, Public Goods and Private Communities, and Dictionary of Free Market Economics. He edited and contributed to Beyond Neoclassical Economics and, with Dan Klein, The Half-Life of Policy Rationales. Foldvary's areas of research include public finance, governance, ethical philosophy, and land economics.
Foldvary is notably known for going on record in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology in 1997 to predict the exact timing of the 2008 economic depression—eleven years before the event occurred. He was able to do so due to his extensive knowledge of the real-estate cycle.