Today’s Tom Woods Letter, which all the influential people receive every day. Be one of them.
The 19th-century lawyer and abolitionist Lysander Spooner made heads explode when he said the Constitution bound no one, since nobody alive in his day had signed it.
Whenever we undertake any significant endeavor — buying a house, for example — we fill out countless forms spelling out exactly what we are agreeing to and indicating our express consent.
No one buys or sells a car, or offers or accepts employment, on the basis of “tacit” agreement. Everything is explicit and clearly spelled out.
And yet government, which can seize arbitrary portions of our income and even send us to our deaths in its wars, simply declares our consent to its rule — on the basis of “tacit consent,” another way of saying we haven’t actually consented at all.
Where did this odd approach — one we would be horrified by in any other aspect of life — come from?
My suspicion is this.
At least in theory, Enlightenment thinkers had trouble coming to terms with externally imposed authority, with one person’s will subject to the command of another.
So they had to make it look as if, when someone is doing what he’s told to do by political authority, he’s really following his own will, because of course he consented to be ruled in the first place.
These thinkers could not bring themselves to acknowledge publicly the brute fact that even in so-called free societies, some people rule and others are ruled.
They couldn’t just say: look, it’s impractical to get everyone’s consent to be ruled, so we have to make some approximations and assumptions, use context clues, whatever, to establish the existence of at least an attenuated form of consent. (John Locke, it’s true, essentially did concede this.)
So instead, they twisted themselves into pretzels to argue that we “really” do consent, and that an obvious lack of explicit consent is pretty much the same thing as explicit consent.
So to this day, we have to endure Internet philosophers treating us to such profound insights as, “Hey, man, you still live here, so that means you’ve consented to the system. Pay up.”
But if someone started throwing garbage onto my lawn and I didn’t move away (maybe moving is too onerous for me and I don’t really have options other than staying put), would we say I had consented to the dumping of the garbage?
If the mafia took over my town and I didn’t move, would I be consenting to mafia rule?
Another version of the argument goes like this: you’re enjoying the benefits of living in country X, so you’ve consented to the burdens and responsibilities of living in country X.
But this proves too much: presumably people got some benefits from the states of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany; were they therefore morally obligated to support those states?
I thought of all this because yesterday someone posted in an old comment thread on my site, to the effect that my arguments against the so-called social contract were illogical.
So I was interested to hear his own thoughts.
Honest to goodness, this is what he said: “The poor debating skills and lack of logic in the video indicate that Mr. Woods has no training in logic and its related field of rhetoric. He creates strawmen and ignores the underlying reality – we grant our Congress the power to tax us.”
So in response to a video about the question of individual consent to government, he thinks it’s an answer to say “we” authorized Congress to tax us.
Um, that’s exactly the point at issue. No one living today ever authorized anyone to do that.
That’s actually rather an important point, which is why no classroom in America discusses it.
I devoted a whole episode (number 545) to it.
Now, a few items:
(2) We really are getting down to the wire for the Contra Cruise, October 9-16. We’ve got a ton of fun and exciting things planned. If you’ve been thinking about joining Bob Murphy and me for that memorable week, grab your spot right away: http://www.ContraCruise.com
(3) If you’re interested in learning a foreign language, the 60% off Labor Day promotion at Rocket Languages, who have been great to the Tom Woods Show, is officially under way. The first 750 courses sold will be at that substantial discount. They go quickly, so remind yourself to grab one, using coupon code LABORDAY: http://www.tomwoods.com/rocket
Oh, and I’m giving away a new car in November. More on that soon.