by Robert Metz – January 1988

One of the greatest philosophical questions facing individual citizens in any free society is: Where do we draw the line on individual freedom?

At what point in our many individual relationships should our freedom to act be limited, and how can we morally, ethically, and legally justify placing such limits on individual freedom?

More importantly, before we can even begin to attempt answering such questions, how can we learn to recognize the principle on which individual freedom must be based? How can we know when it is proper to restrict someone’s freedom, or understand when we must not restrict another’s freedom?

The answer to these questions is not as self-evident as many of us would like to believe, but of one thing we may be certain: when an issue involves any individual’s freedom of choice, the issue is consent.

Consent.

There is possibly no other single concept more appropriate to use as the defining point at what should be (or should not be) legally or morally acceptable behaviour in a free society. Consent is the underlying social concept behind a single principle that can be relied upon both to protect individual freedom, and to limit the individual’s actions within society: the principle of individual rights.

Most dictionaries define “consent” in two basic ways: (1) to be of one mind, to agree; concord, (2) voluntary allowance or acceptance of something done or proposed; permission, approval.

For all practical purposes, it is the second definition that is most appropriate, since, within its context, the first definition is already included. Using this second definition, it soon becomes apparent that there is more involved to the issue of consent than first meets the eye.

For example, consent does not necessarily imply agreement. In a free society, we consent to many things that we may not agree with, or even necessarily like.

People who accept circumstances that may be unpleasant or uncomfortable in their personal relationships can be said to be consenting to their circumstances by refusing to act or change their circumstances. Yet, others might argue that certain circumstances may be “beyond one’s control”, and thus not comprise an act of consent.

Regrettably, the term “consensual act” almost has a derogatory meaning attached to it; it is so often associated with acts of sex, that many people forget that consent should be the working principle behind all human relationships.

Indeed, it is remarkable how important the concept of consent is when it comes to sex, one of the most personal aspects of human relationships. The determination of its presence or absence may well be the deciding factor in finding someone guilty of rape, assault, forced confinement, etc. It is clear, that in such cases, the absence of consent involves the initiation of the use of force, an act that should be banned by all civilized societies.

Yet, for some reason never fully explained by those in authority, the issue of consent is virtually ignored (or consciously left undefined) in determining the individual’s freedom of action — whenever it pertains to politics.

Sad to say, when it comes to politics, the principle of consent has been abandoned in favour of another principle that is increasingly confused with it: the principle of consensus. Unlike consent, which is based entirely on voluntary interaction, consensus holds that any “majority” may do whatever it likes to any “minority”, and this philosophy demands that a society be based on forced relationships.

Regrettably, consensus (not consent) has become the predominant political philosophy in play today, and its effects on our deteriorating freedoms cannot be understated.

Because tenants happen to outnumber landlords, we have rent controls — despite the fact that rent controls completely violate the direct consensual relationship between landlords and tenants.

Because the lobby groups and special interests against freedom of choice in Sunday shopping happen to be better organized than the millions of unorganized individuals who actually shop on Sundays, we have Sunday closing laws — despite the fact that those who shop on Sundays are indicating their consent by doing so.

Because a “majority” of employees may vote to ratify a union to represent all employees in their place of employment, the “minority” can be legally forced to pay dues to an association they have not consented to support — or even agree with.

Public consensus is not a principle or ideology; it is, in fact, an anti-ideology.

Consensus is not a principle on which human relationships can be based, but a rationalization of a means to arrive at some given conclusion. By dealing with the rights of individuals on the basis of consensus, individuals are turned into numbers, with the greater number on any given issue being called the “majority” and given the legal right to impose its decisions on the minority — without the minority’s consent.

Politically and socially, consensus results in a compromise between individual freedom and government controls, and thus leads to a society run by pressure groups, lobby groups and special interests.

Under the principle of consensus, legal principles of justice begin to erode to the point where justice no longer depends upon objective evidence or individual rights, but upon the opinion of some given majority.

Under the principle of consensus, governments eventually cease representing rights and begin to represent interests.

That’s why, more than ever before, it has become necessary to refocus our attention back on the only social concept consistent with living in a free society: the principle of consent.

It is consent that allows individuals the freedom of choice that so many take for granted. It is consent that allows us to choose our marriage partners, our business relationships, our employees, our employers, our customers, etc.

The anatomy of consent is voluntarism. When people consent — even to disagree! — force becomes an unnecessary and non-existent element in human relationships.   {end}

- Robert Metz, Consent #1, Jan-Feb, 1988