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Unformatted text preview: r consent-based argument for the claim that democracy is necessary for
legitimate authority asserts that when people participate in the democratic process, by
their act of participation they consent to the outcome, even if it goes against them.
Their participation thereby lends legitimacy to the outcome and perhaps even to the
democratic assembly that is elected by citizens. On this account, the acts of voting, for
example, are also acts of consent to the outcome of the voting. So participants are
thereby obligated to comply with the decision made by the majority.
The problem with all these variations on consent theory is that they face a worrisome
dilemma. On the one hand, they seem to involve highly suspect interpretations of
behaviors that may or may not imply the kinds of consent that these theorists have in
mind. Hume's worries about consent theorists’ interpreting residence in a territory as
consent to its government have close analogs in this kind of context (Hume, 1748, p.
263). Why suppose that a person's vote is understood by that person to be consent to
the outcome of the vote. Why not suppose that the person is merely trying to have an
plato.stanfor d.edu/entr ies/democr acy/ 21/28 8/30/13 Democr acy ( Stanfor d Encyclopedia of Philosophy) impact on the outcome? Or why suppose that a person's membership in society—the
“consent” signaled by remaining in the society—really commits him to agreeing that
decisions must be made by majority rule?
On the other hand, if we eschew the interpretative route the only way to think of the
person's vote as constituting consent is if we think that the person ought to consent to
the outcome or ought to know that he is consenting to the outcome. The fact that they
ought to consent to the outcome because they have participated is sufficient, on some
views, to produce an obligation. And the thesis that they ought to know that they consent
is usually grounded in the idea that it they ought to be consenting when they vote. But
this kind of view seems to get far away from the basic idea of consent theorists, which
is that whether persons consent or not should be up to them and should not be
determined by the correct moral view. Consent theory is grounded in the need a way to
think of government has legitimacy when people disagree about whether it is just or
5.2.1 Li berty and Authori ty
The liberty approaches to the justification of democracy provide alternative approaches
to the idea of the authority of democracy. The idea here is that democracy has authority
to the extent that people freely bring about the democratic decision. The reason for this
is that democracy merely extends their activity of self-determination to the political
realm. To the extent that self-determination is an preeminent value and democracy
extends it to the political realm, allegiance to democratic decisions is necessary to
self-determination and therefore is required by virtue of the pre eminent importance of
But here is a worry about this kind of approach. It seems either to presuppose that
decisions will have unanimous support or it requires a number of substantive conditions
on self-determination, which conditions do a lot of the work of generating obligations
to democracy. For instance, if a decision must be made by majority rule, one strategy
for reconciling this with self-determination is to say that a self-determining person
must accept the legitimacy of majority rule when there is disagreement. This may be
because the self-determining person must accept the fundamental importance of
equality and majority rule is essential to equality under circumstances of disagreement.
So if one argues that one cannot be self-determining unless one accepts equality then
one might be able to argue that the self-determining person must accept the results of
majority rule. But this argument seems to make the authority of democracy depend
primarily on the importance of equality. And one must wonder about the importance of
the idea of self-determination to the account.
5.2.2 Equal i ty and Authori ty plato.stanfor d.edu/entr ies/democr acy/ 22/28 8/30/13 Democr acy ( Stanfor d Encyclopedia of Philosophy) Another approach to the question of the authority of democracy asserts that failing to
obey the decisions of a democratic assembly amounts to treating one's fellow citizens
as inferiors (Christiano 2004, 284-287). And this approach establishes the authority of
democracy by claiming that the inequality involved in failing to obey the democratic
assembly is the most important form of inequality. It is more important to treat persons
as equals in political decision making on this account than it is to treat them as equals in
the economic sphere. The idea is that citizens will disagree on how to treat each other
as equals in the areas of substantive law and policy. It is the purpose of democracy to
make decisions when these disagreements arise. Democracy realizes a kind of equality
among persons that all can share allegiance to even when they disagree about many
matters relating to substantive law and policy....
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