This is a follow-up to my previous post

Could the logic of strata development and strata corporation governance be applied on a large scale? Could provincial and federal governments develop as very large strata corporations?

One of the sticking points for libertarians and anarchists has always been the issue of consent. We don’t consent to be ruled by the federal or provincial governments or any other governments for that matter.  As I argued yesterday, I believe municipal governments derived from the consent of the owners would be a natural off-shoot of today’s strata corporations.  They would truly be governments by the consent of the governed.

But the larger the territory and the government, the more problematic the issue of consent becomes. The idea of a social contract developed as early as the 2nd Century BC in the Buddhist text Mahavastu, but didn’t come to full fruition until the mid-17th Century with the development of state of nature theory. According to Wikipedia, “Social contract arguments typically posit that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler or magistrate (or to the decision of a majority), in exchange for protection of their remaining rights.”

The brilliant demagogue Jean-Jacques Rousseau elaborated on this idea in his short book, The Social Contract. He rejected the liberal individualism of the era with a general disdain for culture, the arts, and the intelligentsia in favour of an idolization of the common man, or more bluntly, as Isaiah Berlin puts it in Political Ideas in the Romantic Age, “he was a militant lowbrow and patron saint of the enemies of intellectuals, long-haired professors, avant-garde writers and the intelligentsia – the advanced thinkers – everywhere.” (page 107)

Rousseau had schizophrenic views on politics. On the one hand he favoured absolute freedom. On the other he had “a thoroughly Calvinistic belief in the need for rules whereby to conduct one’s life”. (page 115-116) To reconcile this contradiction, he came up with his theory of the general will. He argued that not everyone followed his real will, but was sometimes deceived. But if a man knew what his real will was, he would freely choose to live according to the will or rules of the state. And he came to the bizarre conclusion that “total liberty must somehow be made to be identical with total conformity”. (page 112)

I discussed his views to some extent in an earlier post and I’ll discuss it some more in a later one because it is both bizarre and brilliant at the same time, and has been the cause of much mischief. Berlin notes that “this is the great justification of the State despotism advocated by Hegel and all his followers from Marx onwards.” (page 124)

“All Jacobin or other totalitarian theory which allows single individuals or groups to bind their wills upon others, whether these others like this or not, in the name of the true selves of these others, whom in the very act of coercing they claimed to be liberating – ‘forcing to be free’ – are the true heirs of Rousseau.” (page 142)

“From Robespierre and Babeuf to Marx and Sorel, Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler and their successors, this grotesque and hair-raising paradox, whereby a man is told that to be deprived of his liberty is to be given a higher, nobler liberty, has played a major part in the great revolutions of our time.”

Clearly Berlin despises Rousseau’s authoritarianism, yet this doctrine of the social contract remains the driving force behind all governments today.

The American revolutionaries in the Declaration of Independence spoke of unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And they declared “that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”.

Yet eighty-seven years later, in the midst of a great civil war to force the people to be free, Abraham Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg of a “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. That line is pure Rousseau, as was the idea of the civil war itself.

A few years later, Lysander Spooner argued in No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority, a federal or state government “has no authority or obligation at all, unless as a contract between man and man.” (page 9) Spooner argued that the Constitution bound no one except those who signed it. Explicit consent or contract was required for it to be binding on anyone.

Explicit consent is the basis of the strata corporation. But can provincial or federal governments be construed as being very large strata corporations?  Can they be converted into large strata corporations?  Would doing so, and in the process, getting universal consent, change our society into a libertarian one?

Arguably, anyone who immigrates to Canada and becomes a citizen has, in fact, given consent with the oath of citizenship. But for native born Canadians, no consent was ever given. We are governed by an accident of birth. And future generations are also born into this condition.

Is consent the only sticking point in the issue of the legitimacy of government? Suppose the government decided to rectify this issue (it is highly unlikely they ever would, but suppose they did) by explicitly asking Canadians to sign a consent form with the following stipulations:

  • signing gives explicit consent to be ruled by the laws of Canada
  • you have the option of not signing
  • declining to sign exempts you from the laws of Canada
  • declining exempts you from paying taxes
  • declining also makes you ineligible for all the services and benefits provided by the government including use of public highways and other means of transportation but…
  • you can contract privately with the various governments to provide such services as you may want to use on a fee for use basis (in other words, you can get these services for a fee but we’ll call it a fee instead of a tax)
  • you have the option of using a one year grace period to permanently emigrate out of the country if these options do not suit you
Would you sign? Or would you emigrate?  Or would you decline to sign but try and muddle through without government services, but paying for the ones you absolutely need, hoping eventually enough private alternatives would exist so you didn’t have to buy services from the government?
And would we then have a libertarian society?  Why or why not?
It would be an odd society, for sure, with those who signed agreeing to a whole lot of unlibertarian laws, but co-existing with drug dealers, prostitutes, unlicensed businesses, restaurants and liquor peddlers and so on. I believe the vast majority of people would, in fact, sign and the non-signers would probably be marginalized. But we could be surprised and have a large unregulated sector of the economy, with some people patronizing only regulated businesses and some patronizing mainly unregulated businesses depending on their preferences.
If one signed as the lesser of an unpalatable choice, one would then be fully justified in electioneering and lobbying for changes in government, and, not coincidentally, voting. It would not violate any voluntaryist principle to do so. One could work to make the government less intrusive and more libertarian.

Personally, I am not sure if this would convert us to a libertarian society or not. And I am not sure if I would sign or not. I would have to do a detailed cost/benefit analysis.

But again I ask, would explicit consent give us a libertarian country?  Is it a Catch-22 question?  Your thoughts?