TW for rape. (I don’t even know why it got into this discussion)
Tacit consent you say? Try telling that to girls being raped. It’s basically the same thing: “You didn’t say ‘no’ so I decided it meant ‘yes’.”
Or would be if:
Social contract theory was of homogenised form. It’s not. There are a variety of different “social contracts” with different characteristics both in why they are supposedly necessary and also what type of governance they constitute and legitimise. For example the Hobbesian social contract necessitates a sovereign in the form of a monarch out of a fear of our natural human nature, where as Rousseau’s social contract was posited as a way to resolve the problems society creates by over-complicating itself.
In the social contract of Hobbes, the sovereign is all powerful and unquestioned so that fear of the state keeps us obedient and we cooperate with each other to prevent repercussions from the state, and we need the state because otherwise we’d be in a permanent state of war against all. Rousseau’s social contract necessitates direct democracy to prevent any individual from becoming too powerful and being able to manipulate or exploit others. Notice how these are completely different? A broad criticism cannot be made that misconstrues these varied theories based purely on a lexical nuance. It’s asinine.
As for tacit consent; well what do you think is the point of the concept? It isn’t that you exist in this system and therefore consent to it, it’s that if you aren’t kicking back against the system you’re consenting to it. It doesn’t assume that you won’t or can’t question the system, but simply that if you choose not to do so you are granting it your consent. The rape analogy, while completely offensive, is also utterly redundant because you’re born into a political system but you aren’t born being raped. Seriously how the fuck is that appropriate?
What’s more is that we attribute tacit consent to Locke who also said:
whenever the Legislators endeavor to take away, and destroy the Property of the People, or to reduce them to Slavery under Arbitrary Power, they put themselves into a state of War with the People, who are thereupon absolved from any farther Obedience,
or to put it another way: if the government is working against the people, the people get free reign to fuck shit up.
Now I’m not the greatest fan of the enlightenment philosophers. I have before now complained about them, and in the future I will complain about them. But if you are going to complain about them, know what it is that you’re complaining about rather than misconstruing their philosophies based on half knowing what they were saying.
Tacit consent is a really good theory not because it legitimises the state of power but because that’s how reality works. It can be a statement by the ruling class to justify their power but is even more so a rallying cry for radicals. Because if everyone is sat about complaining but not doing anything, here’s the kicker, nothing will change. Apathy and inaction IS consent just as pacifism gives carte blanche to fascism. If you don’t stand up and change the world -> the world isn’t going to change -> you are granting consent to the status quo. Don’t like it? Do something, but don’t complain about people explaining this aspect of reality to you.
There are plenty of criticisms we can make of theories of social contract and consent. They were written at the dawn of the capitalist systems emerging and yes, they are ideas of the ruling class but at the same time they weren’t purely trying to legitimise what existed but also trying to explore and rationalise how it should exist. They predate understandings of class struggle, or media control and ideological hegemony. That doesn’t mean they were all bad though, one of my favourite quotes is Thomas Jefferson saying we should have open revolts every twenty years or so just to keep the ruling class shit scared. (well, not exactly that, but it is a nice one to bring out in the wrong company).