Locke on Express and Tacit Consent

Political Theory 14 (2):291-306 (1986)
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Abstract
THE SUBJECT MATTER of this essay is Locke's well-known discussion of consent in sections 116-122 of the Second Treatise of Government.' I will not be concerned to discuss the place of consent in Locke's political philosophy 2 My concerns are somewhat narrower than this. I will simply be concerned to show that in important respects several recent discussions of Locke's political philosophy have misrepresented Locke's views on the subject of express and tacit consent. At theheart of these misinterpretations lie misunderstandings about the way in which landownership and the inheritance of land are related to express and tacit consent. I will show that these misinterpretations of Locke's views are, to a certain extent, indicative of internal strains that can bediscovered in Locke's arguments. My discussion will fall into four sections. In the first I will try toclarify Locke's views on the nature of express consent. I will show that Locke's views on this matter, when examined in their historical context, are not as obscure as some critics have suggested. In the second section I will examine Locke's views on the nature of tacit consent. I will be especially concerned to examine the relationship between landownership and express and tacit consent. In the third section I will look at Locke's views on the inheritance of land and how it relates to express and tacit consent. I will show that his views on this matter are not entirely consistent. In one passage Locke suggests that inheritance of land requires only tacit consent whereas, in another passage, he suggests that inheritance of land requires full membership of society and express consent. In the fourth and final section I will summarize the salient features of my interpretation of Locke's views on the subject of express and tacit consent. I will also briefly note interpretations of Locke's views that have been rejected in the course of this essay. ____ Reprinted in J.R.Milton, ed., Locke's Moral, Political and Legal Philosophy (Ashgate, 1999), 465-482.
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