Arguing over Hitler’s org chart
July 31, 2017 § 225 Comments
Consider the phrase “the just powers of government derive from the consent of the governed”.
This phrase is a liberal slogan, and as a well adjusted modern person you aren’t supposed to consciously notice the different things that it means. What you are supposed to do, as a good conservative, is defend it when it is criticized by taking advantage of the fact that it means different things. When one of the meanings is criticized, the criticism can be parried by claiming that that isn’t what the slogan really means at all (at least not to you): it really means one of the other things that it means. Pay no attention to the body bags, mass graves, and fetal organ marketplaces: that kind of thing can happen anywhere.
One of the things that the slogan means is that no actually functioning government has been overthrown by violent revolution: that the dictator hasn’t been assassinated (yet). This meaning of the phrase is always true by definition, and makes no distinction between liberal and illiberal government regimes.
Another meaning takes the term “just” in the phrase seriously and proposes that the consent of the governed is what morally grounds legitimate government authority and concomitant powers. The consent of the governed is what makes government powers just in liberal regimes, as opposed to illiberal regimes which lack this moral grounding. Consent of the governed is what morally distinguishes liberal regimes from illiberal regimes.
This meaning is self contradictory, because justice always trumps consent by definition. That is why we have jails. The positive law – governance – in its essence tells those subject to the law – subjects who did not choose their own state in life – what they must consent to, or else. If J always trumps C then C cannot be the moral justification of J.
A third meaning asserts that only particular structures of government are moral: constitutional republic, democracy, or what have you. You can think of structure as being like the organization chart of a company or other institution. Organizational structure describes who presently reports to whom, how decisions are made institutionally, what policies and procedures are normative in various ordinary scenarios; that sort of thing.
Which particular org charts are and are not thought to be good depends on who is asserting the slogan and what their opinions happen to be about various organizational structures. The great thing about fighting over org charts is that they provide endless meaningless entertainment and distraction.
The idea that the basic problem of authority and governance in modernity is that we don’t have the right constitution and political structure, is akin to thinking that the basic problem with Planned Parenthood or the Nazi party is how they are organized.