Locke And Authority

John Locke said that a government’s authority could come only from the consent of the people. On the surface this sounds nice and seems to make sense. But, let’s look at it closely. “Consent of the people”—which people? How many of them? A large percentage? More than half? All? It is usually assumed to be more than half. But if so, then the smaller number who don’t consent—they are not going to be represented. Why should their wishes be counted for naught just because they are fewer in number? Is right and wrong determined by number? Are stealing, lying, murdering, wrong because of numbers? There is something very wrong with this idea of Locke’s. All it will lead to is the majority always being right no matter how wrong it is.

If the majority decides that all left-handed people should be burned at the stake, then killing left-handed people is right. Right would reside only with the majority number. In all discussions of how to run governments the end conclusion is always that a democratic vote must be the determining factor–either in voting someone into office, or in making a law. Why not give candidates a test? The one who scores the highest gets the job for two or three years. The results are objective. No pressuring of potential voters, no playing with their emotions.

The only rational reason for having a government is the protection of individual rights. Otherwise, it has no authority. Yes, that’s it. No government anywhere has any legitimate authority except insofar as it upholds and protects individual rights. A majority does not in itself mean good or noble or upright. A minority does not in itself mean bad or wrong-headed. A thousand men may agree and yet all of them be wrong. One man may stand alone and be right. A democracy—rule by majority—is not a good thing; it is a bad thing.

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