In the democratic tradition, the authority of the government
comes from the "consent of the governed."
Having conferred upon an individual or a group the right
to form a government, the people can withdraw that consent
and give it to another individual or group, usually by means
of free and fair elections. The will of the people is considered
to be sovereign (supreme) and a government that has lost
the consent of the governed is expected to transfer power
swiftly and peacefully to its successor. Government depending
upon the "consent of the governed" stands in stark
contrast to those where power is achieved and maintained
through heredity and birthright or through violence and
terror. Even when the people confer legitimate authority
upon a government, they retain "the right to
dissent." This means that a citizen may oppose
passage of a proposed law or may petition for the repeal
or amendment of an existing law. The difficulty in the democratic
tradition has been finding agreement concerning the methods
and mechanisms that citizens may use to express their dissent.
The encounters and experiences represented in the Scenarios
provide an opportunity for you and your students to explore
the issues involved.
||Keep in mind that dissent constitutes
a particular form of disagreement; it expresses the
disagreement of people with agencies that govern their
lives. Of course, this includes disagreement with government
but it can also include disagreement with our trade
union leaders or our church leaders or any group to
whom we give "the consent of the governed."
To be sure, people often have other disagreements –
friends might disagree on what movie to go see or families
on where to spend a vacation but we don't elect our
friends to govern us and we can hardly change our families
by having an election.