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Consent of the Governed / Right to Vote

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.

Sub-Sections: 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.
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Last Updated: 29-Mar-2004