Can Government Regain the Consent of the Governed?

Isaiah Berlin, one of the 20th century’s greatest thinkers, believed that “the central question of politics [is] the question of obedience and coercion.” At its most basic level, the scholar framed the question like this: “Why should I (or anyone) obey anyone else?”


That question goes right to the core of discussions about how a government can earn the legitimacy it needs to function. It’s the question our Founders had in mind when they said that governments derive their only just authority from the consent of the governed.

It’s a question that needs to be asked at a time when a majority of Americans view both leading presidential candidates unfavorably.

With such nominees, how can a 21st century American government gain the consent of the governed in a vibrant, robust and diverse society? There are approximately 325 million people in the nation representing an astonishing mix of age, race, ethnicity, religious views, values, skills, priorities, and interests. Within each of these groups are people with just as diverse a set of styles and social skills. One personality test identifies sixteen types such as commander, debater, mediator, and entertainer.

Many in Washington act as if they believe the government is the only thing holding all these unique people together. Actually, a stronger bond is the belief that we all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Americans embrace the notion that they can do whatever they want with their own lives so long as they don’t interfere with the right of anybody else to do the same.

The American commitment to freedom goes hand in hand with a desire to create a better world. It’s an attitude brimming with optimism about what a free and self-governing people can accomplish. We cherish our freedom but recognize its greatest value can be found when we use that freedom to build community.

In recent years, the tech industry has provided amazing new tools to empower these core beliefs. We can celebrate our freedom by personalizing our own digital experience. At the same time, digital platforms help us find exciting new ways of working together in community. More than ever before, we are able to channel the great diversity of our nation in ways that create a better world.

The success of the tech world comes from the fact that the new tools have to earn our support. We are always free to choose our own path. We can get a ride with Uber or we can reject Uber and use traditional taxis. We can share some of our information to use an app or we can get by without the app. But it’s our choice.

Unfortunately, the political world makes no such effort to earn our support. Unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats simply pass rules without giving any thought to why we should obey them. The rules are imposed in a top-down manner with no pretense of being justified by the consent of the governed.

More than anything else, our next president should seek to restore the legitimacy of our government. At one level, that would mean learning a lot from the permission based model of the tech world. Even more, it would mean finding a way to answer Isaiah Berlin’s question.

Also see,

Trump Has Conquered the GOP: Now What?

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