Friday, December 23, 2005

Sovereignty and Consent

I’ve argued before about the need to question the source of a nation’s sovereignty to determine the legitimacy of a particular regime. My thesis is that the only legitimately sovereign government is one that derives its power from the consent of the governed and that when a government comes to power, or maintains its power, by force or fraud it is not legitimate.

I’m advancing the notion that the right of a people to grant or withhold sovereignty is a basic, universal human right. It is a natural extension to the right to self-determination inherent in every human being.

This argument ultimately comes to bear in a number of debates about America’s actions on the world stage, and one of the criticisms of this thinking has often been: who gets to determine when a government is legitimate by these standards or not. This is a less artful criticism than it is intended to be, for the answer ought to be a glaring one: anyone can, for the right to free speech is another basic, universal human right.

Now, just because anyone has the right to declare a particular government legitimate or illegitimate, that doesn’t mean that declaration is necessarily true. The standards have to be met: a government that is brought into power by force or fraud isn't legitimate—also a government that cannot be changed by the people with some degree of periodicity would be illegitimate.

That is the true meaning of the empowerment of people—to have a government of their choosing and consent, and to be able to peaceably change that government.


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