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consent of the governed

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A condition urged by many as a requirement for legitimate government: that the authority of a government should depend on the consent of the people, as expressed by votes in elections. (See Declaration of Independence, democracy, and John Locke.)

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

MORE ABOUT CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED

What does consent of the governed mean?

Consent of the governed is a political idea that states that the only legitimate government is one in which the power is derived from its citizens.

Simply put, consent of the governed means that a government exists only because the people freely allow it to and have given their consent. This is most often accomplished by citizens voting for their government leaders, as is done in modern democracies. The United States, for example, votes for local, state, and national officials in regularly held elections.

The concept of consent of the governed is the central concept of a democratic form of government. Consent of the governed is what separates a democracy from a dictatorship or an absolute monarchy.

Why is consent of the governed important?

The idea of consent of the governed came from political philosopher John Locke (1632–1704), who wrote about the concept in his Two Treatises of Government. Locke argued that a government exists to serve the people, who are all equal citizens, and the people have the right to rebel if the government fails at this duty.

At the time, Locke was arguing in favor of the Glorious Revolution, which deposed King James II. However, Locke’s ideas inspired another revolution in Great Britain and one of the revolutionaires, Thomas Jefferson, would put Locke’s philosophy in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.

In human history, governments with the consent of the governed were not common until relatively recently. Democracies and republics, both of which operate under consent of the governed, are two of the most common forms of government in modern times.

Did you know … ?

The oldest example of rule by consent of the governed is Ancient Athens, dating all the way back to the 400s b.c.e. The citizens of Athens voted directly on many important issues, such as war and trade. However, only adult, Athenian-born men were allowed to vote.

What are real-life examples of consent of the governed?

This quick video lecture explains how John Locke’s ideas, including consent of the governed, were incorporated into the Declaration of Independence:

Even in modern times, consent of the governed is an important, fundamental value to many citizens of democratic countries.

 

What other words are related to consent of the governed?

Quiz yourself!

Which of the following is the best example of a leader who rules by consent of the governed?

A. A military general who took over a government
B. A prime minister who was elected in a competitive general election
C. An emperor who inherited his role from his father
D. A queen who inherited her role from her mother

How to use consent of the governed in a sentence

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