Is there anything that you would be more willing to purchase when your mother is not present? What about your father? What about your children? What about an attractive young adult with whom you’re on a second date? Does this person’s presence effect how you treat a homeless person that asks you for change? Does his/her presence effect which jokes or stories you are willing to tell? Which moral values you are and are not willing to take a stand on? I think the standard answer to most of these questions is: yes, of course. It is perfectly normal and healthy to adapt one’s behavior to those who are present. In this post I wish to approach the ways in which public acclamations of “common consent” in the form of sustaining our leaders differ from other forms of “consensus” and the means (both private and public) by which they are formed and maintained.
For starters, almost every type of community holds some type of “consensus” or “common consent” in high esteem. It is in this sense that many consensus theories of truth (where “truth” is the “consensus” that is arrived at at the end of “inquiry” under “ideal” conditions) and many appeals to “common consent” within the church can often be quite bereft of content. Jürgen Habermas, however, is a clear exception to this tendency in his defense of a participatory democracy in which the consensus reached at the end of “communicative action” ought to determine collective action. While I do have serious reservations about his theory, it is certainly not empty and will thus serve as a convenient entry point to the discussion. (more…)