The place of consent in politics

The place of consent in politics: The view of the State discussed in the previous Article involves a new attitude to the problem of authority. It involves, of Course, the exercise of power by persons and it admits that the number of persons legally entrusted with power is likely to remain small. But its center of interest is less in the question of those who constitute the ultimate source of legal reference in society than in the relations established by them in order to make then decisions the result of the largest empirical induction it is open to them to obtain. It is emphatic that their power must be built from the experience of all persons affected by its exercise. Their ,authority is limited to the degree that it succeeds in integrating that experience.

This argument involves a re-interpretation of the doctrine of consent in politics. It involves, therefore, also a reinterpretation of the theory of representation upon which we at present depend. The modern doctrine of consent is largely a specious intellectualism. We do not choose our governors in the sense of actively making certain persons govern by our deliberate choice. We do not accept their legislation in the sense of blinding it expressive of what is one with our own sense of our needs.

Between us and our rulers there lies a vast abyss which is filled by the devices that power and its varied mechanisms bring into being. We are told that public opinion wills this and desires the other. But we have no satisfying channels either for the garnering of public opinion or for placing before it the materials upon which it may build an edifice of demand which represents its wants.

Consent may in practice mean any of a score of things from blank ignorance through dumb inertia to deliberate coercion. It may mean, not the fusion of wills to achieve some purpose  warranted by the facts, but the overcoming of wills which feel, sometimes actively, sometimes passively, that the thing proposed is wrong or mistaken or inadequate. Or there may be assent to a proposal which is, in fact, untrue because the administration of the thing announced as realized renders impossible the achievement of the idea which seeks translation into the event.

Our doctrine of consent must therefore take account of certain uncomfortable situations which surround the existing system. We base our legislation on the expert interpretation of our environment. But the interpretation even by the expert is colored by his own response to it, and the nature of that response alters the environment by the fact that it has ,been interpreted.

No environment, in short, is ever a static thing. We live in it and make it. It becomes ours by our experience of it, and it becomes different because it is ours. Our view of what the environment means is always intensely individual, It cannot be felt by others as we feel it. It does not convey to them the impact it makes on ourselves. There are no objective situations to be seized by a body of passionless experts who can present objective conclusions to the legislator.

The solutions proposed make their way successfully only as they represent an interpretation of experience sufficiently akin to our own to be valid for us. That is why, for instance, the making of law can never be safely confined to a single class in the community.

For its view of need is bound to be colored by its special interest, and because it has never been made to integrate that interest with those of other classes, it will be unable to realize, if not their existence, at least their validity. That has been strikingly seen in the disputes in the coal industry in recent years.

Where the miners have seen ,the low standard of life to which they have been condemned, the owners have been impressed by their low rate of profit. It is seen, also, in the post-war relations of Germany and France. Where the former has seen mainly the savage humiliations of the period since 1918, France has been troubled in part by her own humiliation in the period of war, in part by the need for security aganist the anger to which German humiliation has given rise.

The outsider who asks that each shall consider the position of its neighbor mistakes the nature of the problem. Each can only see the problem of the other when they participate in making a solution. But their present relation does not provide for the mutual creation of authority. So too, the miner and the mine owner can only have interests in common by creating common interests.

The interpretation each makes of his experience must have equal validity in the solution reached before consent to that solution is real. At present, when the parties to the State-relation,even more, to international affairs, demand justice, they mean in fact simply  justice for themselves. We can only move beyond that exclusiveness when all can protect their interests by participating in the process which secures them.

That is the real case for self-government. It permits due attention being given to the interest affected, by making the consent to be secured the consent of those persons who alone know what the interest effectively is. Authority, therefore, is a function of relations and it derives its validity from the way in which those relations are organized.

It is important, moreover, that we should regard those relations as dynamic. They are changed by working, and they, in turn, change by their operation. The process is an interweaving one. The impact of interests alters the character of interests. Solutions become workable because they are able to garner the experience of those who make them.

Authority imposed from without can never achieve that effect over a period. Its values are personal to those who make the decisions. It fails eventually to coordinate the experiences affected by its decisions. That is why, moreover, there is a point at which the administration of decisions must be decentralized if it is to be creative For the incidence of their application weights differently for each area involved the substance of the decision made.

That substance, indeed, actually becomes different as it meets the environment that is influenced and, in its turn, it directly influences the environment it encounters. Few things are more interesting on a municipal body than the way in which membership of a committee persuades the elected Councillor who is adamant about expenditure on other matters to feel that the subject he is concerned to administer is not receiving adequate attention. Will that is made by activity as distinct from consent that is inferred from reception is the foundation upon which authority must be based.

Authority, therefore, co-ordinates the experiences of men into solutions that harmonies the needs they infer from those experiences. I shall discuss later how those experiences are encountered in social organization. What, for the moment, I am concerned to urge is that no authority is truly respected, wins, that is, a consent of substance save in those terms. I do not mean that, even in those terms, its co-ordination will be final, for even when it is made the environment has begun to change its character. Respect for law can never be guaranteed all that We can do is to reduce the area of dis respect it will encounter.

We can do so by the degree to which we build our decisions, not upon the fear we can inspire or the habits of deference they meet, but by the range of experience that they span. But because men interpret that experience differently, the possibility of conflict, though it can be minimized, is never finally absent. We can be certain that most orders will be obeyed, Yet history, we must also remember, is quite largely the record of disobedience to orders which have seemed to men a denial of what was most certain in their experience.

The clearest and most direct way to minimize conflict is to organize better information upon which to base decisions. Not seldom our difficulties have arisen from the fact that the parties to some given issue have not merely a different view of the result of the conflict, but also a different view of what the conflict is about. Here, the expert determination of facts is a fundamental matter and the expertise, to be acceptable, must be drawn from a point outside the persons directly involved in the struggle. Miners, for instance, will rarely accept mine owners views of overhead charges and mine owners usually deny with fierceness the miners statistics of wage-rates.

The expert from outside who investigates and presents the available information is here the essential term in the equation he determines, as no one else can adequately determine, the material upon which judgment is to be delivered. But he ought not to determine the judgment. That external imposition of a view not made by the persons involved is usually a compromise acceptable to neither side, or else a settlement denounced as biased by the side to which it is adverse. The expert ought always to provide the materials for a finding, but never the finding itself. For the latter at once becomes subjective m a way destructive of the character that makes its basis acceptable. It loses its quality of expertise. It becomes something to be impugned in order that the decision may be rejected.

That was shrewdly pointed out by Sir William Harcourt in a remark that goes to the root of the matter. The Value he said, of political heads of departments is to tell the officials what the public will not stand. But so stated, the thesis is incomplete. What is not less important is to know from what sources it he political head of a department derives his view.

A Chancellor of the Exchequer who merely consulted property-owners upon the incidence of taxation would have but a poor clue to the mind of the public a-Viceroy who questioned the wives of Anglo-Indians would hardly be well-in formed upon the state of native opinion. We have, therefore, to go beyond the statesman and to organize the expedience is seeking to interpret. We have to make known to him the wills embodied in that experience. We have to construct definite channels through which they can have access to him. And not merely access. For in the process of building such relationships we have, as nearly as v e can, to weight those wills equally that they may be estimated with fairness.

There are involved in this view certain limits to the rightness of authority as such which need careful exploration. It is clear, first of all, that the experience of each member of the , State, both by himself and in concert with others, must be made capable of expression. It must have, not merely awareness of itself, but the means of stating the things of which it is aware. That involves, I think, the systems of rights I discussed above for, without them, the citizen has not the means of adequate statement at his disposal. And it Would follow the reform that no authority is legitimate which does not recognize and operate those rights.

What it is and does derives its significance from them. To the degree that it denies them it is limiting not merely the body of knowledge at its disposal, but also its capacity to satisfy the wants of citizens. Limitation of that kind, even when originally unconscious, becomes, again perhaps unconsciously, systematic. For where men are silent because they have not been given the means of speech, it is always ultimately assumed that they are silent because they have nothing to say.

The power to state experience implies the right to be consulted about wants. My experience is pointless unless it leads me to demand satisfaction. And it must here again be insisted that the wants required are a private system of experience into which, at the best, others can only penetrate in small part. The consultation of experience therefore means the right to participate in the making of decisions.

For any order that is issued without my sharing in its building will be an order that speaks for those who make it, and not for me. Anyone who analyses, for instance, the history of the landed system in this country will see that whatever experience it summaries, the peasant is not a participant therein. The law of sedition in India is, similarly, built upon the will of a conquering race to preserve its dominion from the danger of destructive criticism.

It is so clear that power is limited by the experience which exercises it that it hardly needs argument to prove that its legitimacy is similarly limited to those who have shared in that exercise. The foundation of democratic government is therefore in the active sharing by citizens in its processes. The will of the State must be compounded of the separate and varying consciousnesses that are affected by its willing.

Here, of course, a complex problem emerges in the effort to discover how much participation is necessary in order that its results may be adequate. It is easy to make the idea of consultation absurd by thinking of it in terms of our present political structure and trying to visualize each statute and each administrative order being scrutinized by a helpless and muddled electorate.

Participation certainly involves voting on a variety of matters. I have already argued that the people must periodically choose their governors. But the reality of participation will, I think, be found on a different plane from that of electoral machinery.

To elect our officials and then to wait until we can cashier them will never give substance to our citizenship. It is not so much on the purely political plane as in the field of economic and administrative activity that participation is important. These can, as fields of activity, be related back in their turn to the political process.

But what we need is inventiveness in the organization of functions, and, within those functions, the attempt to avoid making authority purely hierarchical in its categories. For every separation of human beings by exclusion is a potential source of conflict.

Every body in which the source of power is separated from the persons influenced by the exercise of power tends to acquire a life of its own, a self-interest, therefore, of its own, distinct from the purpose it seeks to fulfill. That separateness, indeed, changes the purpose for it interact with its environment to build a new atmosphere in which it drifts towards a new orientation.

This raises the problem of the way in which the individual is, in modern social organization, related to the State and, in particular, it raises the question of what I should like to call-the terms are not merely reiterative-the legality of law. Every citizen has, from the standpoint of politics, three aspects of primary importance.

There is, first of all, the man himself, an ultimately unassailable human being, to whom isolation from the rest of his kind, the privacy which he will die to protect, is at all costs important. A man’s religion is a typical section of this aspect, though it has not, of course, been so typical save in very recent times. But in relation to the modern State each man is, in this department or elsewhere, ultimately an Athanasius.

He will be broken by the world rather than yield to the world. In the decisions the State makes for these intimate aspects of a man’s self it must leave him room to move as he thinks fit there is nothing it can do which will deflect his conscience without, by destroying it, making the whole of his experience invalid for him. For that experience, I suggest, makes law for him ; and the decisions of an external authority have no hold on his respect save as they coincide with that experience in its results. There is, secondly, the man who is an associative animal, who belongs to this church, and that trade union, this international body and that employers association. All these are functions of himself.

They are corporate personalities through which his own personality is breaking into expression. Their decisions carry weight with him, even when they trench upon that civic aspect which is, as I argued above, most intimately the State’s own sphere. In the last aspect, the State is seeking to lay down the general principles by which the life of the society as a whole may be directed. It is building, not an ultimate unity, but necessary unities, of conduct it is finding minimal adjustments in behavior. Most largely, in the modern World, it is seeking a harmony between the second and third aspects here outlined.