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Key Takeaways

  1. Consent occurs when two or more parties voluntarily agree to the terms of a relationship.
  2. The legitimacy of governmental authority in a democracy depends upon the consent of citizens though their participation in  free and fair elections.
  3. Consent allows for the realization of democratic self-government.

What Is Consent

Consent is the agreement between  two or more parties  in a social, political, or business relationship. It allows individuals and groups to work together and grant each other permission to act in different capacities, preventing disputes over the misuse of power. These social contracts hold particular importance in the functioning of representative governments. In a Representative Democracy,  the“consent of the governed” principle refers to citizens granting legitimacy and authority to their government through elected representatives. Unlike hereditary or rule by force, power in a democratic system comes from the people, who exercise this power through elections.  Elected representatives in turn are incentivized to exercise power by virtue of the trust that flows from that consent.

How Does Consent Occur in a Democracy?

Democracy guarantees each individual citizen free, equal, and fair treatment, which includes the right to transfer their power or sovereignty to elected representatives.. Citizens grant consent by participation in free and fair elections in which they can select representatives who align with their values and beliefs.  This consent is not permanent and can be withdrawn through popular elections, allowing individuals to replace representatives. In the event people’s consent is withdrawn , democratic principles require a peaceful transfer of power. 

Additionally, in a democracy the people possess the right to dissent. Legal protection of dissent and the means to express that dissent assures on-going consent of those governed beyond elections. The right to dissent empowers citizens  to oppose the passage of a law or appeal for the amendment of an existing law. Effective consent depends upon the proper functioning of other related democratic institutions such as freedom of speech, media freedom, and open and fair elections.