Front Page Titles (by Subject) Consensus and Rights - Literature of Liberty, July/September 1978, vol. 1, No. 3
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Consensus and Rights - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, July/September 1978, vol. 1, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Consensus and Rights
“Locke on ‘Voluntary Agreement’ and Political Power.” Western Political Quarterly 29 (March 1976): 136–145.
At its best, Locke's theory of will allows us to reasonably interpret his claim that “voluntary agreement...gives political power to governors for the benefit of their subjects”—a claim that is a vital component of his concept of right.
In his political writings, John Locke sought an equilibrium between consent, natural law, and natural rights. In Lockean politics, voluntary consent and contract set up an impartial and standing judge to enforce natural law and safeguard the natural rights flowing from natural law.
Locke's system, however, is open to numerous interpretations. For example, if it is “voluntary agreement” that bestows political power on governors for the benefit of their subjects, “does Locke in fact provide an adequate concept of will and of “voluntary agreement” as one foundation of what is right?”
To answer this question we can consult Book II, Chapter 21 of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding. It is argued that the coherence of the voluntarist strand of Locke's political thought is important. This voluntarism leads “to Locke's claim that men are free of political obligation” until they are put under such political order as they willingly and of choice consent to.
Locke's notion of “voluntariness” involves more than the psychological facts of restless desire. Voluntariness refers to a kind of moral causality that produces political power “by right,” thereby producing political obligations as distinguished from natural obligations. Will must be creative of (political) right. As Locke says in his Essay, political laws and rights depend “upon men's wills, or agreement in society,” and are therefore “instituted, or voluntary and may be distinguished from the natural.”