Front Page Titles (by Subject) Locke, Freedom, and Tacit Consent - Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4
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Locke, Freedom, and Tacit Consent - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4 
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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Locke, Freedom, and Tacit Consent
“Consent.” Political Studies (UK), 26 (March 1978): 65–77.
Various logical difficulties plague the definition of consent in terms of granting a right to act. To avoid such difficulties we need to define consent in terms of its intended effects upon the recipients of an act of consent. J.L. Austin termed this meaning of consent its perlocutionary force. Perlocutionary analysis holds that a person's “consent” can obligate him to perform actions which he may not want to perform. This same analysis of consent makes coherent Locke's account of political obligation in terms of tacit consent.
What, then, is consent? On this analysis, consent is a special case of promising, distinctive in its passive character. Consent to an agreement is a kind of promise. It is intelligible in terms of the intended perlocutionary effect; it induces people to rely upon future actions that one has consented to perform in an agreement. By consenting to an action I intentionally induce another to rely upon my noninterference in his performance of some action.
We may define tacit consent within this expectations model of consent. A speaker induces expectations or reliance on a hearer. The speaker undertakes either not to interfere with some future action of the hearer or to begin a course of action which the hearer has previously proposed.
This same concept of consent helps in reconstructing Locke's argument for political obligation. Locke's reconstructed argument runs as follows. To enjoy one's natural rights securely, one must rely upon other people to make a contract to relinquish their rights to personally enforce contract violations. The fact that we are securely enjoying our property seems to show that other people have consented to form a political association. Unless we knew and relied on this, we would not be able to enjoy our possessions. By relying on others to give up their personal right of enforcement we are thereby inducing them to rely upon our nonenforcement of our own rights. The others would not subject themselves to judicial restraint in the enforcement of their rights if we insisted on remaining in a state of nature. This satisfies the conditions stipulated for tacit consent: an agent acts in a manner that can induce others to rely upon his future acting without the agent intending such reliance.
This analysis is not Locke's actual line of argument in the Second Treatise, but it arguably is a natural extension from his own underdeveloped account of tacit consent and political obligation. The perlocutionary interpretation of consent, in allowing for the ascription of consensual obligations to people without their intentions, makes a case for political obligation resting upon their “consent.” This analysis, however, does not of itself establish the superiority of a consensual theory of political obligation over any other rival account.