Take a moment to conceive of an Objectivist government.
Would its legitimacy be derived from a social contract like the oft-mentioned "consent of the governed," or is government's legitimacy derived from the requirements of life?
Since Objectivists are not Anarchists, they believe government should exist to defend against the infringement of a man's right to his own life, and deliver just and objective punishments therefore. But that authority stems from the conditions of life -- that not all men are rational, are capable of violating the rights of others, and are generally not capable of issuing unbiased punishments in the aftermath of a dispute.
Thus, is consent a legitimate source of government authority?
The question itself, along with the comments on it, cover the main points very well. Consent, and protection of rights, are not mutually exclusive. "Consent of the governed" is an important aspect of recognizing and protecting man's rights. Here is how America's founders stated it in the Declaration of Independence:
...to secure these rights [Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness], Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed... whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Satefy and Happpiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes....
Note the following points:
There are certain respects in which Objectivism may disagree with America's founders, such as whether or not man's nature is determined by a "Creator," whether or not the universe needed a "Creator" to get it started, and whether or not a "Creator" exists at all or ever existed. But he Founders' idea of the "consent of the governed," properly understood in its original context, is not significantly problematic in the Objectivist view of rights and government (in my understanding).
A comment by anthony questions what obligations a proper government imposes on its citizens. The main obligation is to refrain from taking the retaliatory use of physical force into their own hands. It is the responsibility of the government to be man's agent of retaliatory physical force. (Retaliatory physical force, of course, is man's basic recourse against the initiation of physical force against him, if and when it occurs.)
Government derives its legitimacy from man's nature, not from "consent of the governed." A government can be legitimate regardless of how many people endorse it.
"Consent of the governed" does not imply a contract, social or otherwise. A criminal cannot escape judgment by saying that they do not consent to be governed.
I view "consent of the governed" to be shorthand for saying that people are morally empowered to create a government to protect their objective rights, and when they do, they recognize that they must also voluntarily delegate their right of self-defense (except in emergency situations) to that government; there is no right of vigilantism.
answered Jul 31 '11 at 22:35