Governments Are Involuntary
The vast majority of citizens see governments as a good idea. They’re convinced that without government, chaos would ensue. Many even think being forced to pay taxes is a good idea.
So, can we claim that most people consent to being governed?
I find it difficult to use the word “consent” to describe the attitude of those who do not resist government force. For something to be consent, it means that the person affected was asked and then agreed. The government does not ask any of its subjects if it may tax them, it just does it. And the absence of resistance is not consent.
To illustrate the distinction: if somebody shows up at your house with a group of bullies and an overwhelming amount of guns and threatens to shoot you if you don’t come with them or even make so much as a wrong move, you may decide not to resist. But no Western court would consider your lack of resistance consent, and rightly so.
The present relationship between the government and its subjects is often referred to as a “contract” (Hobbes). A common claim is that those who do not want to sign the contract can just leave the country. That is not so, because the state has a monopoly on travel documents, so you’re not free to leave without signing the contract first. Nor are you ever asked to sign it—the signature is implied by the lack of resistance to a threat of force. And a forced signature is null and void.
There’s also a question as to whether the people who do “consent” to taxation came to that belief voluntarily, or if that belief was forced on them through years of coercion and brainwashing in school, in which case the problem is the same as that of the forced signature.
Some may assure you that they positively consent to paying taxes. People can be mistaken about the reasons for their beliefs and behaviors (cf. David Deutsch’s The Beginning of Infinity (BoI) ch. 15). Those who think that it’s okay that they’re being forced to pay taxes remind me of adults who are glad that their parents forced them to, say, play the piano as a child. They’re broken enough that they retrospectively condemn freedom and value force.
Schools are institutions that the state and static memes (BoI ch. 15) use in part to make sure children grow up to be tax payers that don’t resist. Even better if those memes somehow get the child to believe that coercion is just a part of life, even a necessary one. There are many parallels between coercive government and coercive parenting.
I’ve written some about the purpose of schools here.
Lastly, there is the issue that some people are mistaken about what coercion and consent are. For example, an idea I run into from time to time says “it’s not coercion if you receive something in return.” The argument is that you receive, say, roads in exchange for paying taxes, so it’s not really coercion. There are many problems with this, including that people have different preferences as to what they may want to buy with their money, and some value roads more than others. Another problem is that the victim of force in this example does not get a chance to agree or disagree—his agreement is (mistakenly) assumed because he receives a “benefit.” His “participation” is completely passive and he becomes a mere pawn. The perpetrator can then also force the victim to do just about anything and give him something—anything—to justify their force and to shut the victim and bystanders up. In this power dynamic, the “benefit” is always going to be worth less than the extorted value—both in terms of the stolen money, and, more importantly, in terms of the freedom that is lost, which is priceless.
This last issue is reflected in coercive parenting when children are expected to be thankful to their coercive parents, if not in childhood then at least in adulthood. Some parents may even expect something in return—time, money, things—once their children are adults, which is awful. The parent may try to justify this by claiming that the child received a “benefit” which the parent now considers a loan that is due, especially if the parent made sacrifices “for” the child—even if the child never asked the parent to make sacrifices or consented to any of that. The parent has an overwhelming amount of force available to him over the child, so the child may choose not to resist, which, just as in the case of bullies knocking on your door, shouldn’t be mistaken for consent.
In short: the absence of dissent or resistance does not imply consent, nor does anyone, even in the free world, consent to being governed or taxed. It’s something that happens to them, not with them.