UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Consent and political obligation : Richard Hooker to John Locke Kernan, Dean


The problem that this thesis addresses is what was meant by politics based on consent in seventeenth-century England. It proceeds by examining several of the best-known English political writers, beginning with Richard Hooker and ending with John Locke. It attempts to offer an historical account of the meaning of consent, and its relationship to political obligation. The method used is both philosophical and historical. It examines the cogency and coherence of doctrines of consent that were articulated, beginning with Hooker, touches on several theories of consent that arose during the period of the English Civil War, and examines the relative importance of consent theories during the Restoration and Glorious Revolution. It considers consent, or contract theory in light of two models: a 'social contract theory' that argues from a state of nature, and 'constitutional contract theory' that understands consent as consent to law. The nature of political obligation is a function of both varieties of consent theory. The general conclusion is that, despite the arguments of the Levellers for a politics based on 'each man's consent', John Locke does not use this vocabulary of consent. He relies instead on a variant form of English constitutionalism, a variety of consent theory that has affinities with that of Richard Hooker's, that assumes that Parliament consents to law for all. It concludes by arguing that, in spite of recent readings of consent theories that have suggested that political obligation was simply understood as a duty to God, one's consent to particular laws was a necessary component of one's obligation and willingness to obey.

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