Normative Consent and the Scope of Democratic Authority

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Abstract

David Estlund's theory of normative consent attempts to ground democratic authority that extends even to some decisions and laws that are erroneous, and with which it would be better not to comply, in light of the goal of achieving justice. This paper argues that the theory of normative consent is unable to ground authority with such a wide scope (or, as it will be called in the paper, ‘a wide margin of error’). Therefore, democratic authority must allow that citizens are in principle permitted to disobey laws and policies that are erroneous and with which compliance is, on the whole, counterproductive. Even though the epistemic threshold for determining both whether a particular decision is erroneous and whether it would be counterproductive to comply with it must be high, this does not touch the principled point that citizens would not be wrong not to consent to proposed authority of the type Estlund has in mind.

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