Anyone who has been following American politics in recent months has probably been alarmed by seeing the rapid advance of statism in our country, ranging from government attempts to nationalize certain industries to the aggressive attempts to impose government-ordered utilitarian morality on all citizens, controlling their every thought and action. There has been much underground complaining about this, but many Americans are afraid to complain out loud for fear that they will be attacked by everything ranging from the media to the tax authorities. And this made me think of the consent of the governed, which made me think of Francisco Suarez.
He was born in Granada in 1548 and studied at the university in Salamanca. He became a member of the Jesuit order and was ordained a priest in 1572, spending most of the rest of his life as a university professor in Spain and Portugal, where he died in 1617.
He was considered a Scholastic or follower of St. Thomas Aquinas and wrote widely on philosophy and theology, but it is his legal and political writing that probably had the greatest impact, particularly his thoughts on the source of law and the consent of the governed. Thomas Jefferson and other Enlightenment political thinkers are believed to have been directly or indirectly influenced by Suarez, whose writing rejecting the divine right of kings and insisting on the state and its government as human creations that depended on the consent of those subject to them was well known. His ideas were particularly influential in the Latin American independence movements.
Reading through a summary of his thought – at what point a government can no longer be said to have the consent of the governed, for example, and what is to be done about it – I was struck by the timeliness of it. But I suppose that this is because there is, as Ecclesiastes said, nothing new under the sun.