Recently, while reading some people arguing about political theory, I noticed an interesting resemblance. It was essentially this: there are two main areas in which the idea of ‘consent’ plays a major role: consenting to sex and consenting to government.
In the one case, ‘consent’ is that acceptance, by a passive figure typically imagined as female, which turns bad rape into good sex. In the other, ‘consent’ is that acceptance, by a mass of people rendered passive either by their relative disorganisation or by a supposed natural inferiority, which turns bad tyranny into good government.
This might serve as an illustration of something that Freethinker once pointed out to me, the symbolic affinity between the terms state-society and masculine-feminine.
For example, in relation to society, the state is, according to its mythology, active, rational, and wise enough to discipline its unruly and . Similarly, the mythological ‘real man’ is active, rational, and entitled by his virile masculinity to discipline those who, lacking his rational vigour, are passive and weak – a class that ranges from women and children to animals and those racial and socioeconomic groups who are mythologised as eternal children.
The rise of feminism and of democracy might then be seen as analogous events: in both cases, though they had little success in abolishing that role-pair, the image and practice of the authoritarian man-state (and corresponding joyfully submissive woman-society), they nevertheless had the acheivement of making ‘consent’ generally accepted as a necessary requirement for it.
And the problems with a model focused on ‘consent’, which many feminists have been pointed out in case of sex, can be applied equally to government. The problem with looking at sex simply in terms of consent (or lack of consent) is that it locates agency in one person and not the other – to ‘consent’ is to passively ‘go along with’ someone else’s desire. It has been said that “the opposite of rape is not consent, it is enthusiasm“. This serves to legitimise cases where one partner does merely ‘go along with’ the other: where ‘consent’ comes from being badgered, or a sense of duty, or monetary desperation, and obscure that these are still far away from mutual enthusiasm.
Similarly, looking at government in terms of ‘consent’ locates agency necessarily in the government, making ‘the people’ a necessarily passive body (‘body’ being perhaps the operative word – they are matter, the state is, perhaps, ‘spirit’? A similar symbolism has sometimes been used for gender). It conflicts with another part of state mythology: democracy as ‘rule by the people’. I think it’s clear which part is closer to the truth.
What is ‘enthusiasm’ in the case of government, the real ‘opposite of tyranny’? It would have to mean equal activity on both sides: whatever happens is because both the people and the state have actively made it happen. But that makes no sense.
It makes no sense because the justification for the state is precisely the necessary passivity of society, the impossibility of collective action without minority coercion (a prejudice equally as baseless as the supposed incapacity for action of women). Thomas Hobbes, author of “Leviathan”, puts it like this, when discussing how many people, can be treated as a collective person only through being represented:
“And it is the representer that beareth the person, and but one person: and unity, cannot otherwise be understood in a multitude.”
If unity could otherwise be understood in a multitude, the state would lose its raison d’etre. We might see an analogy with those M-M-M-MEN who are threatened by female sexual initiative. It makes sense: the justification for masculinity per se, for the mythical figure of the rational, powerful, hairy-chested patriarch, is that he is needed to take action and bring desire and energy to the world of sissies. If one of those sissies suddenly takes action on their own, even taking her unnatural assertiveness into the bedroom (sacred temple of gender roles), the Man becomes pointless – or rather, the individual must content themselves with being nothing more than a human being.
We might then suggest, if we felt inclined towards odd turns of phrase, that the aim of anarchism is to emasculate the state.