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The Consent of the Governed: Study Questions

Suggested Review Questions and Activities

Teachers: The following are questions and activities that can be given to your students after they read the materials in each section. The questions are meant to be asked as a review exercise, although some encourage critical thinking as well. The activities can be presented as classroom exercises or as individual homework assignments. Unlike the questions, they tend to require additional research. Some call for students to create mock trials or debates that would engage the entire class. Both the questions and the activities are formatted so that they might be used directly by students, although you may rewrite them as you feel necessary.

Essential Principles


How did the United States achieve consent of the governed, and what constitutes consent of the governed in the United States today?

Abraham Lincoln asserted that a minority seeking to undermine a democratically established government in order to achieve antidemocratic ends could not be tolerated, and that the Union had to be preserved at all costs. Can a minority assert the right to withdraw its consent to be governed? Under which conditions? Was Lincoln's argument correct in a general sense or simply in the case at hand?


There are a number of issues that make consent of the governed a difficult concept to define precisely. How would you define consent of the governed? Who constitutes "the people" granting that consent? Can consent of the governed be achieved through representative institutions, or is the "direct democracy" of popular referendums required? Is a constitution legitimate if it is adopted, by either of those means, under limited suffrage? Does consent of the governed mean a single act of approval, or is it a continuous process? Can monarchies operate with the consent of the governed? Using your definition of consent of the governed, select examples of countries or other entities in which consent does or does not exist and compare them in light of the questions asked above.

South Africa


South Africa has been governed by the same party since the abolition of apartheid. Is it in danger of becoming an undemocratic, one-party state?


Compare the profiles of South Africa, Bolivia, and Iran, and review the Freedom House chapters on each country for more current information. Given these facts, why does Freedom House designate the three countries Free, Partly Free, and Not Free? What do you think Freedom House uses as criteria? After answering the questions, review Freedom House's description of its methodology to test whether you identified the same criteria. Discuss your findings in class.



Can the consent of the governed be determined in a state of political and constitutional instability? Is Bolivia in such a state?


Read articles on Bolivia covering the period since December 2005. Has the election of Evo Morales as president meant more or less stability? Why or why not? Defend your opinion to the class.



How did Iranian reformers use elections as a strategy to promote democratic change? Why didn't they succeed?


After the reassertion of control by clerical leaders and hard-liners in the 2004 and 2005 elections in Iran, is it possible to support democracy from within Iranian society? Examine cases of democratic transitions from authoritarian rule in other countries (e.g., Poland, South Africa) to identify practical methods for achieving democratic reform in Iran. Share your findings with the class.