New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

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This article analyzes the concept of consent of the governed in the Hebrew Bible with special reference to the covenant on Mount Sinai. The author recognizes consent as a source of legitimate authority and deals in a sophisticated way with problems that have troubled later consent theories: whether parties actually consent; whether consent is voluntary; the information needed for informed consent; the issue of framing the issue so as to present the subjects with fair options; the problem of dissent; the impact of a social compact on non-participants and future generations; and the question of whether the compact is conditional or absolute. A remarkable feature of the Sinai episode is its similarity to the original position in Rawls’ Theory of Justice: the Israelites in the wilderness at Sinai, like Rawlsian subjects behind the veil of ignorance, make fundamental choices while shielded from knowledge as to their future positions or endowments.

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