Utah State University Faculty Honor Lectures
The Faculty Association, Utah State University
PROFESSIONAL political scientists develop a particular way of looking at the world and interpreting its events. Because of the forces which act upon us all, the view may be excessively narrow, its importance may be exaggerated, and it may be inaccurate as an interpretive device. Yet it is a key to understanding for the person who employs it. He inclines to view all public problems in its light and tends to assume that the solution of social problems is contingent upon an adequate understanding and appreciation of it.
My own view, and I make no claim to originality in expressing it, is that the political process in a democratic community involves essentially the search for a consensus. This necessitates the development of methods of arriving at conclusions on public policies which are in the public interest and are acceptable to majorities. In authoritarian communities where the principle of consent is of no substantial importance, this is not a major problem. In these polities, decisions are made and imposed by leaders who may or may not take the public interest into account but who, at any rate, are not required to consult the public before making decisions. In democratic communities the matter is more complex. Since democratic government requires the consent of the governed, it must be discovered what that consent involves and whether or not it is really given. Consensus means a general agreement. Not everyone need consent to a particular proposition but a majority must, and the position of a dissenting minority must be noted and respected. Finally, that minority ought not to be outraged; at least to the extent that it is, consensus is minimized.
Harmon, M. Judd, "The Search for Consensus" (1964). USU Faculty Honor Lectures. Paper 33.