I hear people talking about a social contract all the time. Usually in the context of some authoritarian action by the government, instituted many times by the “will” of the majority (this is really a misnomer in itself, since the majority doesn’t participate in the process). I have referred to this previously as “the common good”, but the idea is really one in the same.
I want to point out, right off the bat, that when I refer to a social contract in this piece, I am discussing the idea of a perpetual social contract. There is nothing inherently wrong with a social contract provided it passes a few simple tests. First, there must be a way (without giving up anything you have acquired) to get out of the contract. Second, it can not be enforced through force against the unwilling. Third, each person involved in the contract must consent to all areas of the contract. Failure to meet at least these three simple tests would render ANY contract null and void.
The actions that are being called a social contract don’t even really qualify as such. Jean-Jacques Rousseau first published his theory on the social contract, “The Social Contract, or Principles of Political Right”, in 1762. The idea was that a perfect society would operate on the “general will” of the people. He suggests that the way to achieve this is for the people to gather together and come to a consensus on the actions the government could take. Without this consensus from the people, any action taken by the government would be illegitimate. The sovereignty of the individual was still paramount, the representatives couldn’t even participate in the decision making process.
Three main points to Rousseau’s theory were;
THE Sovereign, having no force other than the legislative power, acts only by means of the laws; and the laws being solely the authentic acts of the general will, the Sovereign cannot act save when the people is assembled.
Every law the people have not ratified in person is null and void — is, in fact, not a law.
The legislative power belongs to the people, and can belong to it alone.
Rousseau, like any intelligent person, knew that it was illogical for a person to volunteer to be a slave. So his vision of a social contract also stated that a person could leave the contract at anytime and be free from the confines of it. He broke the social contract down into two groups; the sovereign (the people) and the government. Another interesting point to Rousseau’s social contract is that the larger the sovereign, the larger the government. The larger the government the more power it would be able to wield. When the government begins to force compliance to this social contract on anyone unwillingly, it has obviously become, not a social contract, but an authoritarian power grab.
In Locke’s second treatise on government, “An Essay Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government”, he equates a social contract with the laws of nature. In their natural state, man enjoys complete freedom, but there are some confines to what they can and can’t do. He states that people have a natural right to “life, health, liberty, or possessions”. Any person that commits aggression against those natural rights is entering into an act of war. Locke’s belief was that a state of war was likely to continue, because each act in a state of war was is an act of aggression on the others natural rights. Whereas a state of nature is absolute freedom, based on morals and not politics, Locke felt that to protect those natural rights it was acceptable for people to enter (again, voluntarily) into a social contract to provide that protect. They could form civil governments, giving up their personal and individual sovereignty, to a body with the authority to punish those who transgress against others.
The important thing to consider with both of these theories of a social contract, the individual enters into them of their own free will and can leave them at anytime they see fit.
There is a great quote by Mikhail Bakunin, in “The Immorality of the State”…
A tacit contract! That is to say, a wordless, and consequently a thoughtless and will-less contract: a revolting nonsense! An absurd fiction, and what is more, a wicked fiction! An unworthy hoax! For it assumes that while I was in a state of not being able to will, to think, to speak, I bound myself and all my descendants-only by virtue of having let myself be victimized without raising any protest – into perpetual slavery.
The acceptance of a social contract implies that the state or the originators of the social contract had a superior set of ethics or morals and that their “consensus” was based on an unchanging universal truth. Obviously this isn’t true or even desirable. When we look at the changes in our society, we can see that our forefathers couldn’t see the future. The leaps in technology, manufacturing, the evolution of the market, the accumulation of government power, the blurring of class lines, none of these things were or could have been foreseen. Any social contract based on their circumstances, with their world view, would only be applicable for as long as each of the participants involved wished to participate and nothing in their society was subject to change.
When Bakunin wrote about being victimized into perpetual slavery, he was referring to being bound to a set of rules that you have no choice but to be bound too. The way the government ensures that the “sovereign” people are bound to this contract is through the use of force and the enforced monopoly on the land within its borders. Any contract that you can not opt out of is not only immoral and invalid, but it is nothing more than a form of slavery. Taxation to enforce that slavery is nothing but theft.
The Adulterated Social Contract
The founding fathers, particularly Jefferson, were heavily influenced by Locke. The idea of a social contract was attractive to a group of people that wanted to ensure the maximum freedom for themselves. They wrote up a contract (the constitution) that stated how it would work. When they had finished their work, someone asked Franklin what they had done, his famous response, “A Republic, if you can keep it”, has been widely quoted and often commented on. But the point of the comment shouldn’t be lost. A Republic is a form of government where the supreme power rests in the hands of the power. That part is easy to understand, but the second part, “if you can keep it”, is something we should examine. My belief is that Franklin knew that, minus the informed consent of the people, the Republic was non-existent.
Between the time Franklin uttered that phrase and the civil war, many people decided to opt out of that social contract. Sometimes they negotiated further terms, sometimes they just moved on, but participation was always voluntary and force was not used for the sole purpose of holding them in subjection to that contract. Of course, the great tyrant came along and changed that. Lincoln, contrary to the legitimate powers granted the government, took upon himself the task of destroying the voluntary aspect of the social contract. He set about centralizing all government power to the federal arena and set in motion the destruction of the Republic.
The Bastar-d Children
Today the idea of a social contract that holds the “Union” together is one of the most widespread misconceptions. Most people don’t understand what the concept of a social contract entails. Above all else, it is a voluntary situation. Being able to vote is not the same thing as being able to withdraw. If you can’t withdraw or abstain from a situation, it is not voluntary. Sometimes you will hear people saying, “If you don’t like it, leave it.” Great concept except that it violates the right of the people to their possessions. And there is a balance due. Since Lincoln violated the contract, all laws and taxes that have been forced on the people must be repaid. But that is a topic for another post
Originally posted on From The Mind of IrishOutlaw