Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Social Contract

Occasionally some social planner, either from the right or the left, will react to opposition to the proposed plan by reminding people that resisting is wrong. The planner will do this by invoking the Social Contract and asserting that by living in society the person opposing the plan agreed to whatever "society" decides to do to that person. The only option, says the planner, is to leave society.

That version of the Social Contract is full of misunderstandings and fallacies.

To start with there is the basic confusion between "society" and "government." Even in a democracy the two are not the same. In a pure democracy, the government is 51% of the public. In a democratic republic the government consists of elected officials and hired bureaucrats and officers. In neither case is it true that the entire public "is" the government.

Second, the Social Contract describes the relationship between the people and the society, not the relationship between the individual and the government. While those two perspectives overlap, the key focus is that the people created a government to protect certain rights. The government is the agent of and not a party to the social contract.

According to such a Social Contract theory it is possible for the government to be the party that violates the social contract. When that happens then according to Social Contract theory the people have every right to declare the contract null and void and overthrow the government that is violating the contract.

By making the argument that people are bound by the Social Contract, the social planner is undercutting his own case. Since the planner is invariably proposing some violation of the rights of the individual in order to implement the plan, the planner is therefore proposing that the people rise up in rebellion against the planner.

In essence, the Social contract belongs to libertarians and not to statists.

But most importantly, the Social Contract is a myth. There is no such actual contract, it is an analogy used by enlightenment philosophers to try to understand the nature of the relationship between the people and the government. While the myth describes pre-government people getting together and agreeing to set up a social system, no such meeting ever occurred.

The first governments were primitive tribal governments that are descended from the primate bands of pre-human ancestors. The pre-human bands were groups of related hominids with a few leaders and several followers. The alphas were those who had first pick of any food or mates. These formed the basis of the first tribal governments, without the intervention of any meeting to establish a social contract. The first tribal government evolved into more complex structures with kings and other sorts of rulers.

Based on that perspective it becomes obvious that kings and presidents are nothing more than self-important chimpanzees who want first pick of food and mates. That rather lowers the prestige of those offices.


See a very good analysis of the content of the social contract by Kent McManigal.


Anonymous said...

Hi - just had to stop by and thank you for your reply on the 'racial pride' question, over at Mike's Sipsey Street... I never thought of that ( using a different combination on every form) but it sounds great.
I wonder if they would accept
" plaid " ?
Stay free.
j3... or parapacem...

Anonymous said...

The government doesn't even make up 51% of the public. The government may have entered with 51% of the public's consent, which simply involves their deferral of responsibilities to rule themselves to just a relatively small group of individuals calling themselves government.

Also, if there were a social contract between the government and individuals, what if the individuals chose to break that contract? Who would be the third party to enforce it?

Also, to call the world "a market of nations" is nothing but insulting since I am forced to "buy" a nation like I would be forced to "buy" chocolate and choose whether to eat it quickly or eat it slowly but that I must eat it.

Kent McManigal said...

I just now added a link to this post in my old post from around the same time: link