Imagine you lived in a system where you were required to buy a car. The car’s body, interior and engine have been preselected for you by a monopoly provider who also sets the price. There’s no negotiation. You have to pay their price. Now if that seems strange, just replace the words “seller” with “government” and “buyer” with “citizen.”
You are living in such a system.
As a tax-paying citizen, you must subsidize inefficient technologies, television channels, professors of gender studies, and military missions abroad. If you wish to reject these out of either preference or conscience, tough luck. Indeed, you’re also forced to take out a pension, health insurance, and elder care with predefined conditions–whether you agree or not. You also have to finance others’ health insurance–even those who are financially better off.
In other words, you are not a client. You are a subject.
This imposition is sold to you as part of an alleged “social contract”. This contract is meant to exist between citizens and the state. In some versions the citizens, among themselves, are supposed to have reached such an agreement by relinquishing part of their sovereignty to the state, purportedly in exchange for a greater overall good. The details of how such an agreement is reached are not so important to cheerleaders for the social contract. But at best it is a theoretical construct. At worst it’s mendacious metaphor.
According to the civil law tradition in most of the West, regarding such a construct as a contract is questionable to start with. A legal contract requires mutual agreement and clarity about the deliverables and performances. If there is a lack of certainty in its performance and rewards, a contract is not in force. Further, a contract is not binding if one of the parties fails to agree on any of the substantive points. In fact, if just one party subjectively disagrees with a single substantive point, there’s no binding agreement. All of these problems militate against the existence of an abstract social contract.
Since these objections cannot be conclusively dispelled, social contractarians usually urge that the physical presence of the citizen in a particular State constitutes his implied consent to the applicable social order. It’s rather like saying that a slave who does not try to escape daily has implicitly agreed to his slavery. In fact, a perverse trade-off takes place in such a case. The slave asks himself where he might go, and whether it’s too risky to attempt an escape. The citizen has to leave his house, his job, his ancestral homeland — and he might even have to abandon his family. Therefore, the decision in both cases might be to remain in the respective system. But he is merely choosing the lesser evil. There is no real agreement here.
Thus, the general principle that human interaction ought to take place on a voluntary basis and not under threat of harm cannot be guaranteed by today’s states. Instead, states are instituted on its violation.
Any system which, by law, performs expropriations in favor of third parties cannot permanently create a condition of either peaceful or predictable cooperation. Instead, it encourages never-ending conflicts, resentment, and social unrest. Such societies have no future. They are Ancien Régimes.
The new home of the 21st century will be an adopted home. People are already offered a choice of countless goods, can choose among a wide variety of policies in many different aspects of life. New technical products come onto the market daily. In the area of human coexistence, why should things be any different? Indeed, who would choose to maintain a system fueled by coercion, which not only is expensive but also functions poorly overall?
Now imagine in contrast, that a private company offered you community services in a given area, such as the protection of life, liberty and property. This performance includes police, a fire department, emergency rescue, a legal framework and an independent judiciary. Your respective rights and obligations are laid down in a written agreement between you and the provider, which you only accept if and for as long as you like the offer .You pay a contractually defined amount for these services per year. The community services agency, as a steward of the community, may not at any point unilaterally change the contract. You have a legal right to demand that the agreement be respected, and you can claim damages for faulty performance. You are a contracting party on an equal footing with a secured legal position, instead of being subject to the ever-changing whims of politics.
The first companies that want to operate such free private cities have been established in the last years. Several projects are already being negotiated. The solution to the political problems of today could therefore come from a completely unexpected quarter: profit-seeking entrepreneurs. If this seems crazy, just think about the operating system that’s running the device on which you’re viewing this post: If you were unhappy with its functioning, wouldn’t you choose a competitor?
This blog post is an abridged version of Titus Gebel’s article titled Towards a Real Social Contract, published by Students for Liberty. You can read the original here: https://www.libertycon.com/blog/towards-a-real-social-contract/