I have heard the words “social contract” one too many times lately. My idea of freedom starts with the freedom of thought and I do not like fuzzy concepts that cloud judgement. I decided to find out what “social contract” actually means. Did you know that the concept itself is centuries old?
At its very basic, we are told that the social contract is an implied contract that one enters into by being a member of society. The contract offers the citizen certain protections while requiring that the citizen will be justly punished for breaking the laws of that society. The concept was first fleshed out by Socrates although he himself refuted the concept as the source of justice later arguing that the justice is inherent to men and cannot originate externally.
This contradiction and inconsistency is carried through the later works of Thomas Hobbes that form the ground for nearly all social contract theorists. The inconsistency, presented by Hobbes, could only be resolved again by admitting that the relationship between the society and the individual does not form the ground for morality. On the contrary, the natural morality of men makes the ground for the forming of the society and its rules.
People do not have an inherent desire to kill, rob and rape. Quite the contrary, if the society norms and laws were lifted today, we would likely go ahead just as we did before, cheerfully helping each other and being nice to strangers. People do not steal, rape and murder not because of some ephemeral social contract but because they are not inclined to. However, we do notice that some people have a tendency for misbehaving, right?
On the one hand, we have to admit that people who have the tendency to steal, murder and rape do so whether the society has mechanisms for punishing the said behaviours or not. On the other hand, we notice that these behaviours are tightly coupled to the possession of property. Unsurprisingly, Locke based his concept of social contract on the idea that men only have disputes when property is involved. The relationships within families are pre-social, they are moral agreements entered to and carried out willingly. As soon as people start having property, claims to property and property disputes, the relationships deteriorate and the necessity to protect oneself and one’s property arises.
Recognizing the problem, there were many attempts to remove the property concerns from the lives of men. Ideals of communism, for example, would be well aligned with removing concerns about property. Unfortunately, the execution of the plans to remove the property concerns was always undermined by the property concerns of the executioners themselves.
What does the “social contract” change in this picture? Exactly nothing. The concerns of men not related to property are governed by the inherent morality of men irrespective of not only social contracts but even the law. The concerns of property cannot be removed without changing the nature of thought in the society at large, so no ephemeral social contract is going to change that.
I come to the conclusion that “social contract” is a meaningless concept that has no relevance to my thought. It is a clever exercise used by philosophers later adopted by the politicians to join the arsenal of other confusing tricks.
Additionally, the “social contract”, while being useless, probably has a detrimental effect on the society and the independence of thought and action. If I believed in the “social contract”, I would be less likely to exhibit “fend off for myself” behaviour and more likely to behave like cattle, wouldn’t I?