Introduction to Libertarianism – Part Three

In Intro to Libertarianism on March 19, 2012 at 12:17 pm

In this, the third installment of the Phyne Dyner’s introduction to libertarianism, we’ll look at the fictions inherent in the idea of a “social contract”.

Jean-Jaques Rousseau introduced the idea that people bound together in a society must trade away elements of individual freedom in exchange for security and justice in accordance with the general will. In other words, popular sovereignty decides what is good for the whole of society.

On its face this sounds like a fair exchange. But in reality, such an exchange is little different from the older standard where people trade individual freedom for benevolent good; with the “good” decided by monarchs.

As royalty fades from human fashion, we are left with a democratic tyranny where the majority substitutes for the king or queen and the general will can negate any and all individual freedoms, including the natural rights, for the public good?

Who establishes the nature of the public good?

A more significant question is whether or not the general will of the people is consistent with what is good. History is rife with examples where the popular will of the people was entirely inconsistent with “good”. Almost every tyrant placed on trial for human rights violations can point to his/her own evil and claim “I only did it for the public good.”

Coercion and threats are inherent in social contracts with the State.

After Rousseau, Peter-Joseph Proudhon later opined in favor of individual liberty when he stated that a social contract that respected individual rights would be based in an agreement that the individual need not surrender individual rights to the state, but rather that any social contract should strictly be between individuals who refrained from coercing or governing others.

Because coercion is at the root of all state authority, the Rousseau model tends to be the one used by most governments. Without coercion, the state becomes impotent.

Is a social contract even a contract at all?

The bare idea that such a concept exists as a “contract” fails miserably. Proudhon came close to articulating this when he held any social contract must be free of coercion.

In basic civil law, a contract entered into under threats or coercion is not a valid contract. A contract must be voluntary and entered into according to free will.

Can an American, for example “opt out” of the American social contract? When individuals or groups of Americans simply “quit” the contract, the response of the state has been absolute and predictable.

No, the American state sends its men with guns to enforce the one-sided contract. When entire states attempted to opt out of an America on whose seal the paint was barely dry, the federal collective state sent its northern armies into sovereign states. It is just like being born into the Mafia, you cannot leave the American state and expect to live in peace.

Despite its built-in element of coercion, the American state persists in calling the arrangement a social “contract”.

Can one be born into a contract?

Again, let’s look at civil law.

No. Every party to any contract must give his/her consent to be bound by the contract. As with coercion, a contract absent of individual voluntary entry is not a contract. One cannot be born into a contract to purchase a car, a home, or some land. So how does an individual become born into a contract that involves his most basic natural right to life?

“How does the state exempt itself from contract law?”

If we bothered to asked the question, we would realize that the answer, as with everything related to the state, is (again) “through force”.

A group seeking to establish governance with the consent of the governed is required to make a contractual offer to each individual it proposes to govern. “We will do this and in return we expect that.” The individual now must weigh what is gained to what he/she must deliver. If the terms are not acceptable, the individual can decline all or part of any social contract and not make themselves obligated to that government or eligible for any of the benefits from that government.

Such an arrangement between people and a government would quickly get cumbersome for the state. Consequently, even the most liberal governments rely on unjust use of force (or threats) to make the government-citizen relationship work in a manner beneficial to the state.

Early Libertarian Party leader, David Bergland, said of such a relationship:

“Government as an institution should be perceived for what it is – a group of people who have substantial power at their disposal which they can and do use to control the rest of the citizenry in a variety of ways.”

The best result of such an arrangement is partial freedom. Is that acceptable?

It may seem so. But, in the end, a prison trustee is still a prisoner and the slave held as a near member of his or her owner’s family…

…remains a slave.

[In Part Four, we’ll ask if man can live in liberty? Is the individual’s best hope to live as a “happy slave”, living under a caring and benevolent master?]


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