It’s as inevitable as the day is long. Anytime a libertarian criticizes the government’s use of force to extract taxes and otherwise control our behavior, some state apologist will hit you with the “social contract” card. “Why, you continue to live here, so you consent to the social contract we all collectively agree to. So how dare you complain!” For bonus points, they may throw in a “move to Somalia.”
As annoying and childish as the social contract retort is, it seems to be as popular as ever. Responding with “I never signed it” is a valid and ethically correct claim, but certainly not one that will give the statist pause, or inspire additional thought to those not yet convinced of either side of the argument. Want some ammo to put the nails in the coffin and bury the “social contract” argument you confront so often on social media? Keep reading.
“If You’re Still Here, You Obviously Still Consent to the Rules”
The basis of the social contract argument is that the government, and all the taxes and rules that come with it, is something we have tacitly consented to by virtue of us still living under its jurisdiction. Of course, you never physically signed anything, but by staying you are agreeing to the terms of the “social contract.” But this is like telling someone who’s had a burglar break into their house three times and hasn’t yet moved that they consent to the fourth break in. Moreover, consent to the rules depends on the ethical and moral status of the rule maker. We must ask if the rulers are legitimately exercising jurisdiction and have justly acquired their authority to exercise power.
Indeed, why is the moral imperative on the peaceful person to move? They are not aggressing against anyone, merely minding their own business. Instead, it is the state that needs to demonstrate its right to exist and initiate force more than me to demonstrate my right to be here. This is rarely, if ever, demonstrated by the social contract crowd.
“The Government is Us”
But the rulers represent us, this next claim goes. “We get to vote on the rulers who make the rules, so the government serves as our representatives,” they’ll insist. It follows, the claim goes, that the government is just the embodiment of the “collective will” of the people, and as part of society you are in tacit agreement with that will. But if the rules of our rulers represent our collective will, why do they need to be imposed on us by force? If we all collectively consented, why does there need to be punishments for disobedience, because why would anyone disobey?
The so-called collective will is just the imposition of majority rule – the wishes of the mob. Those that didn’t vote for the elected officials making the rules clearly are not having their interests represented. Neither are those who did vote for the victorious candidate, only to see their representative vote differently than how they promised they would on the campaign trail. There is no such thing as a “collective will,” only the unique preferences of 330 million different individuals.
“If You Use the Roads, You’ve Given Consent”
This last claim simply states, as libertarian author Tom Woods explained, “you’re enjoying the benefits of living in country X, so you’ve consented to the burdens and responsibilities of living in country X.”
This argument, too, is nonsense. As Woods notes, using the roads or any other service one has been compelled by force to fund, no more grants consent “any more than the fact that I might eat a meal in prison means I consent to imprisonment.” Taking the argument still further we can expose just how absurd this claim is. “Presumably people got some benefits from the states of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany; were they therefore morally obligated to support those states?” Woods asks.
The social contract theory is something cooked up by those wanting to justify the rule by some over others. They want to veil this harsh reality under the cloak of a hazy, tacit agreement by the ruled somehow granting their consent to their rulers. Indeed, the social contract amounts to nothing more than an assertion, not an argument, typically advanced by those that want to wield power, and justify it after the fact.