Perspectives: Who has actually signed the social contract?

OPINION – People who sell for a living are familiar with a tactic known as the assumptive close.

An example of this is when the salesperson tells the prospective client, “Unless I hear otherwise from you, we’ll consider the deal done.” The seller acts as if the buyer has given consent where it has not been clearly given.

As a closing technique it can be effective at times. But to a potential buyer who is paying attention, it can appear highly manipulative.

Who would consent to be held to a contract that they haven’t seen or signed? The answer may surprise you.

In reality, a majority of us do it every day when we allow society to enforce demands upon us via the so-called social contract.

The social contract, at its most basic, is a theory that holds that an implied agreement exists between each individual and the society in which he or she lives. Philosophers like Hobbes, Rousseau, and Locke described how, by living in an organized society, we voluntarily give up a measure of our personal liberties in return for its benefits.

To be fair, Locke at least made the distinction that legitimate civil government requires the consent of the governed. The American Founders took it one step further in that they believed that the basic rights of mankind did not originate from any earthly leader or social compact.

This is why limited government, separation of powers, and checks and balances of the different branches of government were foundational to the system they implemented. They understood the temptations that accompany any exercise of political power.

What happens a when society begins to impose unjust rules and obligations that pervert the intended purpose of civil government from protecting inalienable rights to viciously micromanaging and expropriating its citizens? Are we bound to honor the rules of an implied contract that none of us has ever read or personally signed?

The answer from the totalitarians is, “Of course you do! You agreed to abide by the rules when you chose to live here. If you don’t like it, you can just leave.”

This raises some interesting problems about the legitimacy of such a system. Does a person’s mere presence equal consent?

Auburn Professor Roderick T. Long illustrates why this is not so with the example of a person whose neighbor comes over and begins dumping trash into his front yard. If the person didn’t immediately move away from that neighbor and take up residence elsewhere, could we honestly say that the act of dumping trash into their yard has become legitimate?

That’s the ultimate question that must be asked whenever anyone, at any level of government, begins making demands of us and threatening us if we don’t comply. Do they have legitimate moral and legal authority to be doing this?

Economist Tom Woods Jr. uses another example to demonstrate why legitimacy is everything in these matters.

Woods asks us to imagine that, as a new neighbor, we showed up on his doorstep and, before entering his house, we were informed that we’d have to wear a funny hat while in his home. We’d still be free to refuse such a demand and walk away, but where it’s his home, he could legitimately make such a rule.

On the other hand, if he came to your home and demanded that you wear the funny hat simply because your choice to live in the neighborhood represented some type of consent that you are bound to obey his rules, would you do it? Of course not.

On his own property, he can make his own rules, but on your property, he has no moral jurisdiction to do so.

Blogger Eric Peters beautifully sums up what’s at stake:

A free man is beholden to none – except those he freely chooses to be beholden to. An enslaved man has no such free choice. He is beholden to whomever “society” – that is, to whomever wields political power over him – decrees. At best, he may plead to be slightly less enslaved, or to have the fruits of the labor of his body and mind forcibly distributed against his will to random strangers or groups of them, or projects or causes, he finds somewhat less disagreeable. But he cannot refuse; he is not permitted to say no. He is bound by a “social contract” he never signed, by consent he never gave. By debts and obligations assumed on his behalf by people he has never met, much less entrusted with proxy power.

On a similar note, just because we use government-provided utilities, roads, and other systems for which we currently have no other choice, doesn’t mean that we’ve signed a contract consenting to be ruled.

Like a wise buyer, we should be very aware of how those who wield power try to manipulate us into obeying an imaginary contract to which we never consented.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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  • Big Guy August 25, 2014 at 9:09 am

    This viewpoint is so off the wall that I don’t know quite where to begin. The author appears to want to live completely independently of all others except as he chooses to associate with them. Apparently anarchy would be his preferred societal condition. Democracy embodies a collective approach to solving community problems and advancing the common good. Churchill said it is the worst form of government…except for all the rest. And the author’s statement, “…just because we use government-provided utilities, roads, and other systems for which we currently have no other choice, doesn’t mean that we’ve signed a contract consenting to be ruled.” He may not have “signed a contract” but living in a democracy does mean being “ruled” by those elected by a majority. If one doesn’t like the rules, elect other representatives. But to live in a democracy, enjoying the “utilities, roads and other systems,” while demanding the right to ignore or disobey rules one finds objectionable is hypocrisy.

    • JAR August 25, 2014 at 12:23 pm

      Big Guy,
      If I could suggest. how about submitting a letter to the editor, explaining
      what freedom means to you. I’d be curious to read your take on the subject.
      Don’t worry what file the NSA puts your article in. Just let it flow.

    • Mike August 25, 2014 at 8:04 pm

      Democracy is simply the tyranny of the majority. Or as Ben Franklin put it “…2 wolves and lamb voting on what to have for dinner, while liberty is a well armed lamb contesting the vote.”

      • The Rest Of The Story August 25, 2014 at 8:40 pm

        False. That argument is a straw man. Since we live in a democratic republic, we each have a voice (except for the disenfranchised or those otherwise ineligible to vote because of age or citizenship/residency). Therefore, government decisions represent each of us, not just the majority, whether we agree with them or not.

    • Mike August 25, 2014 at 8:10 pm

      “The author appears to want to live completely independently of all others except as he chooses to associate with them. ”

      *GASP* What a terrible world that would be. People with all that freedom making all of their own choices, I shudder at the thought.

      What is so bad about anarchy, anyway? It certainly doesn’t mean “no rules” or “no laws” like most people assume, rather, “no rulers.” Everyone voluntarily associating with each other, and all living by the principle of non-aggression.

      • Roy J August 27, 2014 at 6:58 pm

        Except that none of that has anything to do with reality, humanity, or history. By the way, good luck inventing your own language, Mike, since you were forced to accept the English modus operandi at an absurdly infantile age.

        • Roy J August 27, 2014 at 7:01 pm

          …and also the English modus significandi. Hem.

  • The Rest Of The Story August 25, 2014 at 10:10 am

    You are an incredibly stupid person. The quality of this publication is lowered by publishing such drivel.

    • Joanna August 25, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      It’s a shame too because I really enjoy this website. They do such a good job of reporting local happenings, but whenever I see “Perspectives” on the page I just cringe. Of course I click b/c it’s like a train wreck – you can’t look away. And the comments (like “Big Guy” above) are usually very insightful and I learn a lot from them, but “drivel” is a great word to describe the article itself. Dude is bringing down the curve for the whole site.

  • JAR August 25, 2014 at 10:47 am

    A ‘to the face’ article Bryan. You- You Rebel!
    Don’t forget to change your shorts and sign up for the Affordable Care Act, or else.
    And while your at it, your responsible for my student loan payment this month?
    Good article Bryan.

    • Joanna August 25, 2014 at 12:17 pm

      Thank you for providing a relevant example of The ACA. All that nonsense about wearing silly hats and dumping trash in the yard had me totally scratching my head. I disagree with your point about this being a “good article”, but appreciate that you made more sense in 4 sentences than this guy did in nearly 1000 words.

  • JS August 25, 2014 at 11:18 am


  • bobber August 25, 2014 at 11:42 am

    Maybe there’s some Mormon version of Sharia law that Hyde would find acceptable.

  • Roy J August 25, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Just because Hobbes, Locke or Rouseau said something, doesn’t make it true. Let’s bounce on philosopher off of another: when it comes to the ephemerous ‘social contract’ being broken because of bad government, consider the reply of Socrates in the ‘Crito’.

  • CDC August 25, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    I believe that this article is well enough written even though a couple examples were a bit simple. This is an intense topic – we live in layers of cultures (sub-cultures) requiring us to give up some of our freedoms as we believe them to exist. Whether the culture be one on one, small group, larger group, community, state, nation and so on, we do, borrowing from the philosophers identified “by living in an organized society, we voluntarily give up a measure of our personal liberties in return for its benefits.” That can be difficult to accept at times but we make decisions daily on how we handle that – accept it or work to change it. Sometimes by working for an agreed change – sometimes by revolution (this meaning – a sudden, extreme, or complete change in the way people live, work, etc. on a personal level) “The author appears to want to live completely independently of all others except as he chooses to associate with them.” Have you given up a friend or wife, or moved to a “better” area, or different job – if so then that is what you did – most of us have moved on to what is better for us – to meet our desired level of freedoms.

  • John August 25, 2016 at 1:30 pm


    Your article has brought the totalitarians out of the woodwork. What they don’t realize, or refuse to realize is that we are slaves already. The reversal of a government by the people, for the people, and of the people, to the people FOR the government has been a gradual one, but continues to progress.

    As an example, when it comes to property ownership and rights, we very nearly have none left. Anyone who pays property taxes has abdicated the right of REAL ownership and become a tenant or fief of the government, where nearly anything the person that occupies that land wants to do must be approved by the government. People don’t often believe that they are renters/fiefs and often deny that fact even when asked the question of what will happen if they choose to NOT pay their property taxes.

    The disconnect is morbidly amazing as I watch people rabidly defend their enslaved condition by defending the very ideas that strip them of their rights.

    I fully expect to be excoriated for what I have written here by those very people I have described above. They will lash out at any expression of true freedom because their virtual walls and barred window have grown so comfortable that to change and become responsible in a very real sense scares them. It’s such a shame that the very idea of REAL freedom inspires fear in as many people as it does.


  • John August 25, 2016 at 1:38 pm

    Ooops! I didn’t look at the published date.

    Either way, can we truly say that we more free today than we were 2 years ago? I don’t believe so.


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