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+1 vote
I'm sure at some point or another a few of you have heard or debated with people who defend the idea of the social contract. Here's a link to those who don't

Basically if you live in a government, whether you like it or not, you must act in proper accordance and can only act and behave according based on the consent of the governed and those who rule over them.

An even shorter explanation: as you are born in state society, as a citizen you must do what it and the people who obey it expect of you.

Proponents of government usually resort to this theory to argue against people who are against doing things such as the need to pay taxes, vote, support the military and basically anything that involves supporting the government.

What would be your response to such an argument?
by (570 points)
I haven't read much about this before....but it doesn't sound like much of a theory, argument, or contract to me....

more like "hey, you were born, therefore you owe the state". sounds like a bunch of crap to me.

edted to add: after reading some of the wikipedia description, i interpret it differently than as described by MrE.

so i'd probably first respond to someone by asking what they meant by social contract, and it would depend on the particulars of the discussion (the context, why they brought it up, etc.) as to how i would respond from there.

4 Answers

+4 votes
here are a couple of things that this brings up (for me) :

1. how relevant is the idea of a social contract to the way that power actually operates today? was it even a good description in the 18th c.?

2. more to the point, I feel like in the original texts (rousseau for example)  it's more treated as a kind of thought experiment (the claim isn't that after you make your mark on your birth certificate you also sign another form saying ok sure capitalism sounds great). a lot could be said about this, but do we care about the logical structures of major enlightenment writings? i don't know, I don't think I do, but I could also imagine it becoming interesting...

3. even if you felt that you had entered into a contract, why would you allow that to outweigh, in your mind, the crushing existential problems that it had induced? (I feel like it's almost a given that in this scenario betrayal is usually better than faithfulness).

4. i'm a little put off by how much importance this question (and ones like it) attributes to a possible series of questions that, we are supposed to worry, someone might pose in a debate. It's as if the people asking them are all really anxious to be prepared for thanksgiving with their racist uncles. sure you can have a debate about it, but how does that help you? I feel like the real answer is that if someone says "what about contract theory??" you're better off making a joke, changing the subject, wandering off to refill your glass, really anything other than having a "debate"...
by (8.0k points)
edited by
good stuff, asker. i like #4 a lot....not only did it make me laugh, it also reminded me how it often serves me best to not engage with questions like that....unless i feel like getting riled up at the moment...but i'd usually rather wander off and refill my glass or take a few tokes...not that i attend many holiday functions these days...   :)
+1 vote
any actual contract is technically a legal agreement. that implies law. that implies an overarching authority to define and enforce said law. that implies ... NOT anarchist!

the "social contract" assumes (or maybe even specifies) the authority of the state over the individual. need any more be said (in an anarchist context)?

yeah, i know, of course more needs be said. have at it.
by (13.4k points)
–6 votes
Anarchists actually DO require a social contract as a means of prohibiting others from constructing a nation-state and consequently "ruling" over them. This is why post-left anarchism is not anarchism; there must always be some form of coercive violence to maintain ideological order (i.e. post-leftism) over a society (or, if you prefer, a territorial area.) By instituting a set of rules advocated by a tiny minority (no states, no capitalism) onto society without giving them an outlet to override it, you have constructed an oligarchy. If you don't, you've made no argument against the social contract theory :)

Get ready for the Blackian butthurt, I can sniff it a mile away.
by (310 points)
"I don't think [post leftism] means what you think it means."
Call me a butthurt blackian, but I was under the impression that post-leftism is opposed to this ideological thinking you claim it supports.
oh boy, here we go again. another socialist claiming anarchy as exclusively theirs.

ad, you ought to submit your massive straw man to the burning man crew for next year.
you see AD, this is why i like nihilism as an anarchist perspective...a belief in NOTHINGNESS. If all attempts to create a "benevolent ruling power" have failed (yes they have), then why should we keep trying to create one, why not just be ruled by NOTHING?
rs666: does "ruled by NOTHING" mean the same thing as not being ruled at all? that is not clear to me from your words.

there are aspects of nihilist thought that i have found useful, but "a belief in NOTHINGNESS" has never made sense to me. i am sure i don't fully understand that whole area of thought. having no expectations about the (potential) outcomes of one's actions is very different from wanting nothing, or believing in nothing, or whatever.

"belief" is another of those loaded, easily misunderstood terms. i associate it with "faith", and so i have no use for it.
funky, i've thought quite a bit about the distinction you made there, and i think i look at it similarly to you.

when i read rs666's words, the big lebowski comes to mind "we believe in NOTHING lebowski!!!"

anyway, i like to describe my outlook as not engaging in the practice of other words, "not believing" (in anything), as opposed to "believing in nothing".

words often obscure rather than i don't know that rs666 means something different....but i like the discussion. :)
well, i do mean it with a double meaning: both not being ruled, and being ruled by consequences (out of nothingness) as opposed to isn't always pretty but certainly better than civilization.

I don't expect either of you to be friendly towards such a naturalist mentality, but i guess in the end im a cynical person despite  being an anarchist, i don't have such wonderful feelings about the world we live in...

oh, and belief: i use it in the sense that "i have this opinion"

cynical despite being an anarchist? do you see those as somehow opposed to each other?

also, what is this "naturalist mentality" that you think i would be unfriendly towards.

   Midnight on the water
   I saw the ocean's daughter
   Walking on a wave 's chicane
   Staring as she called my name
   And I can't get it out of my head
   No, I can't get it out of my head
   Now my old world is gone for dead
   'cos I can't get it out of my head

electric light orchestra

i think i get you feelings of unfriendliness here.


there's not even any point in trying to explain how i feel, which is why im not too fond of trying to write music anymore
rs...:  We write for ourselves...  if someone else likes it, that's cool  (ok, it's fucking awesome), but it is totally optional.  The people that get us, will find us in their own time.

Peace, and hugs, compas.
rs666: your words make you sound depressed, and i am not unfamiliar with that feeling. i am sorry that you think there is no point in trying to express how you feel - especially if my words contributed to that. i think there is (almost) always a point in doing that kind of exercise, even if you are only expressing it to yourself. i have found that sometimes, writing down my feelings and my thoughts around them can help me understand some aspect of what i am feeling, which always makes me feel somewhat better. but we do all have to find our own way. and it ain't easy.
+1 vote
I don't and never heard someone bring it up in the context of anarchism. Social contract is based around rationalizing why the state is okay and legit. It pretty much states that one either explicitly or implicitly agrees to live under a state and is dependent upon it for various reasons. In other words, one doesn't have a choice on whether or not they actually agree to this. Plus it relies on these weird ideas that I find silly, like those magical "natural rights" and "the state of nature." There's a variety of views on social contract, but they tend to have "natural rights" and different views on "the state of nature" in common.

It's nonsense to me, so I wouldn't entertain the argument, and would probably just start laughing or making jokes about it.
by (4.7k points)
edited by