Breaking the Social Contract

“Social contract theory” is the (false) notion that society is essentially constituted by an agreement among radically autonomous individuals.

Though the theory stands in contradiction to our political nature, it does not follow that the concept of a social contract is erroneous or irrelevant to an understanding of human affairs.

Just as human beings are naturally lingual, but every language is a cultural artifact, so too does our social nature manifest itself in a set of customs and laws that exist primarily by the (mostly tacit) consent of those who follow them.

In order to fulfill our nature as human beings, we require others. The law of nature therefore obliges us to respect the rights of others, and obliges them to respect ours. This applies to the rights we possess by nature, but also to those we enjoy under what we might call the “social contract” governing a given society.

Social engineers often offend against nature itself, and it is useful to expose and denounce this crime. But it is no less criminal of them to violate the conventional but indispensable terms of engagement without which social life rapidly becomes difficult to sustain.

All my life, “public health,” if it meant anything, meant that employees must wash their hands, and patrons are encouraged to do so; that people should cover their coughs in public, and should stay home when in the throes of a communicable illness.

Suddenly I find that this phrase empowers a select class of palpable (and sometimes admitted) liars to exclude their fellow human beings from any and all human contact, unless they to abide by protocols that are physically unsanitary, psychologically abusive, and downright silly.

Such dehumanization of one’s fellows is manifestly contrary to natural law, and has already resulted in grave evils such as loss of life, disruption of family bonds, denial of vital education, a regime of lies and censorship, and the pointless pitting of neighbor against neighbor.

Socialist distancing should be opposed for all these reasons, but I would like to add that it is also a violation of the less natural but equally vital web of social assurances and expectations its victims rely upon in the pursuit of personal and civic happiness.

If a confederacy of dunces can do this to us, they can do anything, and it is no longer possible to speak with confidence of human society—if by that we mean a society in which we aspire to give human dignity its due.

As John Locke noted, one who breaks the social contract declares war on society itself.

Though he was wrong to believe that the social contract goes all the way down, Locke was correct to warn those who think themselves powerful that, once they rebel against their fellow men, there is no reason to count upon their further allegiance.

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