Why The Social Contract isn’t Actually a Contract

Everyone who is anyone knows John Locke’s Social Contract Theory. (Here you go, if you don’t) Locke mused that when an individual enters into a society they agree to an imaginary contract in which they are okay to give up some of their rights in order to have certain rights protected by the government. In his own interpretation, for example; you would give up your right to kill or enslave another person in exchange for the government’s promise to protect your life, liberty and property through laws.

Locke’s views were integral in the foundation of the ideology behind the Declaration of Independence and the thoughts of our founding fathers. The social contract is the basis for American governmental society and it just so happens that it is a contradiction within itself.

The Social Contract isn’t a contract.

The definition of a contract has not changed much in the last few thousand years. The general requirements to make a contract are consistent through history and have been more or less accepted all across the world. In America it is dictated in the Uniform Commercial Code.

Firstly, a contract requires mutual assent on the part of both parties. This requires an offer from one party and an acceptance by the other. In the case of the Social Contract Theory, an individual would be a party, and society would be another party. In the theory, the individual leaves a state of nature voluntarily and voluntarily agrees to the contract by joining the society. In that hypothetical, the theory stands, but in situations when a person is born into society they are not voluntarily agreeing to the social contract, they are forced into it. Since there is no actual acceptance, the Social Contract Theory fails the contract test.

But there’s more. A contract also requires consideration on the parts of both parties, without which an agreement could not be formed and a contract would not be valid. In the specific circumstance of being born into a society, no consideration has been made by the infant prior to entering the society. The Social Contract Theory fails this contract test as well.

But there’s even more. When an offer is made from one party to another, the second party can accept the offer or counter-offer/reject the offer. In a democracy, individuals throughout the nation have different ideas about what sorts of laws should be in place. From the day we are born and start to learn about civics we start to ponder how we could make the nation better with better laws. We have not accepted the society exactly as-is and have essentially made a kind of counter-offer. Anyone who wants to make a new law has rejected the social contract. And the contract fails again.

But there is still more. The base ideas of John Locke may be good: “Government should protect the life, liberty, and property of the people,” but that does not mean that the phraseology of his widely-accepted theory is accurate. If we were to hold the Social Contract theory up to the accepted ideas of what a contract is, we would find that it isn’t actually a contract at all and there is nothing legally-binding about it.

It may be a good philosophy, but it is no contract.

I wonder if I could weasel out of a speeding ticket with that argument…


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