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Redefining the Social Contract

The social contract is implicit in every campaign. In discussing the merits of various social programs and economic plans, candidates tout the benefits citizenship and specific party membership can bring, the obvious goal being to sway a plurality of the polity into voting for their vision of government.

By extension, a positive vote for one plan is a negative vote for all other. Regardless of whether a candidate is a libertarian or a socialist, a vote for the traditional political structure is a vote of approval for civil society, a furtherance of John Locke’s social contract where “every man, by consenting with others to make one body politic under one government, puts himself under an obligation, to every one of that society, to submit to the determination of the majority.”

Yet, not every individual borne into society has the freedom of consent to the body politic’s dominion. Certainly, a vote is an endorsement of a person and the ideology they represent and the act of voting re-enforces personal sovereignty, but this is not the same as an endorsement of government at large.

Continued existence cannot be conflated with tacit consent. Complacency, politically or socially, is often a result of individual realization of powerlessness. After all, the social contract subverts the individual will to the faceless masses. To rebel against this, civilly or otherwise, is to threaten the security of the body contract.

Herein lies the problem with such language- its subjectivity opens up the possibility for an extreme, totalitarian interpretation. Though it may not have been intended, the effects are nevertheless very real. And the benefit of the doubt, due to the exigency of collective survival, will never lie with the individual. It lies in the body politic.

But the body politic is a myth. It’s a hierarchical structure. Without the power flow from bottom to top, it would be powerless. Yet, it is from the top that its power is exercised. So, while the individual, is the only entity positioned to challenge the reign of the social contract, it is also the entity most threatened and most powerless by it.

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The proper realm of the social contract is in business. A job, which an individual can accept or cast off at will depending on whether the benefits and conditions suit them, encapsulates both a contract between boss and employee, based on a mutually-agreed upon value-for-value exchange. This volition empowers the individual, as does the social capital side of free-market economics.

Non-fiat currency has an empirical value based in its metallurgical worth, but an individual also has the power to decide whether they derive enough pleasure from a product to justify paying the purchase price. This is social capital properly understood.

Whether a government is moral or not, citizenship based on the idea of forced subversion of individual will to the body politic is not moral. Each individual must chose whether they are willing to cede a part of their freedom in return for security. Unfortunately, unlike in a state of nature, society creates a power imbalance. The individual must fear the mighty body politic, while the body politic has a tenable enough hold on power to be sure it can triumph over dissidence.

The social contract should be relegated to markets. Here, a majority is organically built, but, unlike in government, the individual must surrender no sovereignty to any other entity. If he doesn’t like a product or practice he simply takes his dollars elsewhere. Others who disagree are not threatened by this action. And no one entity has enough power to destroy another, only coalescing of many individuals who independently make up their mind based on their idea of merit, can move the markets. This is a slow, unwieldy and burdensome process. As it should be.


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About Katherine Revello

A recent graduate of the University of Maine, where she majored in journalism and political science, Katherine Revello is an aspiring political commentator. Her focuses include theory, the philosophy of money and populism. Currently, she is a graduate student at Villanova University. She is the founder of The Politics of Discretion, a blog dedicated to advancing her philosophy of discretionism. Follow her on Twitter: @MrsWynandPapers