The social contract

Good read!

What is said here is very basic, but many of us need to carefully consider the alternatives and the relative merits.

I would add this. Before we choose between socialism and capitalism, we need to consider which choice is more ethical.

Here is the basic moral issue. We set up government to protect our rights. That is why government must exist, but socialism exists to redistribute the wealth, to take what one person produces and give it to another.

When is it moral to tax people, to take from them involuntarily what they would otherwise keep or share on their own? When do we as a people (as government) cross the line?

It is one thing to tax our neighbors to protect their right to keep what they have earned. But isn’t taking what people have earned just to give it to someone else stealing?

Consider the ethical dilemma socialism creates for our leaders. We must trust the same people who protect our right to own property with the right to take it away and give it to someone else? Won’t our leaders be tempted to buy the votes they need? Won’t some have-nots be quite happy to be bought?


All people have rights. When we all try to exercise our rights at the same time, we fall into conflict. Therefore, we make an unspoken agreement with one another. We surrender some of our rights to the government, and we give that government the power to protect our remaining rights. Which rights we surrender and which we maintain—that is the difficult question. Nations differ from one another in their answer to that question, and citizens within nations argue with each other about the answer to that question.

Like many ideas of western philosophy, the idea of the social contract has its roots in the writings of Plato and Aristotle. The idea first reached its full structure in the writings of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean Jacques Rousseau. All three agreed that government is a necessary evil. All three wanted to see the size and the power of the government…

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10 thoughts on “The social contract

  1. Well said, Tom. I like your commentary, especially this part, “We must trust the same people who protect our right to own property with the right to take it away and give it to someone else?”
    That’s my main problem with socialism. That’s a conflict of interest that kind of reminds me of imminent domain. It’s one thing to have the gov protect and defend your property right up until the part where they decide they need your property more than you do for some other priority.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @insanitybytes22

      Thanks for the comment and the way you highlighted that point.

      We expect too much. We expect government to do what we want it to do just because we want it to do it. Yet we cannot even make ourselves do what we ought to do.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Yet we cannot even make ourselves do what we ought to do.”

        Ha! I think you’ve just summed up how our founding fathers felt about things while trying to create a government. There’s something to be said about confronting the truth of human nature and proceeding from there. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Flash forward to where we are today, people seem filled with idealism, believing in the benevolence of man, many rejecting the notion of sin entirely. Socialism proceeds from there, we’ll just hand everything over to our government and they’ll divide it up fairly, because people are just good and always want to do the right thing.

        Sheesh, I thought I was an idealist, but in modern times it appears as if I’m a bit of a jaded cynic 😉

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Why does there exist only two economic systems? This is a false dichotomy. Also the definitions of both capitalism and socialism in the article are massively reductionist and do not reflect the teleological nuances of either.

    Also, if every person were to exercise their rights, it would not create conflict because you don’t have the right to conflict with another. That is what the ancients called justice and what Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean Jacques Rousseau all called tyranny.

    In fact, neither Aristotle or Plato had this idea of a society based in conflict nor did they have the idea that the exercise of human rights necessarily caused conflict. In their view, the creation of the state was the natural course of human interaction, not some buffer between them and others. They conceived of constitutions based on the idea that man seeks to live in community and to live in community requires a certain order. That order is not made by cleverly crafted constitutions, but through the living of the excellent or moral life. In that way, each man increases himself in excellence and by participating in society, builds it up as well.


    1. mastersamwise, I agree with what you have written. There are, of course, more than two economic systems–I was not writing to discuss those but used two of them to illustrate the social contract. For the same reason, I did not delve into the nuances of both, which are indeed complex. Also, Plato and Aristotle did not fully develop the idea of the social contract, but it can be derived from what they said about citizens and governments. Where we differ the most is about the conflict of rights. If all people were unselfish and kind, loving one another as they love themselves, there would be no conflicts. The fact is that conflicts exist, and often they result from two people (or two groups of people) defending their own rights at the expense of others. If only we could achieve the excellent or moral life without the need for a government to preserve order. J.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Plato and Aristotle did not fully develop the idea of the social contract…” You misunderstand. I do not argue that they had an incomplete concept of social contractualism; I argue that such a thing was not a concept they had. What they said about citizens and government was based first on their metaphysics, then their ethics. This is in stark contrast to the idea of social contractualism that posits that civil society is unnatural and necessary only for protection. Plato and Aristotle did not have this idea. They believed that man is an animal that lives in community. Communities have rules that order it. The rules that order a community of men should be consistent with the rational nature of man. Society itself is a good in and of itself that men seek to cultivate, not the wall that men erect to hedge the other person.

        “Where we differ the most is about the conflict of rights.” Because you believe that two people can fully be within their rights and be in conflict at the same time? Yes, I think that is poppycock. No one has the right to be selfish.

        “If only we could achieve the excellent or moral life without the need for a government to preserve order.” The only people who doubted that were the same people who thought that there was some mythic state of nature where man was living on his own.


        1. “Two people can be fully within their rights and be in conflict at the same time?” Here is an example. My neighbor has the right to maintain and beautify her property, even though that involves noisy machinery. I have a right to peace and quiet in my house while I am trying to read or write. I suppose that we could unselfishly negotiate some kind of agreement between ourselves–I would surely hate to take her to court over noise issues–but I think there is an inevitable conflict at work here, or we would not need to negotiate at all.
          Your optimism about achieving the excellent or moral life is appealing, but I see too much evidence for the doctrine of original sin to be as optimistic. J.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. There is a conflict, sure. Your neighbor has the conflict with her vanity and you have a conflict with your lack of patience. Conflict would only arise between incontinent people.

          It is not optimism; it is realism.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Mastersamwise, conflict of rights is vitally necessary in order to have a civilized society. Conflict need not be a bad thing, often it is a motivating factor, one that drives people, influences our commitment and dedication, helps us figure out what is important.

    “The rules that order a community of men should be consistent with the rational nature of man.”

    Also, forgive my humor here, but what rational nature of man??

    Liked by 2 people

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