Silence: the Tyranny of Apathy

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

–Edmund Burke

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer


So long as we wish to be a part of the Social Contract which forms and governs our community/society, this is a simple but important point.  If we see something happening that we know is wrong, yet we do not do something to try to stop it – even if all we can do is speak out in a strong objection so others know that we know it is wrong – then we willingly become a part of that wrong and share in the guilt with those who are actually committing the action.  But this issue goes further than just staying silent.  The problem here is that of apathy:

Definition of APATHY

1: lack of feeling or emotion : impassiveness

2: lack of interest or concern : indifference

When we agree to the terms of the Social Contract that formed and governs our community/society, we agree to keep our part of that contract.  Unless our Natural Rights are being trampled, we have no claim to object to our duties because we willingly agreed to do them when we agreed to the Social Contract.  In a free and self-governing society, these duties include things such as voting, but voting is much more than casting a ballot.  If we are going to vote, we have an obligation to vote intelligently, so we can vote for those who will protect and preserve the Social Contract and Natural Law.  This means we have also agreed to stay fully informed as to the issues necessary to allow us a reasoned vote.  Now note: there is no option not to vote, so there is no option not to stay informed.  These are obligations of citizenship, and if we do not meet them, we have broken the terms of our agreement with the other individuals in our community/society.  Staying informed enough to vote in line with Natural Law is the duty of every individual subject to a Social Contract.

The Social Contract can also create additional duties.  It can create the duty to participate in jury duty, or in posses.  Just because the Social Contract may provide for a police force, that provision does not relieve us from our individual duty to help protect the Natural Rights of every individual subject to it.  We still have the duty to act on our own – especially when the police are not around.  This duty includes a duty to help a neighbor fight a fire, or to provide first aid to someone who is injured – even to help another individual protect their property from loss or damage.

The social contract creates a duty to teach our children and the rest of our community about the proper principles and ideals necessary to support a free and self-governing society.  This is the primary purpose of education in a free society: not to teach a trade or profession, but to teach the principles and ideals of liberty, to teach Natural Rights, Natural Law and the Social Contract.

 If we expect that every individual in our community/society is going to protect our rights as its part of their obligation under the Social Contract, then we are equally obligated to do the same for them.  We agreed to do so when we willingly agreed to the terms of the Social Contract that formed our community/society and bound everyone to each other.  However, should we neglect our duties, we can have no expectation that others will still keep their end of the agreement.  In fact, if we refuse to perform the duties we willingly agreed to, we have broken the Social Contract.  Breaking the Social Contract effectively makes us an enemy of society, thus creating a duty for those individuals who are still trying to keep the terms of that contract to protect others from us!  In short, if we willingly refuse to perform our duties under the Social Contract, we declare ourselves to be enemies of those who still bind themselves to it.  When this happens, we are attacking the Natural Rights of every individual in that community/society and those individuals become justified in defending themselves from us in whatever manner the Social Contract prescribes (subject to the constraints of Natural Law).

Therefore, in a free and self-governing society, apathy is not only a threat to individual rights and liberty of others, it is a threat to our own individual rights and liberty as it can cause us to lose the protections offered by the Social Contract.

6 thoughts on “Silence: the Tyranny of Apathy

  1. Okay, let me put some flesh and blood to this. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    Here in Alaska, the rural Native villages are not on the road system. They’ve experienced a century of degradation from alcohol abuse. Alaskan Natives just cannot hold their liquor and addiction is almost inevitable if they drink. So, in the last generation, the elders of many villages have convinced their people to vote to become dry communities and the State of Alaska Supreme Court has ruled they have that right.

    So, the villagers have a natural right to life, which is endangered by alcohol. But the bootlegger has a right to make a living from his labor and people have the right to contract with him to buy the liquor. The Social Contract of the dry village, however, states there’s no alcohol permitted. So, does the village have a right to prosecute the bootlegger and banish him from the village?

    This, btw, is a real example from Alaska today. There really is a village considering this and Alaskans are in a furor. Many say they are violating the bootlegger’s liberty, but I think the claim to life is probably the higher value there. I haven’t really decided myself.

    What say you?

    1. OK, under natural law, you have a right to earn a living — SO LONG AS YOU DO SO IN A MANNER THAT DOES NOT ENDANGER OR TRAMPLE THE RIGHTS OF OTHERS!

      Under Natural Rights, we have an individual duty NOT to drink to excess — especially to the point of allowing ourselves to become alcoholics. When an individual is drunk, his free will is interdicted. This represents the individual trying to renounce his/her will, and one cannot do that without violating Natural Law. We cannot give up that which is not ours to give up.

      So, if a large number of people in a given region prove — through their actions — that they cannot or will not do their duty (i.e. refrain from excess alcohol consumption), then people have the Natural Right of self-defense. So, through the Social Contract, they are perfectly entitled to outlaw alcohol in their community.

      Now, even if it were against the law, the person who sells alcohol to another individual with full knowledge or reasonable belief that the buyer is abusing the product, that person selling the alcohol is violating Natural Law. He/she can make no claim to have the Natural Right to do anything that can harm others.

      Does that make sense? Does it help you see how these principles are applied in the real world? And do you see how Natural Law hinges upon individual responsibility, and how that responsibility extends to others because we have a duty to the Creator who gave us our rights?

        1. You’re welcome. I just hope my explanation was clear enough, and that it helped you see how we can easily apply this “theory” in the real world (because it is how the real world actually works). 🙂

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