[NOTE: This is the sixth in a series of posts intended to work out the principles of Natural Law. It builds off of the posts that have come before it. If you have not already read The Natural Right to Contract, I strongly suggest that you do so before reading this post, as this post is a continuation of the former and everything that comes before it. I also ask that you understand, while this is not technically a formal argument, neither is it a casual argument. Thus, it is not necessarily the easiest thing to read, but then, this is because I am trying to explain some difficult concepts in a manner as easily understood as I know how. I trust that you will bear with me. In return, I will break the whole into smaller, more easily digested posts.]
Now that we have established a definition for Natural Rights; learned how to extrapolate them from our primary Natural Right of free will; discovered that how we act toward each other regarding these rights creates universal morality; and discussed how our natural right to contract cannot be used to give up our Natural Rights or demand that others give up theirs; and discovered how willingly agreeing to do something for another can create a personal duty to the person with whom we contracted; now we have to deal with a reality of life – there will always be people who chose to violate the Natural Law governing individual Natural Rights. This is why we create communities, States and Nations: so that we can help each other protect our individual Natural Rights and liberty from those who would otherwise trample them. When we do so in accordance with Natural Law, the communities, States and Nations we form are created by an extension of our individual Natural Right to contract with each other. Taken together, we call this the Social Contract.
The Social Contract is that agreement to which every individual belonging to a given community willingly agrees in order to benefit from a collective effort which can justly be aimed at serving only one purpose: the equal protection of the individual rights and liberty of every individual party to the contract. Essentially, a person grants the community (i.e. government) the authority to exercise certain aspects of their free will on their behalf. Instead of exercising the individual right of self-defense, by agreeing to the Social Contract, individuals agree to set up a cooperative system of laws, courts and associated enforcement systems. It is from this willing agreement to limit our individual free will and to grant limited authority to exercise and protect it on our behalf that all just government derives and maintains its authority over a community. Should the government abuse its authority, the individuals who created that government retain the authority to alter, replace or abolish it through the inalienable nature of the Natural Rights.
Now, a person need not agree to the terms of the Social Contract, but that individual needs to understand that, should they choose not to agree to it, they are not entitled to any of the benefits of the contract. They are not entitled to the benefit of whatever courts that community creates; to the mutual protection of the police, fire fighting services or any other civil assistance; to any military defense the community may organize: they are not entitled to anything that community has promised to each other as a term of the Social Contract which formed and governs it because they are not Party to the contract. That means they have no rights under it. At the same time, every member who agrees to the Social Contract that forms and governs their community willingly creates a Natural Right for the rest of the community against which they can justly demand the individual comply with the terms to which they agreed. Harkening back to our last post on the Natural Right to contract, we also see that the individual creates a duty for themselves toward every member of the community as an extension of their act of free will that made them Party to the Social Contract.
In other words, if I agree to join a community, I have agreed that I will willingly do everything the contract demands of me – so long as they are in accordance with the limitations of Natural Law. What’s more, when I agree to be Party to the Social Contract governing a given community, that act of my free will extends a Natural Right to each member of the community against which they can justly demand and even force my compliance. This is how I become subject to the laws of that community: because I agreed to subject myself to them as part of the contract (remember, there are limits on what the contract can demand). Finally, as an inherent part of my agreeing to be part of the Social Contract, I also create a personal duty to each member of the community. I am bound – by Natural Law – to perform these duties to the best of my ability, whether the rest of the community does the same or not. This is part of what it means to be a citizen: to be a self-governing equal in the maintenance and operation of a free and self-governing community and to conduct one’s self according to the Natural Law governing the behavior of every individual within that community at all times. And, when called upon to do so, to defend the individual rights and liberty of every individual in the community, be it by participating in the civil and criminal justice system, or the community’s military organization.
Now, just as there are limitations on the Natural Right to contract, there are limitations of the Social Contract. One cannot grant an authority through the Social Contract that an individual does not possess. In other words, you can only give the government authority to do on your behalf that which you have an individual Natural Right to do on your own. Nor can you agree to give up, or demand that others give up their Natural Rights as part of the Social Contract. And most important, the whole can never become greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, the community which is created by the Social Contract is the equal creation and servant of each individual that agreed to create it. It owes an equal duty to every individual in the community, and is equally bound to every individual. It can never become greater than any one person, or even the sum of every individual within the community. The community is nothing more than the function of the Social Contract. It is not and can never become an entity in itself, and allowing it to even be thought of in this manner is a violation of Natural Law. When it is allowed to actually function as a living being, then that is an abomination to Natural Law which will devour Natural Rights and Liberty to feed itself.
This is the essence of the Social Contract which forms a society and grants just authority to that society’s government, and the limitations which govern the extent to which this Social Contract can reach. In our next post, we will discuss the glue that binds this all together.