The Social Contract is based on the notion that government is formed by agreement between the citizens of a nation, and that, because it was created by the People, if the government violates the terms of that contract, the People not only have a right but a duty to change or abolish that government. This right to contract is part of Natural Law, which is derived from Natural Right, which grow out of those gifts granted to every person by their Creator. These rights are inherent in every individual and cannot be justly trampled or infringed upon by another. If they are, this gives the injured party a just claim to redress for that injury. This is also the source of the People’s authority to change or abolish their government should it violate the Social Contract which created it. However, Natural Rights and the Natural Law which governs them is founded upon the acknowledgment that there is a Creator. This places the Creator not only over the individual, but also over those persons who are placed in positions of authority over the People. This does not set well with those who would replace God with themselves, which is what we do when we claim He does not exist and then pretend to ‘re-write’ His Natural Laws. Every would-be dictator in history has rejected the notion that the People are his master, and many have attempted to rationalize a defense of their desire to be God. Unfortunately, history has repeatedly shown that all attempts to reject the Social Contract inevitably result in the loss of individual rights and liberty and, in far too many cases, atrocity.
The rejection of the Social Contract has always existed. Every tyrant, despot and dictator in history has operated on the assumption that they had the authority to rule over anyone they had the power to conquer, and so they did — until someone stronger came along. But the attempt to rationalize this desire to play God didn’t really start until the dawn of the Enlightenment. One of the first to argue against the notion of the Social Contract, or individual rights of any kind, was Niccolo Machiavelli. In his work, The Prince, Machiavelli argued that politics must be totally divorced from moral concerns of any kind:
“Men ought either to be indulged or utterly destroyed, for if you merely offend they they take vengeance, but if you injure them greatly they are unable to retaliate, so that the injury done to a man ought to be such that vengeance cannot be feared.”
Thomas Hobbes agreed. In his work, Leviathan, Hobbes allows that there is a Social Contract, but he negates any usefulness it may have had for the People by arguing that, once formed, it is irrevocable. What’s more, Hobbes argues that the Sovereign can do no wrong:
“Nothing the sovereign representative can do to a subject, on what pretense soever, can properly be called an injustice or injury, because every subject is author of every act the sovereign does.”
Therefore, according to Hobbes, if the State were to put an innocent man to death, there is no wrong because the benefit of government outweighs any possible harm. What’s more, the People cannot object because they gave consent to the government to act in their place when it was formed. But here is the flaw in this notion that there is no Social Contract in which the government is held accountable to the People: after a generation or two, no one subject to the government gave their consent to be governed by it. This means Hobbes’ argument is null and void as he is arguing that the State is legitimized by a consent that was never given.
However, Hobbes recognizes this and tries to rescue his argument by saying everyone gives their consent by accepting the benefit of the government. However, Hobbes is again defeated by the fact that, if the next generation does not consent, he has already said there is nothing they can do because they gave their consent before they were born. In short, Hobbes argues for total despotism and then tries to defend it with a ‘catch 22.’ But this is fallacious. it is reductio and it does not hold up under logical scrutiny.
Still, others continued the attempt to justify the government’s right to do whatever it wishes and to deny the People any claim to change an abusive government. Men such as Jeremy Bentham and John Austin eventually developed a philosophy that became known as legal positivism. In short, legal positivism states that the law is whatever the government says it is. Morality has no place in any of it. What’s more, legal positivism says that there is no such thing as human rights. What rights or privileges an individual has are only those the State decides to grant, and they can be taken away any time the State decides to do so.
However, this ideology eventually caused problems for the supporters of legal positivism because it justified slavery, the Dred Scott decision and abortion, among other things. It also justified NAZI Germany and the Holocaust; Lenin and Stalin and their purges, Mao’s purges; and just about every major atrocity in the 20th Century — the vast majority of which were the direct result of societies that had rejected God and the moral aspect of His Natural Law and the Natural Rights of the individual. This is because Dostoevsky was absolutely correct when he said:
“If there is no God, then all things are permitted.”
But then, he was only echoing Voltaire, who was getting at the very same thing when he said words to the effect of:
“If there were no God, it would be necessary to invent Him.”
This brings us back to the necessity of accepting the Social Contract. Even if you do not believe in God, it is in your best interest to accept and support the Social Contract, Natural Law and Natural Rights. they are the only means by which morality can or does exist. Without God, there can be no such thing as morality, rights, justice — nothing but ‘might-makes-right.’ This makes God necessary to liberty. Reject God and you reject any and all claim you have to redress any perceived wrongs committed against you. However, under Natural Law, you have a Natural Right to reject God. This does not mean you have a Natural Right to be free from religion, but it does mean you have a right to reject it. If you reject Natural Law, then you cannot reject anything the State mandates unless the State allows it or you are stronger than the State. but, if you live under a Social Contract where the laws are written in accordance with Natural Law, then you will not only have a right to reject religion, you will have a right to seek redress and the government will have a duty to enforce your liberty to reject religion.
Unfortunately, too many people want there Natural Rights, but they also want to reject the Source of those rights. This simply does not work: never has, and never will. You can either accept God and His Natural Laws, or you must accept a world where there is no right or wrong, no rights, no redress for injury — only ‘might-makes-right.’ And in today’s world, that means government tyranny — because the People simply are not strong enough to repeat the American Revolution again.