The Natural Right to Contract

[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 Pursuit of Happiness Under Natural Law, 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, going back to the work we did in earlier posts, we can extend our Natural Right to our free will to include a Natural Right to contract with other individuals.  Essentially, this is an extension of our free will because it is an agreement we willingly chose to make with another or other individuals who willingly agree to the same agreement in return.  Thus, the mutual agreement is entirely based on a choice freely made; on an act or exercise of free will.  But there are conditions that restrict that to which we can and cannot agree.   A failure to understand these restrictions will inevitably lead to the creation of many avoidable problems, the same sort of problems from which our society now suffers.

First, we must remember that our Natural Rights are inalienable.  Because they are a gift from the Creator and are as much a part of who we are as individuals as anything else, we can never agree to surrender our Natural Rights:

“If men, through fear, fraud, or mistake, should in terms renounce or give up any natural right, the eternal law of reason and the grand end of society would absolutely vacate such renunciation. The right to freedom being the gift of Almighty God, it is not in the power of man to alienate this gift and voluntarily become a slave.”

–Samuel Adams

If your will is the essential element of who and what you are as a person, how can you agree to give up your will?  That is impossible.  Even if you were to sell yourself into slavery, your will would remain yours and yours alone.  Even if you kill yourself, your will would still remain (albeit, it would remain in whatever condition it may be subject to after we depart this world).  Therefore, it is a violation of Natural Law to agree to give up something that is not yours to give up, and which you couldn’t give up even if it were.  Conversely, you cannot require another individual to give up their Natural Rights for the same reason.  To do so is not only as impossible for them as it is you, but also a claim against their Natural Rights, which would be a twofold violation of Natural Law.

Now that we have established that we cannot willingly agree to give up our Natural rights, nor demand that another individual give up theirs as part of an agreement, there is something to which we can agree: to willingly limit the extent to which we will exercise those Natural Rights.  As long as we agree – before hand – then we can voluntarily agree to limit the extent or degree to which we will exercise our Natural Rights in relation to another group or individual in return for something we find to be of equal or greater value than the full limits of our Natural Rights.  This is the foundation of all human interaction and economic trade.

But notice the primary requirement for a contract to be in agreement with Natural Law: it must be a willing agreement freely entered into by all parties to which it applies.  If there is any coercion on the part of any party involved, it is a violation of Natural Law.  Any time an individual is forced to do something against limits of their will as defined by Natural Law, it is a clear violation of that same Natural Law.  In other words, if I am forced to agree to limit the extent that I can grow food to sustain my body and life, and thus my free will, then this is a violation of Natural Law.  However, since I cannot use my free will to force another person not to grow their own food, if I was forced to leave that person alone so they could grow the food they need, this application of force against my will would not be a violation of Natural Law because I do not have a Natural Right to trample on the Natural rights of others.  This is the foundation of universal morality, from which the understanding of all human justice is derived.

Finally, after when two or more individuals willingly entered into a contract, they create an obligation for themselves to fulfill the terms of that contract – even if the other party or parties do not.  Once you have agreed to do something that does not involve giving up or demanding the Natural Rights of another person, you have given the other parties of that agreement a just claim to whatever you agreed to do, and they have given a similar claim to you.  However, you may not exercise that right to claim whatever you agreed to unless or until you have met your part of the obligation.  It is only by meeting your part of the obligation that you cement your claim.  Once you do so, it then becomes a Natural Right because you have used your free will to direct your labor to the purpose for which it was agreed.  Once again, your labor – as an act of your free will – is the means by which you obtain a Natural Right to your part of the agreement.  This is a crucial point that we need to understand, but it is a difficult point for many of us to understand because we have not been taught to think in these terms.  So I will try to illustrate it for you.

Suppose you agree to grow pineapples for me if I will make hoes for you in return.  We both agree to the exchange and enter into the pact of our own free will.  At that point, I have a claim to the pineapples you agreed to grow, and you have a claim to the hoes I agreed to make.  However, until I actually make a hoe for you, I do not have a Natural Right to the pineapples I promised: all I have is a just claim to them.  But once I use my labor to make the first hoe, then I have a Natural Right to the pineapples you promised in return because I used my labor to do something intended to sustain my life.  Furthermore, because I willingly entered into an agreement – as an act of my free will – I imposed an obligation of myself to make the hoe.  Even if you break your end of the deal and do not grow any pineapples for me, or you refuse to trade them in return for the hoes I make, when I willingly agreed to our contract, and I did so with the understanding that you were making the agreement to help sustaining your life.  So, because our Natural Rights are ultimately the property of our Creator, whether you keep my part of the contract or not, once I agree to do something to help you sustain your life, I am obligated to do so by my duty to our Creator and because I agreed to help you in a way you intended to sustain your life.  Not to do so would be a threat to your life and, therefore, a threat to your free will.  This would constitute a violation of your Natural Rights and Natural Law.  This is why we should be careful to make sure we understand what we agree to do for one another and why, if we do agree — no matter what the other party does or doesn’t do — we must do what we promised: because we gave them a Natural Right to our part of the agreement by exercising our free will and agreeing to do so.

This is a complicated point, and I will write a supporting post to help clarify it more because it is essential we understand the Natural Right to contract.  It is the foundation of any free society because it is the foundation for the Social Contract, which will be the subject of my next post.

Next in this series:

The Social Contract

18 thoughts on “The Natural Right to Contract

  1. Thank you for taking the time to provide this information. Do Homeowner Associations agreements truly meet Natural Law Standards?

    1. They can, but most do not. The key is to remember that no one can demand another give up something that is a Natural Right. The areas where this seems to be most troublesome would be when the home owner’s association starts to dictate what a person can do with their personal property. The obvious examples here would be flags and yard signs, etc. While these are not ‘speech,’ they are still personal property, and to dictate what one can and cannot do with the fruits of one’s labor is trampling on a Natural Right.

      However, if everyone were to agree that they will VOLUNTARILY confine their use of their personal property to a know set of terms, then that is not an application of force.

      Hence the reason I said they can be tricky things. I think where they get out of line is when a person agrees with the original terms, but the agreement is then used to change those terms at a later date. In these cases, home owner’s agreements can (and often due) become the ‘fiefdom’ of a small cabal within the community which then leads to an effective dictatorship. THAT is the point where I see them transgressing on Natural Law.

      I know it is not a clear yes-no answer, but the issue does not lend itself to that type of answer. This was the best reply I know to give. Hope this makes sense.

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