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North Texas Objectivist Society (NTOS) Message Board › Social Contract Theory vs. Individual Rights

Social Contract Theory vs. Individual Rights

Old T.
Group Organizer
Dallas, TX
Post #: 1,083
Social Contract Theory vs. Individual Rights

The “social contract theory” holds that “originally” free men establish a government through a voluntary “social contract.” Each person obtains “civil rights” in return for "agreeing" to subject himself to government authority. The social contract theory is usually used in defense of democracy.

The proper definition of a free man is a man who has individual rights. “Civil rights” are less than individual rights. Under the social contract theory, there is no principled limit to government authority. Under this theory, men are not free.

The flaw with the rationalization of a “social contract theory” for governmental authority is that it requires unanimity.

I reject any such agreement; therefore, the social contract is invalid—as to everyone.

Anyone who would try to use this theory in justification for the actions of a government against someone who does not agree is not honest about the nature of freedom (i.e., individual rights) and the nature of agreement. His purpose, whether he admits it to himself or not, is to force some persons to work for others.

The men living under a government limited to the protection of individual rights are free men.

“A group, as such, has no rights. A man can neither acquire new rights by joining a group nor lose the rights which he does possess. The principle of individual rights is the only moral base of all groups or associations.” —Ayn Rand

*Note: I did not realize this before, but the social contract theory was relied upon in the US Declaration of Independence.
A former member
Post #: 169
well of course! since there were no free men yet, how could they have known?

Q: are you saying civil rights are granted by the government whereas individual rights are recognized and protected by the government? b/c I interpreted the D of I as stating that rights are determined based on the nature of human living and government institutions are created to protect them. But there was also the part about putting up with a less-than-desirable government as long as the benefit outweighs the cost of its re-institutionalization... so

the Real Q: what made you realize the Declaration is based on social contract theory?
Old T.
Group Organizer
Dallas, TX
Post #: 1,084
Hi Nathan,

Thanks for your discussion and question. My last comment was an afterthought. I should have been clearer.

The US Declaration of Independence and Constitution are two of my favorite documents, but I am by no means a scholar. Of course, I appreciate that the authors of these documents did not have the benefit of Ayn Rand's works.

It was the following portion that made me realize that the Declaration of Independent may include some reliance on the social-contract theory:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. ...

This language made me start to wonder. Is it saying that a proper government can be formed only "to secure these rights," i.e., the "unalienable rights"? Or is it saying that only upon a government becoming destructive of "these ends," i.e., the securing of "unalienable rights," would be just ground for throwing off the government? In context, including for example, the statement regarding "Prudence" that follows, I think it probably means the later.

It occurred to me that some of the listed grievances against the King would be difficult to classify as destructive of the "unalienable rights" of the people. Some of the grievances regarded representation in government or slowness of government enacting laws or complaints about standing armies in their midst without local legislative approval. How are these violations of "unalienable rights"? Is representation in government an "inalienable right"?

Further, I wondered why "consent of the governed" would be relevant to "unalienable rights"? If certain rights are "unalienable," by definition, the governed people cannot consent to alienation of their rights. What "just powers" would there be to consent to other than those necessary to protect the "unalienable rights"? What consent to objective justice can be required?

I think the Declaration of Independence is based on some confusion of philosophical theories for the proper function of government. One of the theories is "unalienable rights"--usually thought to be God-given, and another being "civil rights," e.g., taxation only with representation, usually thought to be based on a "social contract" (or at least "consent [of the majority] of the governed").

My understanding is that at the time of the Declaration of Independence, unalienable rights were considered to be universal (god given), whereas civil rights were considered to be relative (society given). The line of demarcation is not clear to me--probably because they are contradictory theories and such a line cannot be objective. I doubt the line was agreed upon by all the authors of the Declaration of Independence.

Clearly, the authors thought that government should be limited, but not necessarily to only protecting "unalienable rights." These conflicting philosophical premises inevitably leads to the expansion of government.

Does this make nonsense?

As an aside, one of my favorites of the listed grievances is:

"He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance."

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