The Social Contract
“We should pass [policy x] because of the social contract.”
Used by: Liberals/Progressives/Economic Left
Rhetoric type: Appeal to Authority, False Assumption, False sense of history, Ignorance of “contract”
Possible retorts: As contracts typically have specific criteria and voluntary signatories, I’d like to review this social contract. Do you have a copy handy?
Social contract theory is typically defined as a tacit agreement between the government and the governed, spelling out expectations of both the government and the governed, and with an understanding the governed will give up or surrender rights and the government will assume rights for itself for the good of the system.
Social contract theory is very good at explaining why we all pay taxes and why we have police and fire departments. In that way, it is a convention to say it is a contract, like saying “think of it as a contract.”
An obvious problem is virtually anything can be implemented in the spirit of the social contract, whether it is good, bad, well-intentioned, or having unintended consequences. If a government deems a policy good and beneficial to society, that is what matters. Unfortunately, it does not differentiate between authoritarian governments, totalitarian governments, libertarian governments.
Another problem that typically arises when considering social contract theory and specifically the United States is what to do when “contracts” conflict? Does the US have an obligation to a limited federal government and more liberty to the states and individuals as per the Constitution, or does it have an obligation to ignore such principles codified as law?
Either way, a mere reference to the social contract is a poor argument in support of a law, policy, or government action.