“You owe to society…”

Saw somebody making that claim.  Yep.  Here we go again.

There is a certain element that uses the “you owe to society” or worse the “social contract” to claim obligations on you that you had no say in.

One might argue that there are certain responsibilities.  Most of those responsibilities are negative in nature:  Don’t hurt other people.  Don’t take what other people own.  Essentially, don’t infringe on other people’s rights.

And even a pretty strongly libertarian leaning individual such as myself can recognize that a certain amount of “law and order” actually improves my liberty.  As I have noted elsewhere, being able to get up on my roof with a rifle to defend my home from ruffians is liberty.  Having to spend all my time on that roof because the ruffians are so ubiquitous that I don’t dare do anything else is not.  So having a police force that through deterrence and administering at least theoretically impartial justice to keep those ruffians in check improves my liberty.  I can come down from the roof and go shopping, or playing in the park with my children.

And nobody has been able to demonstrate a scalable method of creating that “law and order”, one that will work on any but the tiniest of societies for long, without the use of coercive force.  The problem, of course, is that once you start using coercive force in a society for the purpose of increasing the net liberty of that society, there’s always the temptation to increase the use of that force.  And there are plenty who are more than willing to give in to that temptation.  It’s a constant battle to prune back the uses, one that is generally unpopular and so doomed to ultimate failure.  So the use of force increases from liberty to overstructure to tyranny until something happens to light a fire under people to make the efforts necessary to prune back government and restore at least a semblance of liberty.

So even when one accepts that ironically some use of coercive force is necessary to maintain a civilized, and free, society, (and, yes, I know that some argue that it’s not–that’s a discussion for another day) one nevertheless must cast a jaundiced eye at increases of that force.

That’s where the advocates of “social contract”and “you owe society…” come in.  They say that because we have police helping to keep crime down so I can come down from that roof, that we have fire departments so that I have less worry that a fire at my neighbor’s house will also burn down my property, that we have courts so that interpersonal disputes don’t turn into generations long blood feuds with the collateral damage they bring, that we have roads so that travel and trade are easier, that we have a military so some foreign power cannot come and take it all away…that because we have all that I have an obligation, a contractual one, to provide whatever it is that person wants provided.

The fact that I pay for that police and fire service, that I pay for those courts, that I pay for those roads and that military isn’t enough to fulfill the contract.  Oh, no.  It’s not enough.

It’s never enough.

The problem with “social contract” and “you owe society” is that they’re open ended.  No matter how much stuff you decide to “pay” on that contract, there’s always something else.

No, I am not obligated to pay for your social program because I use roads.  I paid for the roads in the first place.  That is the sole extent of my “obligation” for use of the roads.  Yes, it’s nice to have police keeping at least a partial check on crime.  I paid for those police.  Obligation for that ends there.  The same for the other.

The fact that I “make use of” or benefit from something that I. paid. for. (or a portion of according to law as it was written) does not obligate me to anything else.

If you want to sell me on why I should pay for something you want, sell it on its own merits.  Don’t hand me a line about “social contract” or “owing” because of things I’ve already paid for.


One thought on ““You owe to society…””

  1. The Social Contract was written by a Frenchma, Jean Jacques Rousseau and published about thirt-five or forty years before the French Revolution. One of the direct results of the Social Contract was the Reign of Terror.

    I am not a fan of the man, his work, or ignorant liberals who espouse his theory without even knowing what they’re quoting. Nor do I feel bound by the teachings of a dead French philisopher.


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