Personal contract as an alternative to social contract
September 13, 2008 at 8:31 am #691
As an alternative to an (implied) social contract which has been the norm for democratic political systems of the past few centuries, perhaps anarchocapitalist-aware people would be more comforable with an explicit personal contract to be agreed to as a condition of joining an ancap-style stead as an adult. How does the following sound?
“I agree to not initiate force or fraud, and I agree to defend myself against force and fraud.”
I believe that meets many requirements for a stable, sustainable community under ancap. Self-defense is a fundamental basis for such stability since it acts as a strong, positive, direct deterrent to those who would use force or fraud to harm others. If people do not allow themselves to be victimized, then crime is truly prevented at best or stopped or deterred at least. This is distinctly NOT pacifism. Pacifism functionally allows crime to be committed and continued against you and others. In that way, pacifism facilitates and encourages crime. (Crime includes inbound foreign aggression. Initiating force includes outbound foreign aggression.) Defense discourages crime and aggression. In engineering terms, defense dampens crime and aggression. As Robert Heinlein said: “an armed society is a polite society.” Thomas Paine said:
“The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand, arms, like law, discourage and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property. The balance of power is the scale of peace. The same balance would be preserved were all the world destitute of arms, for all would be alike; but since some will not, others dare not lay them aside…. Horrid mischief would ensue were one-half the world deprived of the use of them… the weak will become a prey to the strong.” — Thomas Paine, Thoughts on Defensive War
(Payne above is wrong about all nations being alike if they were unarmed. All nations and individuals are not equal; disarmed, the strong can prey on the weak.)
An alternative wording with significantly expanded implications might make the community aspect more transparent:
“I agree to not initiate force or fraud, and I agree to defend myself, my family and my community against force and fraud.”
The “family” part includes taking responsibility for the protection of minor family members (children), something most parents would naturally do. When the children wish to become adults, they personally agree to the same contract. The community part is a lot trickier since it makes explicit the idea of self-sacrifice for the protection of others, but it may be necessary in order to preserve and defend communities as a whole. Both the family and community extentions are arguably unnecessary, but make important concepts clear.
I believe these agreements are minimal and clear, and they could form a basis for other legal, political, collective defensive, cultural, etc., structures.
Comments?September 13, 2008 at 9:32 am #3805
The obligation not to commit aggression is very specific. It is easy to see whether you fulfilling this obligation.
The obligation to defend your community is too wague. What exactly are you promising to give for the community defence? One dollar or one milion dollars? One minute of armed resistance or your whole life? Who will decide what to write in the “cheque”? If everyone decides for himrself, then it’s not obligation at all, since one can write “1 cent”. If “community” decides it for you, it can claim all your propety and your life to build, say, anti-Marsians defence.September 13, 2008 at 11:42 am #3806
I agree the community part is the most potentially problematic. However, I view it the same as self-defense: if some individual person is being immediately attacked, that individual should defend against the attack and the need for defense would be very obvious to the person being attacked. If the collective community is being immediately attacked, then defend the community. It’s generally up to each person to decide what’s appropriate, and I can see how that could be a source of disagreement in some cases. In other cases, it could be extremely obvious when (collective) defense is needed. It’s in the most obvious cases where defense is most needed and appropriate. If the need is less obvious, then maybe it’s not really urgently needed. That’s where some discipline, planning and leadership could be useful.
Does defensive leadership and planning lead to domination and tyranny? That would be unlikely if the defensive force were made up of all adults. Neither the Swiss militia nor the Swiss military officers have taken over the government of Switzerland in a military coup and imposed tyrannical rule. They can’t since essentially everyone is in the militia.
If the Swiss military took over the Swiss government, they would essentially be taking over themselves. They don’t do that because they already *are* the government and the military. It’s about empowerment of individuals and the responsibility of individuals for that power.
An slightly-related older historical example is the Roman Republic. The Republican age had a militia. Therefore if the Republic wanted to have a foreign war, it needed to convince militia members to go. Essentially there was no such thing as an unpopular major war since people would vote with their feet and not go to war. When the Republic fell and became the Roman Empire, a professional standing army took the place of the militia. There were lots of foreign wars and eventually the army was turned against the Roman people themselves. That’s where the expression “crossing the rubicon” comes from. Julius Ceasar attacked the people with the army and the Empire eventually collapsed. (Apologies to actual historians for the super condensed version, but I believe I got the general concepts correct.)
As an aside, Wikipedia gives a pretty good description of the significance of crossing the Rubicon:
The river is notable as Roman law prohibited the Rubicon from being crossed by any Roman Army legion. The river was considered to mark the boundary between the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul to the north and Italy proper to the south; the law thus protected the republic from internal military threat. When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army in 49 BC, supposedly on January 10 of the Roman calendar, to make his way to Rome, he broke that law and made armed conflict inevitable. According to historian Suetonius, Caesar uttered the famous phrase ālea iacta est (“the die is cast”).
I cite the Roman Empire only as a historical example of the relative benefits of a popular militia over a standing army. Non-initiation of force means defense only.September 14, 2008 at 2:55 am #3807
Jeff, an interesting idea. I think it’ll be an improvement over the current fudge, if it can be brought about. My thoughts:
1) This is still a social contract (a mutually binding agreement with the rest of society) , an explicit one as opposed to the implicit ones today. An explicit contract is any day preferable to an implicit one, so that everyone is on the same page, and conflict and acrimony over differing ideas of implicit contracts are avoided.
2) The ideal scenario IMO is that all adult citizens of a given society sign a physical contractual document involving all other members who’ve signed it earlier, after reading it carefully, whereby they pledge, for e.g. 1) Respect freedom of speech and thought 2) to desist from use of force except for self-defence 3) to desist from fraud etc.
3) In a less than perfect world, we’ll need enforcement (police?) and arbitration (courts?) bodies to make the contracts meaningful. And some mechanism to alter the contract (to incorporate improvements, reflect changing situations) as and when agreed to by the contractors (representative legislature/direct democracy?) .
4) Also, I think the contract should be more detailed as kiwiserg has implied. For example 2 years of compulsory military/social/civil service? An obligation to participate in armed conflict (a citizen army?) as and when required with the consent of a majority or perhaps 2/3 of all contractors? Leaving a contract vague and vulnerable to differing interpretations is never a good idea IMO.
5) What about children who grow up in an explicit contract society, but refuse to sign it on reaching adulthood? Ideally non-contractors should be expelled/taxed etc, but then we might have a situation where teenagers sign the document without pondering over it/truly meaning what they’ve signed, just to avoid being thrown out/penalised. Apathy of this sort could undermine the whole project. How could we overcome/mitigate this possibility?
6a) An interesting corollary: the contract HAS to be mutual. In other words, it only holds with those who have also signed the same contract. Contractors have no obligation to extend any privileges to outsiders. Unilaterally extending privileges to outsiders who do not explicitly extend those privileges right back is unfair and self-injuring. For example, it would be unjust to extend the freedom of speech and conscience to most Muslims, since their countries do not respect the same rights vis-a-vis non-Muslims. The West is suffering this injustice today on account of its implicit, non-mutual contract.
Perhaps the explicit contract society should sign contracts with other societies/countries setting out what the deal is? Maybe a minimal universal default contract declared with all humans?
6b) A defence only committment is wrong for the same reason. If other countries do not pledge to respect our sovereignity/territory, we’re hobbling ourselves by respecting theirs. Perhaps a tit-for-tat declaration ought to be included in the contract?September 14, 2008 at 9:03 pm #3811
Explicit contracts don’t address the problem of incompatibilities and “legal voids” where no clause is applicable.
You’ll need interpretation of implicit contracts for that, at the very least. I’ve mentioned Natural Right several times – as it is universal and preexists social contract of any kind it fits the bill. I’ll try to have a good explanation of what it is and how it works translated into english, if you’re interested.September 14, 2008 at 10:05 pm #3812
Natural law has varying interpretations itself, so yes, please elaborate.
As for my own position, i think it can be pretty accurately stated as follows: I dont feel an obligation to leave this world a better place than it would have been without me. I feel obliged not to make it any worse, but thats it. I hope to, and eventually even might make it a better place, but i categorically reject any attempts to try and force me to do so.
Thats pretty close to ‘natural’ law for most intents and purposes i suppose. But the moral absolutes and intentional is-ought obfuscation typical of many natural law ‘aguments’ are completely meaningless to me. I would not at all mind being neighbors with a natural law theorist, but i cannot imagine marrying one.
Not that i think its much of an argument, but for what its worth, i think this ethic will lead to an unprecedented maximization of utility. I dont feel any desire to discuss this in moral terms. As an emotivist, I dont care much for labels of good and evil. This is what i hope to achieve, period.
I think seasteading provides a real opportunity for cultivating this ethic together with likeminded people. This cultivating will probably involve a fair bit of telling eachother how good and awesome we are, and how much other people suck, but im confident that part will work itself out: what im more interested in are practical solutions and methods for keeping this system functioning and stable, such a dynamic geography, and taking active steps to prevent implicit social contracts from arising.September 14, 2008 at 10:08 pm #3813
what im more interested in are practical solutions and methods for keeping this system functioning and stable, such a dynamic geography, and taking active steps to prevent implicit social contracts from arising.
As far as that goes: great thread!September 15, 2008 at 5:02 am #3808
Agreed about signed contracts and everyone signing. The beneficial community should have no freeloaders who did not sign. Temporary vistors would be fine, of course, like a tourist versus a citizen.
Children would sign when they wanted to declare their adulthood, but if they refused to sign I don’t see how they could be allowed to remain part of the community except as their parents’ wards, i.e., they remain children under the protection and care of their parents. Most children would prefer to become adults and would prepare for it by studying and learning the meaning of their adult responsibilities and preparing to accept them. Rites of passage into adulthood happen in most cultures.
Disagree that the contract needs to be complex or spell out every possible situation. It is as impossible to enumerate every scenario as it is possible to agree to the most basic ones. Simpler is better. If the contract is minimal and correct enough, then it should not need amendment. Amendment may even be undesirable as a means towards a slippery slope of diminishing freedoms.
Regarding contract enfocement, that can be done by (competing) private arbitration companies. In the U.S., private arbitration performs exactly that role. Government courts and police are not necessary, nor necessarily desirable.
Regarding the role of police, if everyone is responsible for their own self-defense, then there would seem to be little need for police. Remember that police are a relatively new invention that started out as court officers. Recall that in England for many centuries before police existed there, ordinary people were expected to stop crimes personally and directly. It was a civic duty for private individuals to stop crime. The idea that police can protect people in general is largely erroneous. There simply aren’t enough police to stop crime effectively or practically. They are not personal bodyguards. Police are good at invesigating crimes after they have already occured. It’s much better if the crimes are deterred, stopped, or prevented from happening in the first place. Only people defending themselves can accomplish that goal most of the time. U.S. case law clearly shows that police have no duty to protect most individuals. Naturally we could have private investigators in the rare event of actual crime. However, if everyone defends himself or herself then there should be very little crime. I’ve never heard of a robbery occurring at a gun range, police station or army patrol. Here’s a quote from the article linked above:
Before the mid-1800s, American and British citizens – even in large cities – were expected to protect themselves and each other. Indeed, they were legally required to pursue and attempt to apprehend criminals. The notion of a police force in those days was abhorrent in England and America, where liberals viewed it as a form of the dreaded “standing army.”
England’s first police force, in London, was not instituted until 1827. The first such forces in America followed in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia during the period between 1835 and 1845. They were established only to augment citizen self-protection. It was never intended that they act affirmatively, prior to or during criminal activity or violence against individual citizens. Their duty was to protect society as a whole by deterrence; i.e., by systematically patrolling, detecting and apprehending criminals after the occurrence of crimes. There was no thought of police displacing the citizens’ right of self-protection. Nor could they, even if it were intended.
Regarding respecting speech and thought, it’s impossible to stop someone else’s thoughts or speech except by initating force against them. Choosing not to listen does not involve using force. It’s also impossible to force someone to respect other ideas. Ideas get their power from being convincing, meaningful and truthful. Ideas are the opposite of force; they are how peaceful people interact. Absent force, no one is required to listen. Absent force, listening is done voluntarily or not at all.
Here is an excellent piece about why self-defense creates peace and civilized behavior.
Regarding the extent of responsibility for defense, if the need is not obvious, then defense probably isn’t needed. (By analogy, would one use a fire extinguisher if there were no fire? Probably not.) That’s an informal definition, but it probably should be made into a formal policy. Collective defense is something that could perhaps be organized independently of an individual agreement for general membership. On the other hand, it’s useful to know up front how it is going to be accomplished, so there’s something to be said for providing for it in an initial contract.
If there is going to be a collective defense, then it should definitely be organized as a whole so that there are no internal factions potentially acting against each other. Responsiblities and capabilities for collective defense should be kept simple and basic until they can become better organized and capable. They should always be focussed on defense and not aggression.
Agreements with external nations/steads would be an entirely different matter, but could follow similar principles. An external treaty for mutual trade, non-intervention and defense would probably be useful. Nations should probably respect and interact with other nations in the same way that individuals should respect and interact with other individuals: peacefully, voluntarily, and for mutual benefit.September 15, 2008 at 5:12 am #3814
I generally agree with Eelco that natural law may be unusably vague for this application. It seems to mean many different things to many different people. Doesn’t mean I’m against natural law (I actually agree with many of the ideas or implications that arise from some aspects of natural law), but it would seem to be difficult to base an explicit contract on natural law. That said, I’d be interested in seeing a natural law version of an explicit contract to replace a social contract.
Assuming we used some version of the very minimal and simple explicit contract I proposed, what potential “legal voids” do you see?
I also believe that the simple contract I propose has rather massive implications for how a society based on it would be structured. For example, since force is effectively neutralized, all desired interaction must be done through cooperation. There could no taxation, etc.September 15, 2008 at 5:32 am #3815
Thinking about it further, the simplest form of my proposed explicit personal contract would probably all that’s necessary:
“I agree to not initiate force or fraud, and I agree to defend myself against force and fraud.”
For collective defense, the need would generally be so obvious that there would be implicit agreement about it. For example, if there were pirates firing RPGs (rocket propelled grenades: old-style anti-tank weapons) and AK47s at you as happened to that cruise ship off Somalia, then most people would probably intuitively, immediately and informally agree that it would be appropriate to respond with defensive force.
In less obvious cases for collective defense, leadership would be needed to convince people to take action. If the need wasn’t obvious or easily justified, then most people likely would not respond. Most people would only use force to defend against an immediate threat to life, since using defensive force means putting your own life on the line.
Naturally collective defenses should be planned and practiced before they are needed. But that could be organized independently of the basic personal agreement.September 15, 2008 at 6:03 am #3817
Jeff : While I agree with the superiority of an explicit contract over an implicit one, my experiences and observations of society make me wary of a one-liner contract. The reason explicit is better than implicit is that the deal is spelled out in detail in plain English or French or what-have-you. A single line is barely an inch from being implicit, IMO.
Within the sweeping statement “I agree to defend myself against force or fraud” you could find justification for shooting people dead over verbal spats, to cowardice or passivity in the face of mortal external danger. I can always say I do not see enough of a threat to take up arms against external danger.
Private arbitration companies will need to be agreed upon through mutual agreement between the conflicting parties. This creates an obvious delaying tactic at the least, and may have worse consequences. A universal jury-type system sounds better to me.
I read your reference about self defence and the origin of police. Firstly, I note that police forces always seem to emerge in urban environments. This suggests that crime is more likely to occur in the dense anonimity of a city than in rural areas. Since the seastead will perhaps resemble a city more than a village, at least if it grows, the advantages of having a professional, dedicated police force may become great as the community grows. Secondly, you seem to be focussing exclusively on violent crime. What about burglary or embezzlement? What if the criminals commit violence with more firepower or the element of surprise? What if the victim is killed without any heirs or is unable to afford a private investigator as you suggest? Will the perpretator get away then? How good can that be?
Jesrad : While explicit contracts cannot (and should not attempt to, for the sake of brevity) cover all possible situations, it is still a good idea to cover those cases that’re likely to arise, such as the need for external defence, so it is all plain and clear. We need a balance between detail and conciseness IMO. Btw, what exactly is Natural Law? I read a wikipedia article on it, ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_law ) most schools seems to be very vague and fuzzy, common kindergarten type morality without referring to any core principles or basis. Only Hobbes has come up with explicit ten-commandments type of statements, these may suffice, but they seem to be a bit didactic, for e.g. condemning ingratitude, arrogance etc, which I believe should not be a legal matter.September 16, 2008 at 12:14 am #3820
I might be missing something here, but I´d guess that most people would automatically risk their lives to defend their home (the seastead). Thus an explicit contract to organize “collective defense” seems rather redundant.
Anyone who runs away and effectively leaves their neighbors to do their fighting for them is obviously going to experience shall we say quite a decrease in social standing and reputation when the battle is over.September 16, 2008 at 1:11 am #3821
That’s only if you win and survive the battle despite the absence of that missing firepower…and you leave the possibility open that some people will refuse to fight neccessary wars abroad, such as America’s wars in Europe and the Pacific in WWII.September 16, 2008 at 8:47 am #3823
I must say I like the concept of people basically staying ‘children’, if they do not subscribe to the explicit contract of the community. An intriguing (and entertaining) point.
Perhaps it could be seen from the angle of property rights: where do people not belonging to a community stay, where everything is owned by somebody (by specific people or a group organized in whatever way)? If they are not inhabitants, or ‘citizens’ (I think that is the closest terms here), they are either immature or otherwise unfit to care for themselves, hence living with others, visitors in somebody’s house, or tourists (paying visitors in effect). A given seastead could have a rule preventing selling parts of it to outsiders not subscribing to its basic philosophy.
One other thing to be noted – just to spell it out, I’m sure most consider that implicitly – the contract will have a limited duration.
Being pushed to subscribe to something for life is not consistent with freedom, and there would be an escape clause and ways to leave. But especially in respect to young people should there be more leeway, allowing them to try out life and responsibilities on a given seastead before subscribing to it for years. Assuming there is a group of seasteads, it could be a period of searching for a good home, when they could try several seasteads, experiencing their philosophy and of course the people living there. (Trying out the life on the ‘mainland’ will be surely a popular choice as well.)September 16, 2008 at 12:16 pm #3825
I agree. Finding good ways to deal with the tradeoff between the benefits of long term commitment and the downsides of restriction of choice is very important.
It would be a good idea to take into account the impact on the cost of secession for any project undertaken as a group, for instance. A project that becomes a money-drain with a few people leaving is a bad project. Being explicit about how to divide obligations made as a community in case someone is leaving is another way to prevent trouble.
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