Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts Volume 4: Social Contract


The American society, although governed by strict laws, operates under the jurisdiction of the everyday citizen. We all abide by a set of rules that society deems as just. In the article, “Explaining the Social Contract,” by Rick Galusha, we have a great explanation on what a social contract is and how it influences us all. This contract is a fictitious document that outlines what is and what isn’t acceptable behaviors in society. “The Crito,” Plato’s article, is the first example of the social contract. Plato describes the actions of his mentor Socrates drinking the poisonous cup of hemlock per the court’s ruling. By following the rules of the social contract, he puts democracy and their seemingly peculiar verdict over his own life. It is this action that causes Plato to question democracy. In modern day society, several laws seem irregular and difficult to follow for many citizens. However, one cannot enjoy the protection and freedoms provided by these laws, and then disobey other laws simply due to personal dislike. Aristotle describes how democracy can quickly turn into mob rule. The majority of American citizens need to stand up for the minority; individual rights need to come first before the majorities. Therefore, the social contract needs to be implemented into our daily lives, even more so than the laws of our government. Engaged citizens protecting and enforcing their rights, duties, and obligations are what it takes to create and maintain a good society.
Obedience to civil law is required for all individuals by the terms of the social contract. However, the institution of government is not a contract, but an act of an individual’s general will. The social contract implies the total and unconditional surrender of one’s natural rights to obtain the rights associated with citizenship. It is not necessary for the sovereign power to ensure civil liberties and legal rights of his or her subjects because their interests are identical to those of the people. If someone refuses to comply with the general will, the citizen may then be forced to comply with the use of the law. Citizens should be subjected to the government with the support of its citizens, then the government can effectively protect those citizens and manage the whole country. If a country loses the government and the social contract becomes a thing of the past, the citizens will lose their security. After all, it is the society that every citizen creates that makes the society righteous, not the government. Instead of complaining about those who represent us, every citizen should take it upon themselves to make changes. While it is every citizen’s duty to fight against unjust laws and the treatment of all American citizens, per Bill Taylor’s article, True Leaders Believe Dissent Is an Obligation, “very few people have the guts to dissent, very few people become fearless, because very few leaders emphasize and celebrate their obligation to do so (Taylor, 2017).
Locke’s Second Treatise of Government outlines the concept of just power. He states, “being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions” (Locke, 2002). This theory describes that it is the social normality’s and what we consider as just actions that rule us, and not so much the laws of our governments. However, we must give just power to our government so it can protect us and maintain order. Locke’s theory is used heavily by former President Thomas Jefferson in his creation of the Declaration of Independence. One of the greatest quotes by Thomas Jefferson is, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” (Jefferson, 1776). In his writings, he also explains that the government is composed of men; men who follow the same social contract we all adhere to. “Since the nature of man is fallible, therefore, logically, the government is inherently fallible and thus incapable of creating the perfect society” (Galusha, 2016). The laws of our government are derived from the laws of God; this is the cornerstone of the social contract we all must follow.
From the beginning, courts in the United States have struggled to find a balance between the religious liberty of believers, who often claim the right to be excused or exempted from laws that interfere with their religious practices and the interests of society reflected in those very laws. Early state court decisions went both ways on this central question. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (U.S. Const. amend. I, 1791). Although the First Amendment says ‘Congress,’ the Supreme Court has held that speakers are protected against all government agencies and officials: federal, state, and local, and legislative, executive, or judicial. The First Amendment does not protect speakers, however, protects private individuals or organizations, such as private employers, private colleges, or private landowners. The First Amendment restrains only the government. The statement, “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (U.S. Const. amend. I, 1791) protects two distinct rights: assembly and petition. The clause’s reference to a singular ‘right’ has led some courts and scholars to assume that it protects only the right to assemble to petition the government. But the comma after the word ‘assemble’ is residual from earlier drafts that made the Founders’ intention to protect these two separate rights clearer. For example, debates in the House of Representatives during the adoption of the Bill of Rights linked assembly to the arrest and trial of William Penn for participating in collective religious worship that had nothing to do with petitioning the government.
            Dr. Martin Luther King further discusses social contracts in his article, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” He explains, using Thomas Jefferson’s writings, that everyone must act against an unjust government. He further states that “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws” (King, 1963). This is a moral obligation that we must all follow. In the United States Constitution, the many rights American citizens have been outlined. The right to religious freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and the freedom to criticize our government are all laws that strengthen the already existing social contract we have adapted. By fully understanding what the social contract is, we can further understand how our government operates and why it is necessary. This fight for implementing and preserving the social contract that binds us all as well will be extensive, as Thomas M. Franck states in his article, “Are Human Rights Universal”, “waiting for the inevitable globalization of personal freedoms is also made untenable by the reviving militance of cultural exceptionalism” (Franck, 2001). While it will be difficult to achieve this in America specifically, it is the duty and obligation of us all to pursue this, and not just those who lead us.
Franck, Thomas. (2001). Are Human Rights Universal?
Galusha, Rick. (2016). Explaining the Social Contract.
Taylor, Bill. (2017). True Leaders Believe Dissent Is an Obligation, Harvard Business Review Digital Articles.
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Sartre, J. P. (1948). Existentialism is Humanism. London: Methuen .
Thoreau, H. D. (1980). Civil Disobedience. New York: Signet Classics.

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