Misusing the Social Contract
There is a certain kind of libertarian who says that they see no reason to abide by XYZ laws/ pay taxes because they didn’t sign any social contract. Hell, I don’t even have to find a libertarian to say that. Luck Egalitarian Ronald Dworkin, in response to Rawls famously said that we are not bound y contracts that we would have hypothetically made, and less so by one which we would ave made under extremely weird and implausible conditions. I would want to accuse them of completely missing the point of social contact devices except we get liberals saying this:
If you’ve searched the world over, explored the systems and decided the US has the best system here, and you chose to remain here – gues what, you just signed up for what you claim you didn’t sign up for, “genius.”
and greginak* as well:
Newsflash: the world ain’t perfect. There are plenty of places with less gov, places with more. If you choose to live here you are free to advocate for your point of view and the gov you want. But if you choose to live here you are not being oppressed just because you don’t get your way
So, if this is what people mean when they talk about the social contract, then Brandon Berg is absolutely right:
Putting aside the difficulty of legally immigrating to other countries, even relatively free ones, are you saying here that no one ever gets to complain about being oppressed as long as the government allows emigration?
If leftists get to say that libertarians should shut up about taxation because by staying in America, they already choose to stay and implicitly accept taxation by staying, why don’t conservatives get to tell liberals that they should shut up about gay marriage, or single payer, or illegal immigration because they are staying in America and by staying already consent to those laws?
But what I want to do is not talk about what is already a bad argument, but instead talk about what the social contract is all about. So this goes out to not just libertarians, but to liberals as well. Social contract theory does not rely on the binding nature of contracts and agreements. Rather, the contract device merely represents the appropriate reasons that we could bring in favour of a particular regime. So, it is irrelevant that you did not sign any social contract. That you hypothetically would have means that the you have reason to support the existing regime. That anyone, suitably situated** would have chosen a particular regime*** over another means that everyone has sufficient reason to support that regime. And that if you ask for a different regime even so, you are being unreasonable.
i.e. The social contract, whether or not you are talking about Rousseau, Locke, Hobbes, Kant or Rawls is not about providing a license for people to do whatever they want to each other, but about providing reasons for and against different regime types and is in fact more about protecting people from unreasonable claims they may make on one another.
*so that it is not just one crazy liberal, but other liberals who I generally respect even though I disagree with them
**It is a tough question working out what counts as suitably situated, but is not an intractable problem
***Or for that matter, a subset of regimes. There is no particular guarantee and in fact, it seems fairly improbable that we could, even with the aid of rational choice theory, select one particular regime as the optimal. What is more likely is that we can come up with a broad set of criteria, which would require interpretation which would itself be a point of disagreement. Nevertheless, there would be a class of rules which clearly did not satisfy said criteria and are therefore clearly unjust.****
****For the record, I do not think that a system which has taxation falls below that standard in virtue of simply having taxation, though a system without marriage equality in fact does fall below said standard. To be clear, even though I think one is better than another, both a system where the state is completely outside the marriage business, and one where the state recognises all such institutions as entered into by consenting adults qualify as marriage equality regimes and both are acceptable. A system of very high taxation is not acceptable. People have a legitimate claim on their pre tax income. Pace John Tomasi, spending one’s income contains legitimate opportunities for the development of one’s moral powers. A regime which alienates too much of a person’s wealth/income unacceptably impairs opportunities in pursuing this deep interest that we all share. Low tax rates may not be a civil right, but they damn well should be!
P.S. I am looking for a picture for this post