Social contract theory is a cornerstone of libertarian or classical liberal thought. In essence, this foundation myth posits that human beings, while in the “state of nature” (a time prior to the existence of any discernible society), first contracted with one another to form a civil society for their mutual survival and protection of their “natural rights” – life, liberty, and property – and then proceeded to agree to create the foundations of the state, a government which was contracted to act as a third party judicator of disputes between members of society, administrator of justice to those found guilty of violating the society’s laws, and protector of society from foreign aggressors; in essence to prevent the violation of individuals’ “natural rights” from threats without and within.
This fantasy tale is certainly more palatable than the completely abstract, modern liberal notion of “human rights”. It reflects the existence of natural law, and is based at least on part on certain actual rights – namely those of the English people (and, arguably, by extension the Anglosphere). This of course is the first fact that belies the abstract notion of contractual government as classical liberals perceive it. All modern ideas surrounding liberty, rights under the law, and representative government are based firmly in the English political experience. (more…)