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What happens when a “social contract” breaks down?

In political theory, an idea that got going in the 18th Century was that of the “social contract”, and to this day, writers can sometimes raise the idea that there is an implicit/explicit “deal” that we enter into (stay with me, dear reader) to give up certain qualities or freedom of action in return to some greater overall result. An example used to justify the “Nightwatchman State” of minarchist dreams might be the “contract” in which citizens give up the ability to go after criminals, or those they think are criminals, and instead submit to the powers of policemen and women to do this, or to sub-contract this role to approved private police, etc, and with all the due process of a legal system (details don’t matter, it could have juries, or not, investigative magistrates, or not). The police, so the argument goes, go after suspected wrongdoers and also deter wrongdoing, and the citizens pay a tax to the police, and the territory in which this operates is safer and more tranquil than would otherwise be the case. (Not all liberals/libertarians like the social contract theory, such as Jacob Levy. Robert Nozick did not show much time for it in his Anarchy, State and Utopia, if I recall.)

Well, like all contracts, there can be a point at which one side has so abandoned its side of the deal that the contract loses its legitimacy.

Example from today’s Daily Telegraph (£):

Police have failed to solve a single burglary in nearly half of all neighbourhoods in England and Wales in the past three years despite pledging to attend the scene of every domestic break-in to boost detection rates.

It’s unsurprising that those who can afford it are buying more elaborate security, that domestic household insurance rates are rising fast, and so on. As with the dysfunctional National Health Service, I wonder at what point the penny drops on a lot of the public that they are being defrauded on this “contract”, and demand change?

Here is an explicitly libertarian take on policing.

Slightly off-topic from policing, is a reminder of this book from more than a decade ago, by Joyce Lee Malcolm, about the UK, US, and the very different approaches to handguns and self defence over the decades.

19 comments to What happens when a “social contract” breaks down?

  • Steven R

    Look at post-WW1 Germany and the various battles between Freikorps based down various political lines or the Vigilance Committees and stringing men up without trials or how gangs rule neighborhoods in favelas in Brazil or inner city America and race-based jury nullification exists among communities who refuse to work with police. That’s the future once the majority finally come to terms with the idea that the Social Contract has been breached by government and it’s time to deal with problems on our own.

    The murder of Ken McElroy comes to mind. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_McElroy

  • Fraser Orr

    Insofar as the police are local then if you don’t like the job they are doing it is relatively easy to vote the police chief (or whoever) out, or if you can’t do that, move to the next town over. However, if you don’t like the FBI or the ATF, you are SoL, unless you want to move to a different country. (And even there, the IRS will continue stalking you like a bitter, angry ex-wife.) Federalism, that is to say, competitive government, makes everything better. One of the great poisons in our society (the US anyway) is the sucking of all power to the central government.

    Another thing worth talking about is something I learned from one of the wise posters here — sorry I forget who it was. And that is that far more important to crime deterrence is certainty of being caught. Politicians tend to have the idea that we should have more an more severe punishments, chomos are subject to prison justice, murders are strung up and so forth.

    But when you have a city that has a 25% murder clearance rate (as it is in Chicago, and also I believe NYC) then it almost doesn’t matter how severe the punishment is. Every time I see one of those mass school shootings on the news, utterly dreadful — 8 kids murdered — I think of Chicago, where 8 kids murdered is what we call “the weekend”. And none of those guys ever get caught. Why do we care less about that? Is it because the kids are black, generally speaking? Or is it because the city is run by the left and so there are no political speeches to be made, standing on the bodies of a pile of dead kindergarteners?

    FWIW, I think prisons should be a LOT nicer, or at least both safe and make some attempt to rehabilitate criminals, and the emphasis should be on making sure that if you commit crime you are VERY likely to be caught. American prisons are a disgrace and shame to a civilized nation, less embarrassing only than the utter ineffectiveness of the police at solving crimes. Catching more criminals, that is how we will actually reduce crime, and rehabilitating the ones who can be fixed, also reduces crime. But that requires the police to focus their efforts on actually harmful things rather than some of the fussy busybody nonsense that they often occupy themselves with.

  • Alex

    Meanwhile a man called Samuel Melia was jailed for his beliefs promoted via the medium of stickers. This dangerous individual had “[a] label printer and stickers with anti-immigration messages”.
    Now it certainly seems his views are racially motivated, some stickers said things like “Why are Jews censoring free speech?” but others were things like “White people will be a minority by 2066” (paraphrasing as it’s curiously difficult to find images of the actual stickers). He encouraged people to put these stickers in public places. Personally, I can’t see that what he has done remotely warrants prosecution let alone imprisonment.

    This is what our police spend their time and effort on, persecuting people for their political beliefs. The judge apparently said he was sentencing Melia to prison “as a deterrent to others with your views”. In short a naked threat to persecute people not for what they do but for what they believe.

  • Phil B

    I have the Joyce Lee Malcolm book (Guns and Violence) but for another view of the subject, try:

    Guns & Violence The Debate Before Lord Cullen by R. A. I. Munday and J. A. Stevenson.

    It is the evidence presented to the “enquiry” with the pre determined recommendation (BAN! BAN! BAN!) following the Dunblane incident.

    Oddly, if you approach the subject with an open mind, you will find and inverse relationship between legal gun availability and violence in general and armed crime in particular.

    But, as pointed out by Munday and Stevenson, the original intent of the 1920 Firearms Act was to prevent revolution, not make the country safer.

    How far sighted the parliamentarians were back in 1920 to implement such restrictions in anticipation of the destruction of the country that is happening now and the potential for the oiks to object to their betters decisions. (The Internet needs a sarcasm font).

  • Blackwing1

    The only “social contract” in the US is the written US Constitution, and the various state constitutions. When these are abrogated by the people attempting to ruin our government(s), those contracts become null and void. For a while, chaos and anarchy may reign. Local control will be re-established but in the meantime you can look for basically ANY crime to carry the death penalty.

    In the larger cities I predict you will see the urban version of what we living in rural areas call “The Three Esses” (SSS). Burglars, muggers and rapists will no longer be reported to the do-nothing police, they will simply “softly and suddenly vanish away”.

    I do not wish for nor endorse this course of action; I’m simply making a prediction. I infinitely prefer a rule of law, but the police exist to protect criminals from the citizens and to forward them to a justice (NOT a “legal”) system for processing. When they stop doing that, as they have in all of the Dem-wing controlled major urban areas, there will be some form of justice served…they just not going to like it much.

  • Kirk

    Pause, for a moment, and consider “society” as a mechanism that functionally allows large numbers of human beings to exist and work in close proximity to one another, for the benefit of all.

    What are the functions that the mechanism must accomplish, in order that this occurs?

    One of them is to oil the interactions of humans such that transgressors against the societal norms and needs be discouraged and that the behavior of the parties committing these transgressions must be effectively modified such that they do not repeat the behavior. This is the function served by many mechanisms in your typical society… It might take the form of a vendetta culture, a criminal organization like the Sicilian Mafia, or a formal “Justice System”. Whatever it is, when it stops working, ceases to satisfy the needs of the people making up that society…? It won’t be around for much after they reach a consensus about its non-utility.

    This is about where we’re at, right now… There are rising numbers of people who are recognizing the fact that the “system” isn’t working, particularly not for them. This means that so far as they are concerned, they no longer consent to the unwritten and now unfulfilled “social contract”, so they’re going to find something else. If that means paying off the Mexican Mafia or some other group to get justice by having someone murdered in prison or on the streets, guess what? They’re going to do it, and the mechanism of social restraint is going to be routed through that path more and more as time goes on.

    One way or another, behavior will be modified. If that means simply doing the three-S process, or paying off the local gangsters to deal with your problems, it’ll happen. And, it will happen precisely because the jackasses running the existing system will have run it into the ground.

  • Stuart Noyes

    People are fleeing the hell hole South Africa has become. Many are coming here. Where will they go when the uk is the same?

  • Nicholas (Locals, Rule!) Gray

    There seem to be more reasons to promote Pro-Localism than I suspected! I think that Local Government should be the strongest level of government, with participatory democracy being the system. If an adult chooses to be a citizen, then they should join some local volunteer service (bush-fire, militia, Community service, etc.), and only then could they vote for local laws. As soon as a local population exceeds 1 million people, it should split into 2 local polities. (If the population falls to less than 100,000 then that locality should petition to join one or more of its’ neighbours.)

  • Kirk

    @Nicholas Gray:

    I like the idea, but I’d like it even more if the idea included a means to prevent the Homeowners Association effect. These small-scale local governances are just as prone to developing effective tyrannies as anything else. They’re sometimes even worse, which anyone living in a small town can tell you from personal experience…

    Honestly, I’d take this even smaller, down to a cellular level. We did really well for most of the human race’s history with merely the “band” level of organization. There are reasons that all of our “team” organizations like squads in the Army and football teams usually settle around 9 to 15 members, and that’s because those are the numbers we evolved to deal with. How you get back there, and still retain the benefits of scale we get with all this dysfunctional mass we’ve built since those days? That’s the question.

  • Paul Marks

    Johnathan Pearce “what happens when the Social Contract breaks down?”

    Haiti is what happens when the Social Contract breaks down.

    And the President of the Dominican Republic is quite right to say that “refugees” (violent criminals) will not be allowed in from Haiti – the newly built wall will be defended. The Dominican Republic has enough violent criminals of its own – without importing more.

    The British and American media may choose to ignore Haiti – but they will have a harder job ignoring Chicago during the Democrat Convention in August.

  • Paul Marks

    Police forces in English and Welsh counties only became compulsory in 1856 (the country of Rutland, a few miles from me, complied with the new law by setting of a police force of two, 2, members) – the propaganda of people such as Sir Edwin Chadwick (arguing that without state police there was savagery) was wildly overblown.

    After all the the United Kingdom became the leading economy in the world without the various state services that Sir Edwin Chadwick, and other followers of Jeremy Bentham, insisted were essential. J.S. Mill wrote that everyone agreed that local and central government provide X,Y,Z services – “everyone” being himself, his wife, and their friends. Disraeli made the 40 or so services compulsory in the Act of 1875 – whatever local taxpayers wanted or did not want.

    By the way Public Prosecutions for ordinary crimes did not start in England and Wales till the 1870s.

    Before then it was a private person who accused another of theft, rape, murder or whatever.

    The public have been carefully made to forget all of the above.

  • Paul Marks

    Ireland seems to have been the test-bed for these various experiments.

    A government police force – I think that was only a couple of years after the Act of 1801 (and it was armed).

    System of government schools – 1831, because Lord Stanley (later the Earl of Derby) wrote a letter suggesting it – Irish taxpayers got the system shoved down their throats.

    Poor Law – 1838, made unlimited by the Act of 1847. Yes unlimited – if a local Poor Law Union went bankrupt, the rest of Ireland was made to bail them out (however many local Poor Law Union went bankrupt) – thus dragging down the whole country with unlimited Poor Law tax. “The tax only hit land owners” say morons, who do not understand that all taxes are passed on.

    People who write that Ireland had “laissez-faire” in this period are liars, God damned liars.

  • Kirk

    Paul Marks said:

    The British and American media may choose to ignore Haiti – but they will have a harder job ignoring Chicago during the Democrat Convention in August.

    I dunno… I’ll lay you long odds that the conditions observed in Chicago will, somehow, be ju-jitsued into being the fault of the Republican Party, regardless of the reality. That’s just the way it goes…

    I’m continually amazed at the ability for the Democrats to somehow evade responsibility and accountability for their policies. The logic is maddening, and you hear people parrot it without thinking about it, not realizing at all what they’re saying. Perfect example? “Voter ID”, which is always somehow rotated and turned into “Republicans want to enable vote fraud…”

    You even hear black Americans saying that BS, without realizing that a.) it really insults blacks, because they’re basically saying that they’re unable to function in a modern society with ID requirements, which manifestly isn’t true, and b.) that what they’re saying about “voter identification is voter suppression” means that the votes we’ve had in the past were all fraudulent.

    Frankly, I can’t wait for all the contradictions to cave in on these arseholes. It’s going to be entertaining to observe, until I get caught up in the mixmaster personally.

    What strikes me as really bizarrely amusing is that the same people who demand pasture-to-table tracking for their meat are generally the same people who say that voter ID is impossible to implement…

  • @Kirk:
    During the medieval era commoners where organized into “Tithing Groups” consisting of all males over the age of 12. These usually consisted of 10 or less men and boys. If one of their members was accused of a crime it was expected that the tithing group would either hand him over to the local Reeve (or other authority), or they would be obligated to pay any fines assessed against the accused. The tithing group was also supposed to monitor each other so that none would cheat the “give 10% increase” to the church via the local Tithing barn. The new peasant mobility after the Black Plague and slow legal collapse of serfdom and bonded labor did the system in. The system did work for a few centuries however.
    I’m just full of mostly useless facts, and occasionally my pedantry must show itself. And if my facts are incorrect, then I appreciate the correction.

  • Kirk

    @Matthew H Iskra,

    That’s a fascinating thing that I should have known about, may have read about once upon a time, and which I must have just lost track of, not placing enough importance on it.

    The round numbers of 9-15 adults as a “band limit” isn’t new; I suspect that was probably the optimal number for our persistence-hunting forebears. The problem we have today is that nothing we do outside of sports and the military really acknowledges this fact, and it really ought to. Instead of a long-term relationship within a band, we exchange that for an ever-changing cast of thousands, and wonder why there’s such an amount of social anomie and dissatisfaction. On the primeval savannah, you could pretty much count on your band knowing you, and you would know them just as well, for the duration of your lifespan. Many of them might have been relatives, even… So, when you look at people who’re dissatisfied with our modern “atomic family” structure, there’s likely a reason. Same with how we organize everything else.

    Leave it up to me, and we’d do it as a cellular system… There’s no reason that we don’t have long-term work groups that stick together and persist outside the normal artificialities of company and so forth; it could be done. Instead of hiring a single person, you hire that work group for that function, whatever it is. That way, the “family” bond is there, and everyone has what they’re looking for, which is that primary bonding experience.

    The lack of said bonding is precisely why we have gangs, and intramural sports teams. I don’t know why we don’t try to take advantage of that need within the workplace… And, everywhere else.

  • Nicholas (Locals, Rule!) Gray

    Kirk, the definition of ‘Local’ is flexible; in time, it could mean no more that 100,000 people. One advantage of small governments is that it would be easier to vote with your feet by moving to a locality without a Homeowner Association. Switzerland is like that, with strong Cantons, and a weak Federal Government.

  • Paul Marks

    Kirk – as you know, Chicago has been controlled by the Democrats for over 90 years. Although, till the 1ate 1970s, it was controlled by relatively moderate (although corrupt) Democrats.

    With a Progressive Federal Government, Progressive Illinois State Government, and a Progressive Chicago City Government, even the media will have trouble blaming the collapse of Chicago (both economic and societal collapse) on “Reactionary-Running-Dogs” or whatever.

    By August Chicago will be in a state of total collapse – and the cause will clearly be Progressivism.

    New York will also be collapsing – partly because the penny has finally dropped in the minds of businessmen that the corrupt courts will not just target “Trump”. With a city debt (not a State and Federal debt – just the city debt of New York City) being over 60 thousand Dollars per person (including babies) the local “authorities” are going to start stealing money from anyone who has got money.

    “But I have been bribing the Democrats for years – they will not hurt me”.

    Oh yes they will Mr Corporate Executive – indeed by bribing them, you have let the Dems know you have money they can steal via their corrupt courts.

    Business people, indeed anyone who can, needs to sell up (for whatever you can get – even pennies on the Dollar) and get out of Chicago, New York and the other Progressive cities – NOW.

  • Paul Marks

    On the “Social Contract” itself….

    More than 70 years ago Gough (I forget his first name) pointed out, in his book on John Locke, that Locke is rather slippery in his move from individual consent to majority consent, and that these were two different things was well understand at-the-time. John Locke provides no argument for this move from individual consent to majority consent – he just slips from one to the other in a rather underhand well.

    But, in defense of Locke, he did not have to consider a city, such as Washington D.C, whose sole “industry” is government and where, therefore, such things as the jury pool would revel in their own injustice towards anti Big Government people (not “just” Mark Steyn – any anti Big Government person).

    Creating a city whose sole trade was government, and giving it voting rights (something that was not done to the 1960s – as the Founding Fathers were not fools) were clearly two mistakes.

    It would be hard to remove the voting rights of the District of Columbia (as these were granted by a Constitutional Amendment – a very unwise Constitutional Amendment), but there have been Bills before the Congress to allow people to be tried where they live – not before the biased juries of D.C. (whose verdicts against conservatives are predetermined).

    Till then, a new President (coming into office on January 20th 2025) should make it clear that conservatives will be automatically pardoned if found guilty of political “crimes” by the biased (and totally dishonest) jury pool of the District of Columbia and near-by counties.

    There can be no “Social Contract” where the majority (yes the majority) of people are no-good – and that is clearly the case with Washington D.C.

  • Paul Marks

    Nicholas Gray – the central government in Switzerland has been getting stronger and stronger since the war of 1847 – stage-by-stage, with each new Constitution being worse than the last, the present Constitution (introduced in the early 1990s) being the worst. Still, YES, the Swiss Cantons still have some autonomy – and that is a good thing.

    By the way I have looked up Gough’s name – it was John W. Gough (1900 – 1976) who was critical of Locke’s slight-of-hand, Locke’s slippery move from individual consent to majority consent.

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