[ExI] The Circle of Coercion

dan_ust at yahoo.com dan_ust at yahoo.com
Fri May 8 21:51:20 UTC 2009

--- On Fri, 5/8/09, Stathis Papaioannou <stathisp at gmail.com> wrote:
> 2009/5/7 Dan <dan_ust at yahoo.com>:
>> But no one is forced to pay insurance companies (save
>> for when governments mandate insurance).  In other words,
>> the other insurance clients are not non-consenting
>> third parties.  The taxpayers are.  This is why insurance
>> companies don't punish people when they don't buy a
>> policy, but government do punish those who don't pay
>> taxes.  (Yeah, not all the time, but the general rule
>> is there are penalties ranging from death to all lesser
>> penalties for non-payment of taxes.)
> Sometimes we are forced to pay for insurance. I am forced
> to pay for
> insurance on an apartment I own. I also have to pay for
> renovations to
> the building if the owners vote for it, even though I don't
> like what
> they propose to do or I can't afford it. If I don't pay, I
> can be sued
> or ultimately imprisoned. The argument is, if I don't like
> the rules I
> can sell the apartment or try to change the rules through
> my vote in
> the owners' corporation. Is that still coercion?

I don't know in all these cases, but it's not coercion if you expressly agreed and both parties had a right to whatever was contracted over.  In the case of, say, you buy into a coop or other housing arrangement with set rules, it's not coercion.  You always had the option not to join.  This is little different from, e.g., me saying that you can having dinner with me as long as you agree to chew with your mouth closed.  It's not coercion if I eject you from the table because you chew with your mouth open.

Following this analogy further, imagine the government now passed a law decreeing you must chew with your mouth closed.  That would be coercion because it forbids you from, e.g., eating with people who don't mind that or from doing it alone.  (Leave aside how they'd enforce such a law; my guess is it'd be something used to make examples of certain people.  You know, they can't eject Joe Blowshisnose from the park where he has lunch everyday until they have this law in hand to make it all legal.)
>> There's a vast literature in libertarian thought that
>> rejects social contract theory.  The whole notion of
>> a social contract -- at least as historically
>> presented -- rests on a flawed analogy between the
>> expressly consented to contracts and tacitly consented
>> ones.  In the former, the parties actually agree to
>> terms; in the latter, it seems, the social contract
>> theorist merely makes up terms and then manufactures
>> consent needed for her or his pet theory.  In fact,
>> while express contracts -- not without problems, but
>> easily understood -- often make it clear who agrees to do
>> what*, tacit ones, like social contracts, make it possible
>> to get anything at all.  For instance, people have used
>> tacit consent to argue that people who don't openly rebel
>> against a murderous regime tacitly support that regime.  In
>> other words, that notion can justify anything, so it
>> justifies nothing and makes a shambles of the notion of
>> contract.  (Ditto for Buchanan's notions on
>>  virtual unaminity.  As someone once pointed out,
>> wherever you read "virtual unanimity" one should, to make
>> sense of the passage, replace it with "lack of
>> unanimity.":)
> Why is the social contract "tacit"?

This is a key feature of social contract theory.  The typical social contract theory is an attempt to justify some socio-political order via an analogy with a real contract -- as if all members of society agree to some (you guessed it!) social contract.  Since real world societies of any appreciable size don't arise contractually -- viz., people don't get together, formulate a contract, and then actually expressly consent to it -- the problem is how to complete the analogy.  This is where tacit consent comes in.

With tacit consent, social contract theorists usually argue either that people would agree to a particular social arrangement if there were an explicit contract but this is impractical or that by taking certain actions that agree to it anyway.  (The latter is actually much weaker when you think about it because you end up with arguments like the king should king because no one has bothered to overthrow him.)

If tacit consent makes no sense -- either because it's groundless (what kind of consent is it that isn't express? how comes people often expressly go against what the social contract theorist believes they tacit consent to?) or because it's has no limits (with tacit consent one can justify just about anything -- as can be seen by the major social contract theorists: Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke, and John Rawls; these guys all have very different views of the correct social order ranging from absolute monarchies to classical liberal constitutional republics to welfare states and beyond).

> Would it make it any
> better if I
> signed a piece of paper when I entered a country as a
> visitor or
> migrant explicitly agreeing to abide by its laws, including
> the
> procedures for changing the laws?

Only if the person or group making you consent had the right to do so.  The government of a country simply does not have that right -- any more than I have the right to ask people who visit you to abide by my rules.  As I have no right over you or your property, I have no right to compell your guests to follow my rules.

> Admittedly, I don't have
> a choice
> which country I'm born in, but I don't see a way around
> that problem.

This brings up another problem with social contracts: even were an explicit contract signed, it wouldn't bind others or future generations.  But in the case of your country of birth, the government there has no right to impose its rules on you period.  It simply lacks ownership over that country or a right to compell.  (Certainly, it claims ownership and has the ability to compell, but this is no different than me claiming ownership over the moon or a mugger being able to compell you to surrender your wallet.)

>> [big snip of material you didn't comment on, but I'd
>> like to know what you thought about it just the same]
> Sorry, I'm travelling at the moment and lost the original
> email.
> Perhaps you could resend it.

I'll send it to you off-list.  Have a safe and fun journey.




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