Re: Who owns you?

Eric Watt Forste (
Wed, 09 Jul 1997 11:27:39 -0700

Hagbard Celine writes:
> My point, as you have quoted above, is that with the very first
> promise I make, I no longer own myself entirely. Again, ownership
> being a term-of-art for autonomy.

This has definitely gotten to the level of being a dispute about
semantics (which is not necessarily a bad thing), but I personally
do not choose to use the word "promise" to designate something that
restricts self-ownership or autonomy. (Or perhaps I should say that
I choose not to use the words "self-ownership" and "autonomy" to
designate something that is restricted by promises.) A promise
restricts future action, it reduces degrees of freedom, but I do
not leap forward from that point to say that it reduces autonomy
or surrenders self-ownership. Promises and contracts can be broken,
after all, if one is willing to pay the cost to ones reputation.

> I'm familiar with the Friedman model (from DDF's website) and I
> agree that his is a practical, and workable system. I've never
> disputed this. But, I'm not sure how it supports the contention
> that a social contract can result in anything but a form of
> government. First, are you familiar with Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau?
> If so, maybe I should start by asking how, in your estimation, a
> social contract may avoid the label "government."

In this technical sense of "social contract", the Friedman model
as I understand it has none. Only private contracts are called for.
A Friedmanesque system of private arbitration and security contracts
avoids the label "government" by failing to be a social contract
as Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau used the phrase. (Although I must
confess that I am actually more familiar with the Lockean theories
of Nozick and Gauthier than with the above three. But Gauthier is
a fan of Hobbes and Rousseau also)

I don't think social contracts are real. IMHO, the best explanation
of how the current political situation on this planet got to be
this way is provided by Hayek, and I don't think he ever uses the
phrase "social contract", except possibly to criticize it. As far
as I'm concerned, governments are not social contracts: rather,
they are legitimized (that is, popularly accepted by default, not
"legitimate", which to me would mean receiving the active consent
of the governed--a signed contract--and not just default birthright
"consent") protection rackets, the same sort of thing as the Mafia,
only more popular. (This is not a damnation of the government...
in my opinion most of the revenue-generating activities of the
Mafia ought to be legal, and I suspect it's only because of the
illegality of their core businesses that they must, er, "police"
themselves so heavily.)

I guess after blathering about this stuff so much, I should
point out that in matters of legal theory and legal philosophy I
am strictly an amateur. (As if you couldn't have guessed. ;)

Eric Watt Forste ++ ++ expectation foils perception -pcd