Distributed Ledgers Could Answer Some “Objections to the Social Contract.”

In William Godwin’s 1793 treatise Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, he outlines various objections to the idea of a ‘Social Contract’ between individuals, and between individuals and their governments. His critiques of social contract theory may be answered by having a legal system that is based on a distributed ledger system and smart contracts.

Godwin stated that justice and equality will not be served by having a government that was instituted by “our ancestors” but sticks around, unchanged, because our ancestors have “barter[ed] away the understandings and independence of all that came after them.” He states that the social contract “must be renewed in each successive generation” but isn’t sure at what point those decisions are made. (I mean, what even aregenerations‘?) This is a reformulation of the ‘Ship of Theseus Paradox‘, that makes inquiring minds try to define when one old thing becomes a new thing, when it is replaced piecemeal.

Besides, Godwin asks, are we obligated to obey a government ’till [our] turn comes to assent to it’? Where would our obligation come from, [s]urely not upon the contract into which my father entered before I was born?” He does not agree that mere acquiescence to the law is enough to hold someone to account for many aspects of the law.

Blockchain computing allows for so-called ‘Smart Contracts‘. These are basically agreements in computer code that are self-enforcing (think ‘automated escrow’. If you don’t know what escrow is, ask an old person why they wrecked the economy so much that you can’t afford a house). Basically, the [hoped for] benefit of smart contracts is that we can all avoid many hours and dollars spent litigating issues that come up in business, because it will all take place automatically, and that it can happen on a much smaller level.

These smart contracts work on the premise that the parties give them permission to act on their behalf. If you want to buy a digital asset (like an .mp3 file), you upload some funds to a smart contract. The other party uploads the digital asset to the same smart contract. Then the funds and the ownership are both out of control of the previous owners, and the contract automatically makes the transfer happen. Importantly, this takes away the ability of both parties to breach the contract. If the funds or the asset is not there, the transfer never takes place. Once they are, the contracts terms are met.

Smart contracts can be used for voting and for determining consensus. Godwin’s objection that we should not be held to the laws of our forefathers just because they thought they were good laws at the time, can be answered by smart contracts. If each individual in a given jurisdiction is given a say in whether a smart contract operates, then the smart contract will only operate if a certain number (pre-programmed in, either a majority, super-majority, unanimity, or whatever is desired) of individuals give their approval. The actual law that is ‘on the books’ or enforceable by law enforcement, can change in this way. This will allow for laws to go by the wayside as they become less and less popular.

This will also allow for each of us to demonstrate our acquiescence to the social contract (rather than just have it be presumed by all around us). Our votes can be recorded, and demonstrated at will. Indeed, whoever is elected to political office will become more than just a representative because any laws “that the community does not ratify…are no laws, are nullities.”

This may leave gaps in the law, but that would (hopefully) be answered by a more proactive law-making body. And any law that they pass would be under immediate scrutiny by the populace. And repealing that law would not require lengthy court battles, or legislative issues. Simply put, this will allow the general will of the populace (as Rousseau would put it, the true “sovereign”) to reign over a territory. The People will not be subjected to the whims of those in political positions that the populace votes into office hoping that they will represent their needs/desires.


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