What if, as a rite of passage at the age of reason, we all had to sign a contract agreeing to live in the systems created and maintained by the government? We'd get the benefits of order, infrastructure, justice, etc. and in exchange we follow the laws and don't interfere with the enforcing of the laws. Anyone who refused to sign the contract would not be able to live in that area of governance. We'd have basic statutes to allow people to travel through the area, but even that would require a less binding agreement.

  • What could have happened to make this system preferable?
  • What sort of social pressures would result if the contract was seen as preferable to exile?
  • $\begingroup$ Pieces of paper are only as powerful as we make them. I don't see how a literal social contract would be any different than a idealistic one, except that less people would complain about taxes. $\endgroup$ Mar 19, 2015 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ Just because there is pressure to sign, does not necessarily mean a willingness or ability to abide by said contract. In the event of a breach of contract, what are the repercussions? In such oppressive systems, there is often (albeit often brief) periods of rebellion. What would prevent defend this system from a revolution? $\endgroup$ Mar 19, 2015 at 20:29
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    $\begingroup$ I voted to close this question because it is not, in fact, a question. “What if” is not a question in anything but the grammatical sense, it is a discussion starter, and this is not what Stack Exchange is for. Please see Hypothetical situations and broad questions and Redefining too Broad on our meta site as well. The topic of discussion absolutely matches the site's topic; feel free to edit your post if you have an actual question. $\endgroup$ Mar 19, 2015 at 20:56
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    $\begingroup$ How does the new system differ from the current one? Most jurisdictions allow exile. I guess the only novel element would be the psychological effect of physically signing a piece of paper? $\endgroup$ Mar 19, 2015 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, do you expect people signing the contract to know the law? That takes years for future lawyers to learn, and they specialize to a particular field, so it doesn't seem practical. There's probably a question in here, but I think you need to let it stew for a bit. I recommend dropping to chat to discuss it. $\endgroup$ Mar 19, 2015 at 21:17

2 Answers 2


It would have almost no effect on society or the tendency to abide by such a contract i'm afraid.

Contracts mean little by themselves. They are only relevant in that there are ways to enforce them provided by the government. However, the government already does everything it can to enforce the social contract, that's what all it's laws and police officers do. Since the enforcement wouldn't change the contract wouldn't.

Look at the abstinence pledges that have become common lately. Studies show that those who sign it are more likely to end up pregnant teenagers. part of this is that the sort who are likely to sign it happen to be slightly more likely to be social outgoing individuals who are likely to engage in sex, but the main point is that the contract signature itself had very little, if any, effect on their abiding by the stated rules.

A contract that everyone was forced to sign, either officially or implicitly via social pressuring, would have even less power. Those who signed it did not do it of their own free will, and thus may not feel bound by the intent of it.

That isn't to say it couldn't have some interesting world building aspects. The signing of the contract could be something like your bar mitvah, a right of passage for young children into adulthood. That would give it a very relevant cultural impact, but the impact is less about the contract itself and more about having something to symbolize transition to adulthood. Any number of other activities could be made up with the exact same relevance.

Taking the Bar Mitvah analogy even further, before having one a boy would need to read the Torah. If those signing the contract were forced to read and prove an understanding of it that could have some relevance. The greater awareness of the contract and the fact that people can quote specific relevant passage from the contract years later may give people a better means to articulate their intent and belief when discussing legal matters. Discussions of right and wrong would likely reference the contract much the way we reference the constitution when discussing the validity of rules today.

However, I think in general the net crime and abuse will be the same. Human nature is the same regardless of the culture we place it in. The way one articulates rights and wrongs may change, but in the end people will be just as prone to committing wrongs, or rights I suppose.

  • $\begingroup$ This is a pretty good summary. I think, though, that it also bears mentioning that whatever would be written in the social contract probably wouldn't be content-wise much different from what we already have in laws and constitutions and such. The only substantial difference seems to be the option to opt out. $\endgroup$
    – Mike L.
    Mar 19, 2015 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ @MikeL.considering the multitude of laws I doubt the contract would try to cover laws explicitly, they would die of old age before reading it all. It would more likely be a more general social contract. Agreeing to abide by rules, work together, and to quote Google "don't be evil." It would probably discuss why the contract is relevant and the goals of it as well. We hold these truths to be self evident, and pledge to engage in these actions and abide these laws and procedures set for by the state to further the social rights and persute of happiness of ourselves and others etc etc. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Mar 20, 2015 at 0:10
  • $\begingroup$ So like I said, constitution. $\endgroup$
    – Mike L.
    Mar 20, 2015 at 8:23
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    $\begingroup$ If the contract doesn't explicitly describe all the laws, it's effectively identical to the agreements and oaths sworn by foreigners seeking citizenship in nations other than their native one, except that even native-born citizens need to go through the process. $\endgroup$
    – user867
    Feb 29, 2016 at 6:56

Well, if the binding was magical... that would have a lot more effect than just signing a non-magical piece of paper.

If the contract was magical... and everyone who signed it was subject to it, I guess almost everyone would sign it, if all the people in power signed it. As then, corruption would be almost non-existent, other than by loopholes in the contract.

If you could tell a a glance who signed it, and whether they followed it or not, I would expect a society like Sword Art Online, where you can immediately see Player Killers, who are feared and shunned... and also lesser criminals, who are shunned less... or possibly not...

And possibly something like the Unseelie Accords or promising on your power from the Dresden Files Novels, where if you're a signatory of the Accords, you don't break them unless you want to Get Screwed Over By The Letter Of The Law and served... on second thought, the Accords don't have that much to do with social contracts... other than don't break the Accords unless you don't care about a high chance of dying after breaking them.

On the subject of promising on your power and how it relates to social contracts, if you break a power promise, you get hit with a major power loss leaving yourself more vulnerable the stronger you are... How could you do something similar into a magical social contract system... I guess its the shunning and stuff in the paragraph above the above one... or you could lose your job or something...

Then there's gotta be a secret society of Contract Breakers, like we've got drug gangs and stuff...

I'm just posting this here as an answer 'cause I don't got enough rep to comment... isn't it weird that I can answer before I can comment?


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