We Need to Review, Revise, and Renew the Social Contract of America

The social contract in America is increasingly frayed and even a bit tattered as well as more than a little behind the times and in desperate need of renewal across the board. Nobody seems happy with it in its current state. It is time for us to review, revise, and renew it.

Exactly what a revised social contract should look like is unclear. This informal paper will not prejudge the end result or even propose what such a revised social contract would look like, but simply lay the groundwork for the effort to review the existing social contract, including highlighting areas and aspects of those areas that may need to be addressed.

A previous paper, Elements of a Social Contract, outlined many aspects of social contracts from a more abstract perspective.

The existing social contract is rather informal. It is scattered about, including the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, plus its many amendments, including the Bill of Rights, quite a few acts of Congress and statutory law, lots of government regulations, lots of executive orders, a number of international treaties, the charter of the United Nations and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the evolving party platforms of the main political parties, not to mention religious beliefs and a wide range of community and family values. But we have nothing like a single, coherent document that lays out the social contract in full — let alone in a form that is easy to read and comprehensible by an average citizen.

A precursor for a revised social contract is a Declaration of Dependence which spells out clearly why we need the social contract, why we feel we are and need to be in the same boat, rowing in the same direction. Such a document is not in hand and unlikely to be so in the near future, but we can begin to proceed anyway since a lot of the elements are readily in hand anyway, and as already noted, this paper is not intended to detail a revised social contract or even do a deep dive review of the existing, informal social contract, but simply to get the ball rolling.

This paper will not actually do a review of the existing social contract or even propose specific revisions, but it will highlight at least some of the general and specific areas where review and likely improvement are likely needed.

It will be the collective effort of all of society to do the full, deep, broad, and multifaceted review and revision, and ultimate renewal of the American social contract.

But first we must make some small steps to get started, which is the purpose of this paper.

Any review or revision of the social contract should start by attempting to adhere to the framework proposed in the companion paper, Elements of a Social Contract.

Towards a more perfect union

That’s the real, ultimate goal:

  • Towards a more perfect union

The original U.S. constitution boldly asserted that the states were about to “form a more perfect union.” Well, it actually was a more perfect union, back then in 1787, but times have changed.

We don’t need to be there today or get there tomorrow or real soon, but we do need to have confidence that we are headed in the right direction.

And that seems to be a very common refrain in recent years:

  • The country is not headed in the right direction.
  • The country is not on the right track.

But is that really true, or is that just misguided media narrative or the work of cynical political operators and pundits?

To quite a few people it seems that:

  • The American dream is broken.

More specifically, that hard work no longer consistently achieves success and upwards mobility for individuals and their children. And not everybody seems to be created equal. Or maybe it is just that some seem treated as more equal than others.

Well, that’s the point of the exercise to draft a Declaration of Dependence and review, revise, and renew the social contract, to assure that we really are all headed in the right direction, towards a more perfect union. And a review, revision, and renewal of The American Dream.

Where do we find the American social contract?

As already noted, there is no single document called The American Social Contract. Rather fragments can be found here and there, scattered about:

  1. Declaration of Independence
  2. U.S. Constitution, plus its many amendments.
  3. Bill of Rights.
  4. American Creed.
  5. Pledge of Allegiance.
  6. American values. Further scattered about.
  7. Family values.
  8. Community values.
  9. Acts of Congress and statutory law.
  10. Government regulations.
  11. Executive orders.
  12. International treaties.
  13. International law.
  14. State law.
  15. Local law.
  16. Charter of the United Nations.
  17. UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  18. Value statements of the military services.
  19. Party platforms of the major political parties (constantly evolving.)
  20. Value, vision, and mission statements of groups and organizations.
  21. Folklore.
  22. General culture.
  23. Cultural beliefs about duty and obligation.
  24. Movies. Which highlight and promote values.
  25. Books. Which highlight and promote values.
  26. Religious doctrine, dogma, scripture, and teaching.
  27. Child-rearing.
  28. Elementary education.
  29. High school education.
  30. Post-secondary education.

Current major areas of distress

  1. Trust. Crisis of trust, for others, others not like us, government, business, the media, international institutions, the future. Distrust of minorities. Distrust by minorities.
  2. Jobs. Angst over stagnant incomes and wages. Disputes over what to do about it. Disputes over proper role of government in the economy and job creation.
  3. Income and wealth inequality. How much inequality would be okay? What to do about it? Whose job is it?
  4. Infrastructure. Crumbling and high cost. Outdated. Disputes over approach and role of government.
  5. Business. Disputes over proper role in society and government. How much regulation is enough? How much regulation is too much?
  6. Health care and insurance. High cost. Disputed role of government. Is it more of a national or state-level issue?
  7. Gun control and gun violence. Disputes over gun ownership, sale, and registration.
  8. Family planning. Disputes over birth control and abortion.
  9. Higher education. High cost. Disputed value systems.
  10. Housing. High cost. Availability, safety, and services for minorities and disenfranchised groups.
  11. Mental health. Stigma. Poor and inconsistent treatment. Suicide, depression, despair, substance abuse, domestic violence. Lack of effective cure.
  12. Role of women. Disputes over equality — access to opportunity, advancement, pay. Second class citizens. Harassment.
  13. Social divides. Disputed value systems. No universal shared values — American values.
  14. Values. No longer universally shared. Disputes over interpretations. Disputes over priorities.
  15. Role of government in lives of citizens. Dispute over limited vs. expansive federal government. Disputes over respective roles of federal, state, and local government.
  16. Form of government. Dispute over representative vs. direct democracy. Disputes over voting systems.
  17. Taxes. Disputes over level and roles of taxes. Disputes over redistribution and fairness.
  18. Street action. Dispute over role of protests — how much is legal.
  19. National symbols (primarily flag.) Disputes over respect vs. protest and freedom of expression.
  20. Role of government in the world. Disputes over aggressive democratization, regime change, and human rights.
  21. Money in politics. Disputes over corporate influence and freedom of expression.
  22. Immigration and borders. Disputes over openness of borders and who and how many migrants and refugees should be allowed.
  23. Roles of law enforcement. Disputes over rule of law, law and order, proper roles of discretion and compassion, how best to relate to community and minority groups. Disputes over incarceration, sentences, and fines.

Should we adopt the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a more robust and more modern version of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution, based on FDR’s Four Freedoms. Should the U.S. adopt it? And encourage other countries to do so as well?

Actually the UDHR itself needs some updating first (to be detailed in another paper), but once that is done, I see no reason to be stuck with our outdated Bill of Rights.

This switch would not result in a loss of any rights or freedoms. Rather it would add rights, particularly related to social needs, including employment, housing, and medical care.

Areas of dispute

Granted, even in 1776 and 1787, the Founding Fathers couldn’t agree on a lot of things but were still able to come up with a rather robust social contract. So, a list of disputes is not evidence against the prospect of producing a viable social contract. On the flip side, some of those disputes resulted in a very bloody civil war. Whether that should be viewed as evidence that a durable social contract is not possible or simply evidence that a social contract is merely good rather than perfect is a matter of great debate.

That said, it is instructive to first enumerate the areas of dispute. A separate analysis could determine if the degree of dispute rises to the level of precluding a viable social contract.

See also the earlier section Current major areas of distress which highlights the top and most urgent areas.

Then add the following disputes:

  1. Role of government. All over the map.
  2. Emphasis on strong federal government over strong state governments.
  3. Limited government vs. expansive federal government.
  4. Respective roles of government and business.
  5. Is wealth a cherished asset or an ultimate evil?
  6. Is capitalism inherently good or inherently evil?
  7. Is the profit motive inherently good or inherently evil?
  8. Income and wealth inequality. Whether or not it is a real or contrived problem. How much inequality is okay, permissible, expected, and to be tolerated? How much is too much? What should be done when it is too much? Should it merely be discouraged, lambasted, or outright treated with punitive measures (taxes, redistribution, confiscation, etc.)
  9. Should the government be involved in social programs?
  10. Should the federal government be involved in social programs?
  11. Should social programs be better managed by the federal government or by state or even local governments?
  12. Is a flat tax inherently good or inherently evil?
  13. Is a progressive tax inherently good or inherently evil?
  14. Should taxes be kept as low as possible or as high as possible?
  15. Should drug use be a concern of the state or purely the choice of the individual?
  16. How much surveillance by the state is reasonable?
  17. Is any unwarranted surveillance by the state reasonable?
  18. Should borders be open or closed?
  19. Should immigration be encouraged or discouraged?
  20. What criteria should be used for the admittance of migrants and refugees?
  21. Should any criteria be used for the admittance of migrants and refugees?
  22. Is money a force for good or a force for evil?
  23. How much socialism should be incorporated into our government?
  24. What should be taught in school?
  25. What is the proper role of the government in marriage?
  26. What is the proper role of government in family planning and birth control?
  27. What is the proper role of government in health care?
  28. What is the proper role of the federal government in health care?
  29. What is the proper role of government in health insurance?
  30. What is the proper role of the federal government in health insurance?
  31. Is single-payer health insurance the best choice?
  32. Is single-payer health insurance run by the federal government the best choice?
  33. Is single-payer health insurance run by state governments the best choice?
  34. Should health care be guaranteed as a basic constitutional (human) right, regardless of how it is to be paid for?
  35. Which is better, the electoral college or a strictly popular vote?
  36. Is the Senate really needed? Is the Senate fair?
  37. What role should a second legislative federal body play relative to the House of Representatives?
  38. Is a much higher minimum wage advantageous?
  39. Is a much higher federal minimum wage advantageous?
  40. Is a much higher state minimum wage advantageous?
  41. Is a much higher local minimum wage advantageous?
  42. Does the federal government have a role in how states proportion their representatives?
  43. Should state sovereignty be held more sacrosanct or should it be more severely limited?
  44. Should there be reparations for descendants of former slaves?
  45. Should the individual be given a more significant role than the collective or vice versa?
  46. What is America’s role in the world?
  47. Is coercive regime change a good thing or an inherent evil?
  48. When is coercive regime change acceptable and even desirable? What specific criteria should be used?
  49. Is work inherently good for one’s character or a necessary evil?
  50. Who can you trust? Who can trust whom? Can we trust each other? Can minorities trust conservative white males? Can conservative white males trust minorities? Can we trust the government? Can we trust the media? Can we trust business? Can government trust citizens? Can people trust the future, that their lives and their children’s lives will be better in the future?
  51. Whose vision of the American dream is most operative? Are people virtually guaranteed success? Or is success not guaranteed except to the only the best? Is a solid middle class lifestyle an entitlement, or only reality for a fraction of those who seek it?
  52. Disputes over justice model. Restorative rather than retributive justice. Restitution. Reparations. Harshness of punishment (sentences, fines.) Role of discretion (prosecutors, judges, and juries.) Role of compassion (prosecutors, judges, and juries.) Law and order vs. social justice.
  53. Is a livable wage a political (and economic) priority? Disputed, but significant interest.

Other areas to consider

Other areas of the social contract, that are either already covered or are candidates for coverage, and should be reviewed include:

  1. Consider Universal Basic Income (UBI). Be explicit about the criteria for whether it should be included. Consider alternatives, including my own Proposal for Universal Guaranteed Work.
  2. Disruptive, aggressive, forceful, and angry protest vs. peaceful assembly. Be more explicit as to where the line is between encouraged, acceptable, permitted, tolerable, marginal, and outright illegal behavior.
  3. Free speech and freedom of expression. Be more explicit as to where the line is for whether forms of conduct and behavior can be considered expression to be treated as equivalent to speech.
  4. Civil disobedience. Whether to cover some, limited, civil conduct as protected and accepted, in contrast to disruption, force, harm, destruction, and violence which is not acceptable. Draw clear lines. Be explicit.
  5. Borderline incitement. Be more explicit as to how much speech and conduct that could be construed by some as inciteful is accepted.
  6. American values. Explicit statement of values in a standalone document would be very helpful.
  7. Hate, bigotry, and racism. Also sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, supremacy, etc. Draw a more clear and explicit line as to what is not considered legal. Currently, too much is left to vague, informal, subjective norms rather than explicit law. If it’s not to be tolerated, it should be illegal. If it’s not illegal, it should be tolerated. To what degree should community standards apply rather than blanket law for all situations?
  8. Identity and identity politics. Be more explicit as to how much distinction between individuals and groups with differentiation of identity is to be mandated, encouraged, accepted, permissible, tolerated, not to be tolerated, strongly discouraged, or outright illegal.
  9. Respect for national symbols. Flag, anthem, etc. Matter of dispute currently. Be more explicit as to what should be protected and respected vs. fair game for free speech, expression, desecration, and protest.
  10. Patriotism. Be more explicit as to how much is mandatory, expected, optional, or whatever.
  11. Nationalism. Be more explicit as to how much is mandatory, expected, optional, permissible, to be tolerated, not to be tolerated, or should be outright illegal.
  12. Drug use. Be more explicit as to what is acceptable, permissible, tolerable, not to be tolerated, unacceptable, and even outright illegal. Including age limits. Including alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and caffeine.
  13. Status, treatment, and role of indigenous peoples.
  14. Status of felons after completing prison term. Voting? What criteria to use to judge whether they are really ready to return to normal society.

Respective roles of government, business, religion, and civil society

The institutions and organizations in society form roughly three sectors:

  1. Government. Including education and essential services.
  2. Business. Including goods and services, some of which are essential.
  3. Civil society. Including private education, religion, philanthropies, charities, and activists.

For more on civil society, see the companion paper, What is Civil Society?

The American people need to reflect and decide what they want the respective roles of these three sectors to be, including:

  1. How limited or expansive they wish government to be.
  2. How large or small a role they want business to play in providing essential goods and services and filling gaps in government services.
  3. How much they trust business and civil society vs. how much regulation and oversight they feel are needed.
  4. How much they trust government and how much checks and balances and transparency they feel are needed.
  5. How heavily they wish to lean on private schools and private higher education.
  6. How heavily they want to lean on religion and spirituality, including services.
  7. How heavily to lean on philanthropic organizations and charities to fill gaps in services.
  8. How tolerant and dependent they wish to be on external pressure groups to influence reform and direction of government.

The social contract should be as explicit as possible in detailing these respective roles.


Transparency is generally a good thing, but it can have its costs and downsides as well.

Secrecy, privacy, and discretion can have valuable roles as well.

Negotiation can conflict with transparency as well. Although some aspects of negotiation can be facilitated with transparency as well. It gets tricky.

The social contract should be as explicit as possible as to how much transparency is expected, from government, business, and civil society.

And from the people as well. Privacy has its merits, but some degree of public records and free speech have merit as well. The social contract should be as explicit as possible in this area as well.

Bounds of reason and expected behavior

The social contract is tied up with questions of what forms of expression, conduct, and behavior are acceptable. Yes, we have lots of freedoms, but we also have lots of laws and various restrictions on our freedoms.

We need to review and consider revision of the social contract for aspects such as:

  1. What are the bounds of reason for expression, conduct and behavior?
  2. What expression and conduct is expected?
  3. What expression and conduct is encouraged?
  4. What expression and conduct is permitted?
  5. What expression and conduct is to be tolerated even if discouraged?
  6. What expression and conduct is discouraged?
  7. What expression and conduct is not to be tolerated even if permitted?
  8. What expression and conduct is strongly discouraged?
  9. What expression and conduct is banned and illegal?

The American Dream

The American Dream is essentially the social contract in a nutshell, even if a bit oversimplified:

  1. Freedom.
  2. Equality.
  3. Hard work virtually guarantees success.
  4. Few barriers to success, prosperity, upwards social and economic mobility, and quality of life.
  5. Success, prosperity, upwards social and economic mobility, and quality of life are not limited by social class or circumstances of birth.
  6. Anybody can become president.
  7. Live your dreams.

Great, in theory.

But in practice problems arise, including:

  1. Limitations on freedom.
  2. Not everybody treated equally. Women. Minorities. Immigrants. Sexual identity.
  3. Hard work doesn’t provide an absolute guarantee of success.
  4. Recessions, depressions, crises, and panics derail best laid plans. And don’t hit everybody equally.
  5. Markets evolve and some businesses and workers lose even as others thrive. Layoffs. Businesses fail.
  6. High cost of education.
  7. Stagnant wages.
  8. Pension cutbacks.
  9. Social Security under pressure.
  10. Difficulty finding jobs for older workers not prepared for retirement.

So, the social contract needs to be more explicitly clear what it is really promising, and what recourse people will have when those promises are not kept, such as insurance and safety nets.

Clearly review is needed. And likely revision as well.

Direction and track of the country

A very common refrain in recent years has been that:

  • The country is not headed in the right direction.
  • The country is not on the right track.

Well, is that really true?

What exactly does the social contract say about these matters of direction and track of the country?

Unclear. Vague. The basic problem is that there isn’t anything explicit in the first place.

But maybe it simply comes down to the fact that the great promises of The American Dream seem to be going without complete fulfillment.

Clearly review is needed. And likely revision as well.

Or, quite possibly, expectations need to be dialed back, possibly by more than a bit. Maybe we can’t have everything right now.

Role of family and family values

The social contract should be clear, plain, and explicit as to the role that people see for the family unit in society. And family values as well — and should express those values as clearly, plainly, and explicitly as possible.

And this includes marriage, children, child rearing, and the extended family as well.

Issues of divorce, custody, child support, alimony, and same-sex partners have arisen and been treated in a confusing and chaotic manner, suggesting that greater clarity is needed in the social contract.

Role of community and community values

The social contract should be clear, plain, and explicit as to the role that people see for the local community in society. And community values as well — and should express those values as clearly, plainly, and explicitly as possible.

And this includes neighborhoods as well.

Communities and neighborhoods play a significant role in American society, deserving significant coverage in the social contract.

Review and explicitly document American values

People like to throw around the term American values, but there is no document anywhere which explicitly states what those values really are.

Some of them can be found in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, but a lot of them are strictly informal, personal and subjective, or subjectively stated in the party platform statements of the various political parties, religious dogma, doctrine, and scripture, or other social groups and organizations.

Ultimately, a significant portion of the core American values will be found somewhere in the social contract, but it would be a lot more helpful to have a single, integral document that explicitly lists them all. Or at least the more important and most shared values.

The real point here is that any effort to review and revise the social contract should be preceded by a substantive effort to review and revise the set of American values.

I have a separate project to explore and document American values:

That project is ongoing and has not yet distilled down a discrete list of American values. The master list cited above has over 8,000 entries, and growing. Or, pick a group or organization from the second paper to see a more concise list for that particular group.

Stories and narratives

A legalistic recitation of elements of the social contract will bore most people to sleep. Their eyes will glaze over immediately after hearing “We the People…” or “and the pursuit of Happiness.” Rather, most people need stories and narratives to gain any visceral and emotional if not intellectual sense of what the social contract is all about.

Those stories and narratives may involve notable historical figures, activists, explorers, entrepreneurs, and professionals. Or they may employ fictional everyman characters whom average citizens can more easily relate to.

Stories need to be updated as times change and people change. Every generation will need its own Horatio Alger stories.

Although there have been many successful young people in recent decades, such as the proverbial Internet billionaires, an increasing social problem is that the success stories are too few and too far between so that far too many average Americans cannot relate to them, or at least not so strongly as in past generations.

Promises and expectations

One way to oversimplify the social contract is to say that it does precisely two things:

  1. Promise things.
  2. Set expectations.

Generally, that’s fairly accurate.

A social contract makes a bunch of promises to the people.

A social contract sets expectations for the people. What they can expect to get. What they can expect to put into the deal (obligations) to get the expected benefits.

The main point here is that the social contract needs to be as explicitly clear as possible as to what the promises and expectations are.

And whether promises and expectations are firm commitments or may vary or are optional or may only apply in some situations or at some times or to some degree.

Individualism vs. collectivism

There doesn’t appear to be much in the way of common agreement as to the respective roles of the individual and the collective.

Individual laws and policies will tend to lean in one way or the other depending on which party and which personalities are in power, but overall over the decades and generations there has been no great clarity as to how individualism and collectivism should be balanced in this country.

A revised social contract should clarify this issue.

Shared responsibility

The balancing of individualism and collectivism can be tricky. We need to carefully review how that balancing is currently done, or not done in some cases.

Shared responsibility is even more tricky. It can be done, but without buy-in and commitment from the people and all political parties it can be a very risky business.

Having it be at the whim of whichever political party captures a slim majority in any given election is a recipe for disaster.

The Individual Mandate of Obamacare and its associated Shared Responsibility Payment is a great example, with a great degree of dispute.

In any case, review and discussion is sorely needed, either in situations where shared responsibility is currently in force, and in situations where it could be used to positive benefit of all parties.

The bottom line is that if we want a valid social contract, we need something a lot closer to near-universal buy-in and commitment.

Gun control and gun violence

There is a significant level of distress over gun violence and gun control in the U.S.

Nobody wants gun violence per se, but disputes over how to deal with gun violence cause a lot of distress.

Some see private ownership of guns as a cause for alarm and a matter of public health and safety while some see it as a matter of freedom and protection under the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution.

Some are driven by a basic underlying distrust of government, while some see gun control as a fundamental role of government.

The distress is driven by a rampant distrust of opposing ideologies and political parties.

The distress is amplified by distrust of opposing social groups.

In any case, the social contract simply doesn’t reflect anything near a universal shared set of beliefs on the matter.


Trust has become a major issue in all strata of society.

Which comes first, trust or the social contract?

Is the social contract the chicken or the egg?

Or is trust the chicken and the social contract is the egg?

The Founding Fathers had a significant amount of trust in one another before drafting the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, even if they still had some reservations.

Is our social contract frayed due to distrust?

Or is is the fraying of the social contract itself the cause of rampant distrust?

Either way, the response is to review and revise the social contract so that it neither causes distrust nor makes it worse, and in fact works to reduce it.

Too many elements of the social contract hidden away in statutory law

The main point of a social contract is to call out the elements of the contract in bold print where everybody, especially average citizens can see them. But, as described in the companion paper Elements of a Social Contract, too often many of the elements of the social contract are hidden away, embedded in dense statutory law, rather than called out in bold print where everyone can see them, and understand them.

Some examples of elements of the U.S social contract that are embedded in statutory law rather than highlighted in the U.S. Constitution:

  • The Depression era New Deal. Social Security. FDIC bank deposit insurance.
  • Unemployment insurance.
  • Great Society social programs of the 1960’s. Welfare.
  • Civil and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965.
  • Obamacare. Shared responsibility. Individual Mandate. Subsidies for lower income.
  • Progressive income tax rates.

Take your pick, either make the social contract elements part of the Constitution, or introduce a distinct document that highlights all elements of the social contract.

And, make it clear that the social contract can only be created or changed with a super supermajority (three quarters) of the states or even the people. Enacting changes to the social contract with only a slim political majority, even if 60 votes in the Senate is a recipe for distrust and even disaster.

Social contract in political party platforms

It is not uncommon for elements of social contracts to be hidden or embedded within the party platforms of individual political parties and reflect the party’s intentions to pursue its own preferences for the social contract over the preferences of the other parties if it should take power in a coming election.

The downside of this approach is that it can lead to instability in the social contract, which is not a good thing.

The bottom line is that changes to the social contract should be pursued on a nonpartisan basis, not controlled by a single party.

We need to review how this balancing act is performed today and contemplate whether we are really okay with it or if revision is called for.

Social contract in organizational charters and bylaws

Organizations can have their own views on what the social contract should be.

The overall national social contract will have to come to grips with the prospect that one segment of society may seek to pursue a social contract that may be at odds with the national social contract.

The difficulty is that freedom of association is a fundamental freedom, so efforts to promote a strictly national social contract need to refrain from being too heavy-handed.

We need to review how this balancing act is performed today and contemplate whether we are really okay with it or if revision is called for.

Social contract in religions, dogma, doctrine, and scripture

Each religion can have their own views on what the social contract should be.

The overall national social contract will have to come to grips with the prospect that one segment of society may seek to pursue a social contract that may be at odds with the national social contract.

The difficulty is that freedom of religion is a fundamental freedom, so efforts to promote a strictly national social contract need to refrain from being too heavy-handed.

We need to review how this balancing act is performed today and contemplate whether we are really okay with it or if revision is called for.

Merit of explicit, separate social contract document

Just to reemphasize that an explicit, separate, easy to read, and easy to understand standalone document would make it a lot easier for everyone to understand, support, and commit to the social contract.

Whether the U.S. Constitution could be reworded or restructured to serve this purpose is unclear. Technically, it could, but the practicality is unclear. A separate document that rephrased the elements of the social contract that are embedded in the Constitution as well as those elements embedded in statutory law and regulations as well as informal social norms may be easier and more practical.

What if consensus cannot be reached?

Achieving consensus can be a slow, tedious, and difficult process.

Consult the companion paper, Elements of a Social Contract, for suggestions on achieving consensus.

As that paper notes, if the leaders of a society exhaust all possibilities and still cannot achieve consensus, then maybe it really isn’t a true society in the first place.

But, as that paper notes, when in doubt be patient, challenge assumptions, and just keep trying again, until there simply isn’t any remaining political will to continue.

As it notes, there may be issues with the existing political parties and their ideologies. Their visions may be exceeding their grasps.

If the two main parties cannot resolve their differences, consider my proposal for splitting the two main political parties:

And maybe, down the road, it may really turn out that our existing collection of 50 states is simply not as united as we used to imagine we were. Dissolving the union is a drastic step, which is why all of the foregoing is necessary, but it may be necessary:

But that would be getting too far ahead of ourselves at this stage.

Does the social contract bring you joy and comfort or dread and shame?

How seriously does the social contract of the U.S. need review, revision, and renewal?

Maybe that can be most simply answered by asking this question:

  • Does the social contract bring you great joy and comfort or terrible dread and shame?

If the former, there is nothing to do.

If the latter, then there is plenty of work to do.

And maybe the answer is somewhere in the middle, so that only a modest to moderate level of effort is needed rather than a truly draconian overhaul.

Can’t we just leave the social contract to lawyers and lawmakers?

In a word, No.

The lawyers and lawmakers are the ones who have gotten us into the current predicament in the first place.

Statutory and constitutional law is indeed very important, and should embody the social contract, or at least a fair fraction of it, but the social contract needs to be accepted by the people before it can be embedded in the law.

Think of lawyers and lawmakers the same way as we think of travel agents, pilots, drivers, mechanics, air traffic controllers, and hotel, resort, and restaurant managers and staff — they are all vital to making a trip a great success, but none of them can decide what the best destination and activities are for you. They can help you decide, but it is your decision, based on your needs, interests, values, and priorities, not theirs.

Seriously, a social contract should read more like a vacation guide rather than a law book.

Who’s really in charge?

We the people, right?


Some related information:

  1. Elements of Society. More detail on the structure of a society, including social contracts.
  2. Elements of Government. Focuses on the structure of government.
  3. Elements of a Social Contract. Social contracts from a more abstract perspective, not limited to the U.S. or our current social contract.

My personal views

Me? I try to remain neutral in these types of matters.

My job in society and life in general is primarily to observe and report and present people with options to consider, not to judge or lecture people what they must do.

Personally, I’m more of an outlier in many ways, so that anything that does apply to me personally is not so likely to apply to the vast majority of average Americans.

As such, I can merely recommend that people review the social contract and that they be open to consider revision. And that renewal of some form of social contract is a good thing, without prejudging what the final outcome will or should be.

As long as the vast majority of average Americans feel comfortable with their social contract, that’s good enough for me.

Next steps

An upcoming paper in this series will cover the concept of a Declaration of Dependence, which is the document which lays out the preconditions for a social contract, the ways in which people feel the need to be bound together in a society.

That paper will not be an actual Declaration of Dependence, but simply the abstract framework for such a declaration.

Then, it will be up to the many members of society to fill in the blanks to come up with their own heartfelt rendition of an actual Declaration of Dependence, to be followed by their own heartfelt rendition of a social contract.

But all of that is way off in the future at this stage — if it ever even happens at all.

For now, I’ll focus on identifying the abstract elements of a Declaration of Dependence.

And I’ll await interest in reviewing and eventually revising the existing social contract of America.

This paper was intended simply to set the stage for that review and revision process.

Freelance Consultant