If you don’t see what I am saying, check your contract lenses
February 9, 2013 § 33 Comments
Some folks seem to be under the impression that contracts are rarified highly formal agreements which occur in the presence of lawyers and detailed written stipulations. Nothing could be further from the truth. Contracts are ubiquitous in all human societies.
Any time one human being makes an offer, another human being accepts the offer, and consideration – something of value – is exchanged, that is a contract. When you go to the grocery store you enter into, not one contract, but a contract for each and every individual item you purchase. The selling company offers you a product at a price; you accept the offer; consideration (money and product) are exchanged.
Contracts are not limited to monetary consideration. Any consideration at all will do.
Now it is true that many trivial contracts never make it to the sovereign for adjudication, when there is a dispute. Sometimes people work things out for themselves. Sometimes the wronged party decides that it isn’t worth pursuing justice over a small matter. Sometimes a whole genre of ‘reality TV’ is spawned based on resolving trivial contracts. But the fact that many trivial contracts are not adjudicated by the sovereign – because the parties decide not to petition the sovereign – doesn’t mean that they are not contracts.
Steve Nicoloso was kind enough to distill the essence of the “get the government out of the marriage business” position to this:
I want contracts enforced. Period. Full stop. All of them. By the letter. Enforce, enforce, enforce! Whether its called a “marriage” or a “pumpernickel”…, I want it enforced.
Take away the fig leaf. Just let the government enforce contracts. It would be great if they enforced marriage qua marriage. But if they’re not going to do that, then at least they can enforce contracts qua contracts.
The problem with this is that marriage qua marriage is (among other things) a contract. If two people exchanging gum for a nickel is a contract – and it is – then marriage is certainly a contract. It is not possible for government to be in the business of enforcing all contracts while at the same time not being in the business of marriage qua marriage.
I should say that the fact that I highlight the precise area where (in my view) disagreement arises does not imply disagreement in other areas. I appreciate Steve and other commenters taking the time to engage with the issue, a great deal of what he says (and they say) on the subject is valuable and true, and his comments are well worth reading.
 Other recent posts on the subject of advocating “getting the government out of the marriage business” are Marriage and the death of reason, All the king’s horses and all the king’s marriages, What if only usurers could marry?, and What not to do about tyranny.
 Commenter ‘Our Heroine’ and I had an exchange over whether baptism is a contract in this thread. Qua covenant with God, baptism is not a contract. The Sanhedrin may have gotten away with taking God to court, but that isn’t something we can do. But there may be contracts ancillary to baptism which give rise to some tort action, and in any event the point is that contracts are ubiquitous and adjudicating them is part of the very essence of governance, in all societies. That is why disavowing governance becomes the other ‘bookend’ in this disputation.