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Basic to democracies and civil government is the concept of the social covenant. A social covenant is the set of rules by which the members of a society agree to govern themselves and play the game of life.  Civil social contracts contain rules for how disagreement may be expressed, how the social contract is to be changed and how conflicts are to be resolved. Most social contracts are products of long evolutions punctuated by partial revolutions or violations of the social covenant.

The difference between a Civil Social Covenant and Dictat Social Contracts (feudal systems, military dictators, etc.) is whether or not one group (or person) imposes the rules or whether a democratic civil representative group creates the rules.

A civil social covenant may be broken by a group that refuses to abide by it, may be co-opted (a form of evolution) by its members (consider a Fabian Revolution), may be strip mined or removed (by dictators or terrorists), may undergo revolutionary alteration (usually by a revolution) or may be evolved (by evolutionary changes in the society it governs).

In Eastern Europe the covenants flicker as revolutionary evolution is attempted.  Whether anarchy or civil governance will reign in the absence of the old dictatorships is still an open question.

However, in the United States the social covenants are becoming the victim of strip mining.

The Strip Mining of Social Covenants

Technically, the strip mining of a social covenant occurs when members of the covenant, who are attempting to keep all the benefits of the covenant (and are thus not legitimate revolutionaries), attempt to impose change in the terms of the covenant by force rather than by agreement or democratic processes.

It is the forceable violation that makes the change strip mining rather than a normative evolution. It is a violent form of predation, generally engaged in by the impatient, the self-righteous and the bigoted.  Interestingly, it used to be that strip mining of social covenants in the United States (always in an alleged good cause, of course) was the province of groups such as the "Know Nothings" or the "Klu Klux Klan" and "Knights of Discipline."

By use of force, rather than consensus or the non-violent civil processes, these groups attempted to alter the social covenant, doing violence to the property (and persons) of those they opposed, in the light of what they claimed was a greater good.

The Place of Illicit Force

Unsanctioned, illicit force is used against social covenants for one or more of three reasons:

  1. First, the goals, aims or rationale of the group using force cannot withstand public scrutiny and would not be accepted by any society that governs by means that incorporate public consensus. (i.e. the social rapist cannot obtain consent).
  2. Second, the use of force and destruction is gratifying to the proponent of violence. (i.e. the strip mining is an act of violence that the social exploiter enjoys).
  3. Third, without force the goal cannot be reached in a period of time acceptable to the social rapist. (i.e. society must be forced to participate in change via social strip mining rather than being persuaded to give its consent).

Note that unsanctioned force becomes licit when it is an act of revolution rather than an act of terrorists bent of self-gratification. Societies do go through revolutionary change from time to time when their means of changing the social covenant by consensus alteration ceases to function.  What constitutes and justifies an open, true revolution is another topic, long debated, with general consensus focused on the issue of what is a civil government vs. a dictat government and the right of society to reject dictat government.

In the United States of America, as presently constituted, the use of force to change the social covenants and break the social contract would only be justified under those circumstances where a revolution is justified, i.e. where the user of force is willing to place their self outside the social contract.

Coincidentally, when this essay was written, Iraq was attempting to do that right now. As to the United States (Kuwait, Kurds & such aside), there is nothing illicit about the use of force by Iraq. That is called war. While war is often immoral, it is not illicit.

The Use of Illicit Force Covers the Political Spectrum

It is easy to be intemperate and angry when considering the use of illicit force by those one opposes. However, illicit force is found across the spectrum in the United States.  The provision of tools for violence and the tacit encouragement of the violation of the social contract as put forth by both EARTH FIRST! (and accoladed in the Whole Earth Ecolog) and in OPERATION RESCUE as the urging of social strip mining without a word as to the effects, results or alternatives.

In a very real sense, social strip mining is the strip mining of the idealistic. It co-opts them into narrow-minded, self-righteous, criminal and often murderous activities. Consider the early history of the Klu Klux Klan when it functioned as a social group (and a method to sell uniforms).  How quickly it became something else, in spite of the idealistic and committed individuals involved.

Social strip mining teaches a disregard for the rights and beliefs of others, a harshening of the world into the victims (weenies who should have more gratitude) and the oppressors (for whom any fate is justified and against whom any action is acceptable), and a lack of clear thought or intelligent discourse.

Americans cry out against censorship, not because we believe the self-serving pronouncements of writers and professional hypocrites, but because we perceive the basic violation of the social contract that censorship entails.  We see the connection between breaking equipment, stealing supplies, censoring advertisements and a disregard for open, honest political action and the acts of countless bigots, oppressors, murderers and thieves. All violated the social contract, all are criminals, no more in the eye of the social contract.


It is easy to justify breaking social covenants in order to gain a short-term advantage.  Whether it be to preserve a neighborhood park, benefit the oppressed, or to dispossess a widow, every person I have ever met who broke social covenants had what they considered a good excuse and a higher reason for what they were doing.  That is the nature of almost every criminal I have known.

The fact that it is the nature of the criminal mind to claim a moral high place in defense of the crime committed does not change the fact that what has been done is a crime.  The fact that a "greater good" is claimed by those who strip mining the social covenants does not change the fact that a strip mining has been committed.

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Copyright 2000 Stephen R. Marsh

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