Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

War, Contracts … and the 2024 Election

Written by: on April 1, 2024

As we head into the 2024 election season, public attitudes towards our military efforts in Israel and Ukraine are relevant. In The Good Kill,[1] Marc LiVecche refutes a common understanding that all killing is wrong, all the time. As a research fellow at the National War College and recognized expert in ethics[2], LiVecche is trying to secure a firm footing for our soldiers to conduct their business. He contests the view of warfare as necessarily creating a moral hazard, but instead introduces a concept of moral bruising, asserting that “It is entirely likely— possibly even desired— that while warfighters can, I contend, pass through the battlefield without suffering moral injury, they cannot, in fact, emerge without impact traumas of some kind.”[3]

My experience with this topic is limited to my undergraduate years at George Fox University, where I learned from a group of devoted pacifists not just about theories of peaceful resolutions, but also about varying theories of war. A significant takeaway I had from that decades-old experience was that the Church has a role to play in shaping public opinion regarding war policies, and that there are several reasonable positions on the topic. I have no issue with LiVecche’s theory on Just War, and I followed his logical reasonings supporting his positions. There are many in this cohort that have more experience in the areas of warfare and trauma therapy as well as how to deal with war from the pulpit… and I look forward to reading their posts.

A Military (Social) Contract

What I found interesting and timely was LiVecche’s reference to a Social Contract between military personnel and the public. Towards the end of the book, he says:

“The terms of these responsibilities make plain that military personnel live in a unique world… Their contract has an ‘unlimited liability’ clause—they accept . . . the obligation to put their lives at grave risk when ordered to do so.”[4]

Having outlined the expectations that members of society have on the military, LiVicche then states that society also has an obligation to support soldiers in recovery from such trauma. This sharing of responsibility then leads to a contractual relationship, and this is where my curiosity and where I want to better understand the concepts around social contracts, and how they are at work in our society today.

What is a Social Contract?

Until recently, I was unfamiliar with the concept of a Social Contract. In an article from last Fall discussing the erosion of the social contract between nurses and the community, Chris Evans Gartley defines a social contract in this way:

“A social contract serves as a metaphorical device that explains an understanding between people and society and about how society is organized, how benefits are distributed, and how shared responsibilities are defined… Although not legally binding, the theory suggests that the rights and duties of the state and its citizens are reciprocal, creating a relationship analogous to a contract that relies on social cooperation, shared concepts of fairness and justice, and a common understanding of obligations owed to each party by the other. As society and its governance structures evolve, so too, does the social contract.” [5]

When we start to think about this topic under the conceptual distinction of a contract, a new dynamic emerges. As we all know, there are two parties in contracts, and, in a contract, both parties are required to do something. A relationship is implied. I see several potential problems with social contracts in today’s society.

  • Social Contracts are not well codified and don’t seem to be legally binding, so there is no enforceable accountability. However, to be effective, they require reciprocity.
  • Social Contracts rely on shared concepts of fairness and justice and common understanding. As we have recently read in Explaining Postmodernism,[6] our society is struggling to land on what principles and norms we can share.
  • Social Contracts morph as society changes. Petrusek outlines for us in Evangelization and Ideology[7]how overtime our worldview continue to .

Social Contracts and Trust

Social contracts exist in several spaces beyond the military. Perhaps this is more evident when looking at a recent poll measuring the decline of American confidence in major institutions:

Figure 1   Change in Americans’ Confidence in Major Institutions 2021-2022[8]

Social Contracts Closer to Home

In my world, healthcare executives connect this crisis to the erosion around a social contract. I assume that many other leaders are facing the same challenges: elementary school principals who are struggling to create stability for their teachers, retail store managers unable to maintain a resilient workforce or police captains who are addressing a disenfranchised police force, to name a few examples. We can no longer assume an agreed upon definition of what good looks like in these settings.

Part of a Bigger Theme

This academic year, we have learned about emerging ideologies[9] and varying worldviews[10]. As we discussed in Explaining Postmodernism,[11] we are moving through a time of societal questioning of underlying assumptions that lends to a general skepticism. I am beginning to suspect that this skepticism is leading to a distrust that is impacting our institutions. In his opinion piece this morning, David Brooks writes:

“Trust is the faith that other people will do what they ought to do. When there are no shared moral values and norms, then social trust plummets. People feel alienated and under siege, and, as Hannah Arendt observed, lonely societies turn to authoritarianism. People eagerly follow the great leader and protector, the one who will lead the us/them struggle that seems to give life meaning.”[12]

Brooks is underlining that our society is experiencing a lack of trust, which is shaping the narratives[13] we tell about our leaders. Furthermore, the tectonic shifts that our ideologies are manifesting will continue to challenge the unspoken expectations we have of each other. The unmet (and unwritten) expectations that LiVicche is revealing in the theater of war are echoing out in many other corners of society.

Buckle up as we head into the 2024 election.



[1] Marc LiVecche, The Good Kill: Just War and Moral Injury, 1st ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021).

[2] Alexander, Jonathan. “LEADERSHIP: THE CRITICAL STRUGGLE: The Good Kill: Just War and Moral Injury.” _Naval War College Review_ 76, no. 1 (Winter, 2023): 1-2

[3] LiVecche, The Good Kill, 12.

[4] LiVecche, 186.

[5] Chris Evans Gartley, “Re-Imagining Nursing’s Social Contract with the Public,” American Nurse (blog), September 8, 2023, https://www.myamericannurse.com/re-imagining-nursings-social-contract-with-the-public/.

[6] Stephen R. C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, Expanded edition (Ockham’s Razor, 2013).

[7] Matthew Petrusek and Cardinal Thomas Collins, Evangelization and Ideology: How to Understand and Respond to the Political Culture (Word on Fire, 2023).

[8] Gallup Inc, “Confidence in U.S. Institutions Down; Average at New Low,” Gallup.com, July 5, 2022, https://news.gallup.com/poll/394283/confidence-institutions-down-average-new-low.aspx.

[9] Petrusek and Collins, Evangelization and Ideology.

[10] Pragya Agarwal, Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias, 1st ed. (London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2020); Kenan Malik, Not so Black and White: A History of Race from White Supremacy to Identity Politics, 1st ed. (London: Hurst & Company, 2023).

[11] Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism.

[12] David Brooks, “Opinion | The Great Struggle for Liberalism,” The New York Times, March 28, 2024, sec. Opinion, https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/28/opinion/liberalism-authoritarianism-trump.html.

[13] Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (New York: Routledge, 1999).

About the Author

Jennifer Vernam

9 responses to “War, Contracts … and the 2024 Election”

  1. mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:


    This is a great post. I had not really focused on social contract in the reading. The idea of there being a shared understanding between two parties that requires both to cooperate and share common obligations is really scary to think about in the context of the upcoming election. I guess we will all see how things take shape. I will take your advice and “Buckle up as we head into the 2024 election” and I will be praying along the way.

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      I agree, it is scary. I think this is one of the biggest challenges we face as a society right now. Payer is certainly our best strategy.

  2. mm Kim Sanford says:

    Great job connecting LiVecche to the broader conversation about ideologies and bringing in Petrusek and Hicks. After reading your post, my thoughts go one step further (or maybe I’m just stating the obvious that was implied in your post). The breakdown of the social contract only serves to push us further into tribalism. Why? Because if I can no longer count on institutions and people in general to uphold what is right and good and normal in my eyes, at least I can count on my own tribe. At least my own tribe shares my ideas of what is right, and thus I know what to expect from them. Seeing as we’re barreling down this dangerous road, do you have any suggestions for resisting?

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      Kim, I do not think that your comment is obvious, and is a nuance I wanted to call out more clearly. as far as suggestions go, this is what I hope my project starts to unpack. I confess, I am losing my optimism in the prospect as we learn more and more about what contributes to tribalism. Right now, my best suggestion is to get out of our bubbles, in whatever way makes sense for you: go to a ‘weird’ church (ok, “unfamiliar” would have been more polite), hang out with people in different age categories, go to a new culture…wherever you can go to be the minority and have your assumptions challenged. Thanks for thinking about my post!

  3. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    Your points about social contracts, trust, and reciprocity ring true. I keep thinking about our duty to act justly whether in war or in our daily lives. This is both an individual obligation and a community responsibility. When I sat down to write my post I almost believed that I personally had not been impacted by war…that would have been a major blind spot. Sometimes I think it’s easier to not think about war as if it’s not real and very far removed. Yet, we are all called to love our neighbor and to act justly with love. Thanks for an informative and insightful post!

  4. Scott Dickie says:

    Hi Jen,

    I think you’re correct…that the breakdown of trust is re-defining or breaking the previously secure social contracts between people and institutions. In my world the question might be, “If I donate money to the church, is it going to help people in need or make Pastors rich?” As it relates to LiVecche’s world, I think the primary question for the soldier is now, “Is this truly a just war that we are fighting?” This has always been a resident question, at least since Vietnam, but it seems to have come to the fore with the invasion of Iraq and the search for weapons of mass destruction. If the war a soldier finds himself in is not, in their estimation, a ‘just war’ protecting the innocent (and instead some political game to secure power or oil reserves etc.), then it seems like either ‘moral injury’ will occur or the soldier will need to break his social and commanding contract to object to his orders. I imagine it’s quite difficult to put yourself in harms way if you don’t trust the reasons or objectives of the fight you’re engaged in. On the other hand, there are likely some who quite gladly leave the philosophizing to the ‘higher ups’ and do their ‘duty’ without needing more rationale than the command….but these types seem to be less and less common in my view.

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      Hi Scott- thanks for engaging with my social contracts idea. Reflecting on your last point: those who are happy to let the “higher ups” do the philosophizing: I don’t know how common they are, but I have certainly run into them professionally. In that sphere, these are the people who want to just punch the clock, show up, be told what to do, punch out, go home, and leave work behind. While I get the appeal of that mentality, I think the leaders I work with would prefer that there be a bit more engagement with the larger picture. Not surprisingly, it seems like a balance needs to be struck, but I am at a loss as to how to get there.

  5. mm Russell Chun says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    I agree with your comment. David Brooks writes:

    “Trust is the faith that other people will do what they ought to do. When there are no shared moral values and norms, then social trust plummets. People feel alienated and under siege, and, as Hannah Arendt observed, lonely societies turn to authoritarianism. People eagerly follow the great leader and protector, the one who will lead the us/them struggle that seems to give life meaning.”[12]

    Certainly, I see this in our work in Hungary (Prime Minister Orban) and Slovakia ( Prime Minister Fico) have seized the press, the judicial system and under the banner of Christian beliefs have swung their nations to pro Putin and anti -Ukrainian sentiments.

    The brief experiment of a Democracy fades, and these countries return to the autocratic fold.

    During my Immigration Symposium in Texas, I found only one person who agreed with me on the swing towards the autocratic Donald.


  6. Esther Edwards says:

    So much to think about as I read your well-written post. You mentioned, “A significant takeaway I had from that decades-old experience was that the Church has a role to play in shaping public opinion regarding war policies and that there are several reasonable positions on the topic.”
    The Church does have a role to play. Our example of how we show up for each other and value differing opinions is, in my opinion, more helpful than promoting one stance. War is an incredibly complex wicked problem with so many layers. Seeing it from different angles and points of view should be expected.

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