- THE SOCIAL CONTRACT, BY JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU -

 

VERSION FRANCOPHONE

 

SUMMARY OF LEARNER       INTRO & VOCAB

 

In 1762, Jean-Jacques Rousseau published Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique (On the Social Contract, or Principles of Political Rights). There followed the French Revolution that nearly interrupted a near-continuous state of world war.

Christianity took two thousand years to succeed and failed miserably. Its smug hierarchs seized upon Christ’s perfect message (its perfection would imply 100% adoption by humanity) and twisted it to such an extent that only one sixth of those on Earth would have the least thing to do with it.

Per those hierarchs, their doctrine and transmission methods are perfect; the fault lies with the five sixths of humanity that turned away from Christianity. It seems evident to these hierarchs that non-believers deserve to die and be damned. How much more un-Christlike can one get, than their fatheaded conceit?

Rather than two thousand years, Rousseau’s social contract had two hundred to establish itself. It suffered equivalent failure. The advocates of the French Revolution and the Terror worshipped Rousseau and his social contract. If anyone could have made it work the way he intended, they would have. Every conscience-driven liberal, humanist, socialist and democrat has paid due reverence to it since, all for naught.

It seems that Rousseau left some key element out of his social contract, without which it was worthless except as a minor argument against the National Capitalism of Hobbes that prevails in its place. That missing element is what common law calls a consideration: "some right, interest, profit or benefit accruing to the one party; or some forbearance, detriment, loss or responsibility given, suffered or undertaken by the other." It is difficult to contemplate a valid contract in which one party gives something away out of pure affection or fear and the other is expected to do nothing in return. Rousseau himself dismissed this scenario.

 

“Whether from one man to another or from one man to a people, such talk will always be just as crazy: I make a pact with you entirely in your care and entirely to my benefit; I will stick to it for as long as I please, and you will for as long as I please.” Book I, Chapter 4.

[Note: Such a pact between nations would be just as crazy, even if it were enforced by victory in war. It would require an armed guard over every locality tempted to resist it. It would be unenforceable even then, as the U.S. found in Iraq and as prior colonial empires discovered to their great hurt and dishonor.

The only pact I could think of that would operate this way would be that between good parents and their children. The effort/benefit ratio would at least have to begin at the total expense of the former and in corresponding favor of the latter. It would be another question how it worked itself once the children had grown and the parents aged.]

 

The primary purpose of the social contract is to replace pity: a common virtue among people in the state of nature, which cancels the ill effects of natural inequalities between them. People in society have substituted pity with “laws, customs and virtue,” and obviously failed at that substitution.

The primary intent of the social contract appears to have shifted from “liberty” (its foremost goal in Book I, Chapter 6), to “the greatest good for all” (the end purpose of all legislation per the first line of Book II, Chapter 11). These intentions were poorly defined and circular. The social contract will be incontestable because it will be incontestably worthwhile because everyone will agree that to be the case. How neat and tidy! There are no loose ends because the uroboros serpent has swallowed its tail.

Essentially, Mr. Rousseau never found the hook upon which to hang his hat. That is why he never tried to describe the foreign relations component of his social contract. Not because he couldn’t find the time (his excuse), but because the slow crawl communications of 18th Century WeaponWorld prevented its transformation into PeaceWorld. Unlike our communications today, which make global peace entirely possible despite our bias to the contrary.

To be valid, a social contract must have a  tangible consideration its signatories find worthwhile to establish and useful to maintain through personal and collective sacrifice. Something they could see, feel and hear every day of their lives, worth living to uphold and dying to protect; something a vast majority would support through thick and thin. It would be so obvious that its unmistakable presence would guarantee that the social contract were honestly fulfilled, so obvious that its slightest absence would cancel the contract automatically.

That something, that consideration everyone would recognize right away, is PeaceWorld. It would be unmistakable. Its failure to replace WeaponWorld, or its decay into WeaponWorld, or its disappearance in a distant land, any of them would be obvious and cancel the social contract. This would mobilize everyone to reestablish PeaceWorld, the way the loss of an ancient battle ensign or modern radio contact would call for feverish retrieval during a hot firefight. The social contract could not be re-established until it had been allowed to appear once again, like a sunken ship brought back to the surface.

But let’s see what Rousseau had to say.

 

[Author’s note: On PeaceWorld, the text that follows would apply to nations as well as to individuals (men and women, of course). There would be far fewer and lesser personal degradations than those which WeaponWorld imposes in industrial quantities.]

 

“This shift from the natural state to the civil one induces a remarkable change in man by replacing instinct with justice in his conduct; it endows his actions with the integrity they once lacked. It is only once the voice of duty overrides physical impulse and the claims of appetite that a man who had only looked to his own needs up ‘til then is compelled to act upon new principles and consult reason before listening to inclination. Even if, in this state, he passes up a few advantages he inherited from nature, he recovers ones so great that his faculties are exercised and strengthened, his ideas mature, his feelings are ennobled, his soul reaches such heights that if the misdeeds of this new condition did not often degrade him below that from which he had just escaped, he would bless without cease the lucky moment that tore him from it forever and molded a sentient being and a man from a stupid, clueless animal.” Book I, Chapter 6.

 

“The first and foremost outcome of the principles set forth above, is that the general will alone may direct the power of the state in accordance with its initial end-goal, the common good. If the clash of special interests made the creation of society necessary, their concord made society possible. That which these special interests hold in common forms the social bond; and if there were no common point upon which all interests agreed, no society could exist. Thus it is only by this common interest that society must be governed.” Book II, Chapter 1.

 

No-one has found the common interest that special interests could share unanimously. The national interest was always in contention, soon warped by supranational ones or substituted and corrupted by lesser ones. Universal agreement could never be established even with the help of Rousseau’s genius.

PeaceWorld is the only principle that could satisfy the strategic interests of every nation. It is the common interest we always lacked, that everyone could adopt for strategic security and mutual benefit. Valid interests would thus be satisfied and the common interest best secured. At that point and only then, the social contract could snap into place automatically everywhere. Everyone of sound mind could honor it without exception.

 

Please consider the following quote as if we had exhausted our petroleum reserves. Indeed, on a global scale, demand has already outstripped supply. The world economy threatens to come apart under this sorry burden, completely within a few years and perhaps catastrophically. Compared to the collapse of this economic bubble, preceding ones including the Great Depression will have been small change indeed. This is going to happen soon, not once you’ll be too old to care or once everyone will be “perfectly ready.” It is an inescapable fact: we do not have a second left to waste fooling ourselves and fooling around.

 

[Author’s note: In our case, replace the term ‘State’ with ‘the entire world’ ― and ‘the individual’ with ‘nations and lesser aggregates including individuals.’ Chaosism does not care what level it surges from; peace can only spring from the highest level and all those lower acting in concert.]

 

 “But when the social bond begins to fray and the State to weaken, when private interests make themselves felt and minor associations influence the greater one, the common interest alters and finds foes, unanimity no longer rules the voice vote, the common cause ceases to be everyone’s, contradictions arise, debates, and the best counsel cannot pass without quarrels.

“Lastly, when the State on the verge of ruin subsists only in vain and illusory forms, such that the social bond is shattered in every court and vile interests claim the sacred title of public good; at that point, the general will goes silent. Everyone, prompted by secret motives, stops thinking like a citizen, as if the State had never existed, and iniquitous decrees are falsely passed in the guise of laws whose only goal is special interest.

“Does it follow from this, then, that the general cause has been annihilated or corrupted? Not at all, it remains steadfast, pure and constant; but it is enslaved to other ones that overwhelm it.

“All and sundry, detaching their interest from the common one, know full well that they cannot free themselves from it entirely; but their part in the public harm seems like nothing when set against the exclusive benefits they intend to claim. Set aside this personal gain, they hanker after the common interest for their own sake just as much as anyone else. Even when they sell their vote for cash, they don’t smother the general cause that smolders within them; they just avoid it. The mistake they make is in changing the premise of the question and answering something other than what was asked. Thus, instead of declaring with their vote: ‘This proposal is beneficial to the State,’ they utter: ‘It is beneficial for this or that person or this or that party that such-and-such proposal be ratified.’ Thus the obligation of public order in assemblies is not so much that the general will be maintained, but that things be arranged such that it always be consulted and it always reply.” Book IV, Chapter 1

 

PeaceWorld can no longer be considered an ideological exercise to be contemplated at leisure – given a cozy status quo that will endure indefinitely – whether or not world peace takes root. We must act now, while we retain the moral and material resources to make World Peace happen now.

If we had served as true children of the Enlightenment, we could have set to work during the 1950’s when cheap energy was so abundant it could have cushioned any errors we committed during the transition from weapons to peace. But we are mere killer primates and must humbly beg Loving God for absolution and remediation for our unforgivable errors.

If we wait for non-renewable resources to disappear before we act, we will face inconceivable sacrifices with no corresponding celebration. The consolidation of WeaponWorld will become a question of firepower, wreckage and casualties instead of PeaceWorld’s cooperation, creativity and peaceful intent. Nothing good will come of it, only trouble.

“Trouble” what an easy term to dismiss! Read terror, casualties and anguish beyond anything humanity has endured in the past. Let us see reason, beware and repent. There is so much work to do with so little time left!

 

“The opinions of a people crop up from its constitution. Even though the law does not regulate mores, legislation gives birth to them. When legislation weakens, values decay. At that point however, the rule of censors won’t achieve what the full force of the law failed to achieve.

“It follows from this, then, that censure may serve to safeguard mores but never restore them. Establish censors while the law retains its vigor. Once that has been lost, all is despair; nothing legitimate will retain any power once the laws have none left.” Book IV, Chapter 7

 

"A censor may maintain, he can never restore, the morals of a state. It is impossible for such a magistrate to exert his authority with benefit, or even with effect, unless he is supported by a quick sense of honor and virtue in the minds of the people, by a decent reverence for the public opinion, and by a train of useful prejudices combating on the side of national manners. In a period when these principles are annihilated, the censorial jurisdiction must either sink into empty pageantry, or be converted into a partial instrument of vexatious oppression." Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Penguin Press, London, 1997, Chapter X, “Decius revives the office of censor in the person of Valerian…The design impracticable, and without effect.” p. 263.

 

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