When I visited Wikipedia to see what they had to say about the expression “Social contract,” I discovered that the denizens there don’t seem too happy with their own article. Perhaps that is because the article makes it clear that the expression has an interesting history. As the article explains, the expression first became prominent in the 17th century.
Hugo Grotius (1625), Thomas Hobbes (1651), Samuel Pufendorf (1673), John Locke (1689), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762), andImmanuel Kant (1797) are among the most prominent of 17th- and 18th-century theorists of social contract and natural rights. Each solved the problem of political authority in a different way. Grotius posited that individual human beings had natural rights; Hobbes asserted that humans consent to abdicate their rights in favor of the absolute authority of government (whether monarchial or parliamentary); Pufendorf disputed Hobbes’s equation of a state of nature with war. (from here)
Thus, the meaning of the expression, “social contract,” is ambiguous, at best. Consider the definition.
- the voluntary agreement among individuals by which, according to any of various theories, as of Hobbes, Locke, or Rousseau, organized society is brought into being and invested with the right to secure mutual protection and welfare or to regulate the relations among its members.
- an agreement for mutual benefit between an individual or group and the government or community as a whole.
So what is the problem with a “social contract?” Until we define the contract, we have no idea what is in that contract. That is, we don’t know the contract’s terms and conditions. Yet if we google the news with the expression , “social contract,” we will get almost 18,000 hits. Here, for example, we have the expression used in a news report that followed the legalization of same sex “marriage” by the Supreme Court.
James Parrish, executive director of the gay rights group Equality Virginia, said his organization will continue to work toward protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination by business owners who deny them service for religious reasons.
“We truly believe when you open your doors to the business to the public, you are serving the entire public,” Parrish said. “We believe there is a social contract out there: When you open a public business, you are opening your business to the public.”
But efforts to push anti-discrimination legislation ends at the church door, Parrish said. “Any faith leader can refuse to marry anyone for any reason. That is all protected,” he said. (from here)
What is this social contract? When do business owners sign up to provide services for activities they consider immoral? Apparently, signing up is not necessary. Well, maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. Here Marriage is a Social Contract, Not a Sacred Covenant (www.dailykos.com) defines marriage as a social contract.
Marriage is social contract, plain and simple. Getting married to have kids doesn’t mean that God is going to part the clouds and give you two thumbs up for doing it how the Republicans tell you to do it. Getting married means that you have decided to pool your resources and bind yourself to one another legally. (from here)
We still cannot be forced into marriages, but some have no issues twisting the arms of business owners. Why? That’s a good question. The answer just might explain why the expression “social contract” means whatever we want it to mean.
So do we all have a social contract with each other? Perhaps. There is a moral law in each man and woman’s heart. We know when we wrong another. That’s apparent when we consider America’s greatest threat by Victor Davis Hanson. What Hanson implies throughout his article is that we must want to obey the law, and we must actively insist others obey the law. Consider how his article begins.
Barbarians at the gate usually don’t bring down once-successful civilizations. Nor does climate change. Even mass epidemics do not necessarily destroy a culture.
Far more dangerous are institutionalized corruption, a lack of transparency and creeping neglect of existing laws. All the German euros in the world will not save Greece if Greeks continue to dodge taxes, featherbed government and see corruption as a business model.
Even obeying so-called minor laws counts. It is no coincidence that a country where drivers routinely flout traffic laws and throw trash out the window is also a country that cooks its books and lies to its creditors. Everything from littering to speeding seems negotiable in Athens. (continued here)
When we create our laws, we have a choice. We can make laws to protect each other from the abuse of scoundrels, or we can make laws just to compel others to give us what we want. If our laws are about protecting each other, then our consciences will compel us to obey. Because the terms and conditions of such laws exist within each of our hearts, we will understand such laws as an obligation to (or social contract with) our fellow citizens. On the other hand, if we make laws mainly to exploit each other — get our own way — then our legal code may look like reams of paper, but we will be able to summarize in just five words.
Look out for Number One!
There is a complete list “Of Twisted Words” posts at the first post in this series, OF TWISTED WORDS => FEMINISM.