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.
I do not recall ever signing a so-called “social contract,” which, by the way, is merely abstraction. I am still waiting for someone to point to me where this alleged social contract exists with my name and signature.
Over the years I have signed so many documents I have a dreaded fear that one pop up some place.
Tom, my buddy liberal professor Steve Hochstadt is up to his old antics, take a look: http://myjournalcourier.com/news/54043/the-myth-of-liberal-media
When the government they love so dearly controls the primary instruments of indoctrinating the young, I have always marveled when Liberal Democrats called Conservatives brainwashed. There are none so blind……
Arrgh. The lack of editing is annoying; it is not possible for me to fix that mistyped “who’s” to the correct “whose” spotted one second after hitting “post comment.”
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle
You raise very interesting points, I felt as though Tom posed a question that wouldn’t get the proper dialogue from a progressive point a view. Keith, let me ask, are you not concerned with the extreme viewpoint of the free market turning tyrannical? Do you believe that the market will simply ‘correct itself’? How long should people wait for these market corrections? Should government play a regulatory role?
The Wilson argument would be that Corporations give a business an unfair advantage as it reduces the role of individualism between employer and employee, thus employees must unionize to receive equal standing. If corporations are able to maximize their resources, is it fair for the average American worker?
@phadde2, who wrote:
Well, we have *scout representing the progressive view. But he has to do so in stealth mode, as he is pretending to himself that no one has figured him out, so his support of progressivism is usually oblique.
Well, let me look carefully at your statement. Yes, I’m concerned about people that would hold such an “extreme viewpoint.” But I am not concerned about what they profess to be afraid of.
The free market, by its nature, cannot turn “tyrannical.” It is by name and definition free. It consists of voluntary transactions based on perceptions of gain on both sides, else they wouldn’t participate.
But what about …
Yes. That is how it works. If someone produces a product that is not desired, they fail. Thus, they are highly motivated to correct themselves by producing what people want. But …
Government’s “regulatory role” is the cause of market distortions that cause government to attempt “corrections” which, inevitably, make things worse.
We saw this in 2008; the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac propping up of a government-managed mortgage regime (“make the loan, we’ll guarantee anything!”) was hardly free market, though the market will and did endeavor to use the conditions that obtained. Democrat overseers loudly proclaimed the solidity of those quasi-government entities until they were leveraged over 40 to 1 and the collapse was already well underway. Absent prior government intervention, the bubble would have been mere growth, and the collapse would never have happened.
There are specific, narrowly defined roles in the US system for government in this regard. They include providing a level playing field to resolve contract disputes, providing rules for commerce between states and outside of states, and taking care of certain infrastructure items that are not practical to be handled by the free market. There aren’t many, in fact.
The issue is simple: Because the government has injected itself into business, it is profitable for special interests to attempt to influence legislators (and now, the executive branch regulators) to bend the rules in those interests’ favor.
Government as Market
This problem, lumped under the catch-all term “lobbying,” is to be expected, because the system has set up a marketplace where influential people on both sides command a high price for their ability to create or remove rules to support some interest at the expense of another, or of the general public. Obama loudly decried lobbyists, and quietly removed the rules put in place to limit their influence. Hillary Clinton, infamously, collected many tens of millions of dollars personally due to her position of influence.
Such things did not start with these two: The term “lobbyist” derives from people waiting in a lobby of a hotel that George Washington frequented for dinner and cigars while president; they took advantage of access to the Great Man, and ultimately made a living at it. But for many decades, the government’s involvement in business was small; the impact upon government spending and rule-bending was modest.
And yes, lobbying has a major, really the major impact upon spending. Especially as government expanding to intrude more directly into business affairs. From the founding in 1791 to the 1930s, government spending remaining right at 3% of gross domestic product. There were occasional spikes at wartime, but this average remained surprisingly constant.
Then government under FDR instituted a series of policies expanding the commerce clause and creating new entities for the “general welfare” and as a result, government’s share of the economy has gone from about one-thirtieth to one-fourth.
All of this favoritism, picking winners, and doing with government what should be in the free market short-circuits the free market itself. These activities prevent (at huge expense!) necessary failures from taking place, and create other distortions that we suffer from, as well as suffering from the attempts to “repair.”
And note that lobbyists are also participants in the free market, in a sense. Remove the “product” of government favor influencing business outcomes, and there is nothing for lobbyists to buy; their skills will be used elsewhere in the US market.
Yes. Individual American workers are also able to maximize their resources. Or they would be, were it not for government policies to intentionally displace and replace them. Obama is making it tough indeed, but he is merely accelerating a trend begun in the late 19th century.
While my discussion of Wilson’s Sedition Act previously had nothing to do with labor — he simply was throwing people in jail who annoyed him — I think it’s important to note the difference between unions in private enterprise (which should be allowed, though are now largely out of control) and unions in government services, which mean that the taxpayer is not represented at all other than being the central entré to be carved up.
The contrast between the two systems is stark, and is based upon their motivations:
Free enterprise is motivated to produce and market a desirable product efficiently — and note that this is just as true for the individual worker who is also a free market participant, and whose product is his labor or skull sweat. When companies don’t pay enough to make workers desire to work there, they run short of workers; they then pay more until they reach a market balance. Or they fail. When they are forced to pay too much in a hostile and uncertain business environment, they live with this condition … as we see in the current market. This is government’s negative effect upon motivations.
But government is motivated to fail. The more atrociously they fail, as long as it’s spun correctly, the more budget, power, people and turf they receive to “fix” the failure. Occasionally, some event like the VA debacle raises an outcry — but even though a lamb or two might be sacrificed, reluctantly, the result was that the VA was given more budget, power, people and turf. And their failures continue to worsen. Of course; that’s how the game is played and the motivations are structured. It takes great personal courage and character to do otherwise within such a system.
This is the result of government intervention, and I am for removing it. The less government is involved with business, the less lobbyists will have someone to bribe to distort markets with cronyism.
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle
Thanks for the conversation, I can only keep up for so long until I laugh out loud. I look for avenues of compromise but the progressive mantra is absolute surrender.
I’ve been reading a lot of works from the progressive era, hence, my ready reference to them. I am basically working on a historiography of Alexander Hamilton, which due to progressives in the early 20th century had his legacy more or less buried in history. It’s interesting to see the evolution of Hamilton’s image within progressive circles, of course, Debs and Bowers hated the man, but Teddy and Croly saw him and positive light. Woodrow Wilson and FDR it seems ultimately sealed his fate with their negative perspective of the man and aligning Jefferson’s image with Lincolns during the same time period. I’m glad you referenced the Sedition Act of 1918, one of the main arguments progressives make against Federalist was the Alien and Seditions act, which appears from your assertion to be largely hypocritically. It never dawned on me because, of course, they’d never admit to their hypocrisy. Do you know where I can find reference to in-depth analysis of Wilson’s involvement with the Sedition Act of 1918?
This link is a quick recap, and mentions the timeline and Wilson’s urging of the bills’ passage and expansion. It also lists some of what the Espionage Act (1917) and Sedition Act (1918) were used for, and their effects. It offers little detail, but there is a list of sources at the bottom. The Sedition Act was actually “just” an amendment to the earlier Espionage Act, but had its own name — and its own notoriety.
As usual, the same page draws the comparison to today and suggests that Obama’s spying on citizens was merely an “expansion” of Bush’s under the PATRIOT Act. There are problems with this story:
— Bush’s program stopped years before he left office.
— Bush’s program affected no more than about 500 people at a time, and a total over the program life of about 5,000.
— Bush’s program was approved by an oversight committee before being launched.
— Bush’s program required that each target be in communication with a terrorist-linked destination, and that at least one end of the conversation be outside the US.
— Bush’s program was limited to 60 days before specific evidence had to be offered to the FISA court to pursue or monitor the individual further. There had to be probable cause to do more.
— Several people who had the details of all of this, such as Jay Rockefeller, conveniently “forgot” that and lied to the press about their knowledge, but were busted when their earlier letters concerning the program were made public.
When Obama took over, he had Bush’s program researched by a legal team. This was long after the Bush program had ended, of course. Obama then launched a completely different program that affected about 150,000,000 people inside the US (and many millions elsewhere) instead of 500, had no time limits, did not require international communication, et cetera. It grabbed every electronic communication the administration could reach, and continues doing so to this day with ever-expanding sources.
To the Obama administration, every American is considered a suspect and the concept of “probable cause” has been emasculated. The NSA operation is not a function of the PATRIOT Act, and does not depend upon it. But it does not depend upon any legal authority, as Obama’s own legal report made clear. He simply does it, as usual, and has not been stopped.
I am operating from memory. I have Obama’s Inspector General report tucked away in a file; I’ll dig it up. The reports on this invariably downplay or do not mention the massive difference in scope and scale of the two operations, and many flatly and falsely say that Obama ended the program in 2011.
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle
That was a little mean.
When I saw this post on your blog, and I looked at your comments on mine, I wondered what was going on.
You’ve got me there, Keith. I didn’t even realize that I had joined in this particular thread. Perhaps you read something I was thinking, but didn’t post. I am enjoying reading some of the comments here. It is, by and large, a pretty good exchange of ideas. And your taking issue with my silence (assuming that “*scout ” is your label for me) is an interesting evolution of our discussions. I think it shows you have reached a state where you are now having imaginary conversations with me.
Since you brought me up, however (and to give you a real person to bounce off of), I do consider Conservatism “progressive” in virtually every sense. Locke, Burke, Smith “progress” political and economic thought over the previous conventional wisdom of their time in major ways. I don’t have a problem with the adjective “progressive”. Conservatism would not be attractive to me if I thought it somehow regressive or not a force stimulating the instinct of human liberty, a lodestone concept that, for me, always needs nurturing and advancement and which is always the direction in which the arc of human development should bend.
I’ll go back to my sleep mode now.
@ *scout, who wrote:
You hadn’t, and no one suggested you had. And, of course, you know all of this; you are simply intentionally misunderstanding as is your wont.
I took no issue with your silence, of course, merely indicated that you often showed up here in support of the progressive side, but that you do so in oblique ways. You obliged quite quickly, I see. I have previously explained to you one reason I use the *scout handle, and you demonstrate it again in your comment. You posted as “novascout” but signed the comment “scout”; I am simply covering the bases for those people not familiar with your habitual confusion.
It is not true, and you don’t think that it’s true, but it gives you something to say that you no doubt think is both clever and insulting. No one was having a conversation with you.
Were I to adopt your mode, I’d use this to suggest that you must not think Phadde2 is a real person. I knew what you meant, however.
Of course. And has already been amply demonstrated, your notion of “conservatism” has nothing to do with the limited government, individual liberty focused conservatism of people in the United States. You call progressive notions conservative and think yourself clever.
Yes, as you’ve demonstrated many times, your idea of “nurturing” “human liberty” is through big government welfare programs. And you consider people like me and like Citizen Tom — small government conservatives — to be regressive archaics who just don’t know how things should be done and how beneficial big government programs really are.
Unfortunately, your kind never sleeps, and we’ve suffered more than a century of erosion of individual liberty as a result. You, of course, will respond as you did before that you hadn’t noticed any liberties going away. No doubt, your wife hasn’t either, cinching the case in your mind.
In your own way, you would be quite funny were it not for what’s at stake. One element of the attack I just stumbled across; your fellow progressives are moving to ban the word “wife” from all law, to replace it with “spouse” before extending this notion into broader society like they did with “oriental.” One more word deemed to be offensive, unacceptable speech, and only we “regressives” would complain, right?
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle
The extent to which the government controls the economy (at least from a favorable perspective) is an illusion.
The positive economic benefits of government stem from the enactment and enforcement of contract laws, property laws, and other such laws. When people feel they get a fair return on their investments, then they will invest their time and money.
When we use government to “grow” the economy or to make everyone economically equal, we almost invariably reduce the incentive of people to invest their time and money.
Think it through. How many examples can you think of where government actually improved the economy. Freeways, maybe. Well, that worked for a while. Then the politicians realized that developers would reward them for putting roads in just the “right” places.
It’s good to apply a ‘stress test’ every once in awhile.
I’m sure you’re familiar with that blog, Road to Concord, I am having a spirited debate with the gentleman of that blog about the legality of Lincoln’s action during the Civil War, if you care to check it out. It should be the more recent one with the most comments.
It does infuriate me when Academics attempt to throw Hitler as right-wing. I suppose their graph is simply based on social moral aspects? Whereas my wings are based on Totalitarian vs. Anarchy.
We do our best.
All my typos were old typos. I just sent you new ones.
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle
I believe in the course of American Political philosophy the explanation you’re searching for, at least from progressives, is in Herbert Croly’s “The Promise of American Life.” Although I’m sure you would disagree with most of Croly’s assessments, he gives a thorough explanation on the power of legislation, discrimination, and equal rights bestowed in the Constitution as a social contract. He even illuminates his explanation by beginning, “all of them good patriotic Americans, draw very different inferences from the doctrine of equal rights.”
A social contract is merely an agreements of the framework of society; however, does the agreement of past generations bind future ones? Thomas Jefferson seems to feel this is an unfair standard to hold every generation he explains in his “Notes” as well as in letters later in his life. However, if one continues to reside in the area in which one is free to depart, are we not to assume that those citzens give their consent to be governed under expressed laws of government? The constitution, being those expressed laws, thus becomes a contract of society, making it a social contract.
To be fair, Many Libertarians use the Classical Liberal term of “social contract.” It seems tugging at the definition of “social contract” itself is more or less tugging at the thread of anarchy.
I agree the United States Constitution is a “social contract.” Hence the figure at the beginning of this post.
Although I have never read Herbert Croly’s book, I suspect your judgement of my opinion of the man’s politics would be correct. He does sound like one of the people who have helped to wreck our system of government. He apparently wanted to twist the Constitution to suit his own purposes or to discard it altogether.
Before we use the expression “social contract,” we must define what we believe is in the contract. Otherwise, the expression communicates nothing, or it is misleading. What so-called Progressives do with the term is abhorrent. They use the expression to imply obligations that we the people have supposedly agreed to, but we have never actually had the chance to refuse.
Your reference to past generations binding future generations suggests this problem, but the issue addressed in this post is more fundamental, not due to the length of the term of the “social contract.” This post considers the fact some people use the expression “social contract” as an excuse to deprive people of their inalienable rights. That is, Progressives use the expression “social contract” deceptively.
What do those so-called Progressives want? Supposedly, in return for the privilege of living under the care of the nanny state, we should surrender (for our own good, of course) our inalienable rights in exchange for rights granted to us by government. Carried to the extreme, that means government decides what rights we have. In practice, that means we each exist to serve the state.
Because government granted rights require we the people to give up our right to make an agreement (or contract), as used by Progressives, the expression “social contract” meaningless. Do slave masters really need to make a contract with their slaves?
There is a difference in meanings of the words amend and alter. We amend the Constitution to hopefully enhance. A problem arises when a contract iz altered instead by interpretations insread of amendments
Contract law is to put any agreements in writing to evidence the intent of the agreements made between parties to a contract.
We seem to have too many disagreements because of Supreme Court altering interpretations instead of ruling on intent of the parties, in my opinion.
Regards and good will blogging.
We all have used terms like progressive to explain the opposition of our vision of government, but overall it’s a generalized term. You ask, “What do these so-called Progressives want?” Whenever folks ask what is the conservative, which is also a generalization, vision for government, I always refer to founding-era documents, Federalist Essays, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay etc. Looking back on progressive writings is often fruitless, because even progressives fail to reference the foundations of their own beliefs. Progressive mantra is to move forward not look back, but I believe to answer questions there is wisdom in those writings to at least better explain to those modern progressives the goal of their movement. There are often two competing extremes: The individual and society, Croly discusses this a bit in his book, but I believe Teddy Roosevelt expands on this idea in his idea of the “New Nationalism” and a square deal, which is simply that society gives a person the same opportunity as his neighbor but each person individually is still responsible for their success in society. This idea is where I believe many modern progressives have diverted from their original vision, the social contract allows the legislature power to create government where a square deal is possible and not in violation of people’s inalienable rights; however, there are those that believe society not only dictates a safety net, but also must provide training wheels for the entirety of one’s life. This idea has proved unsustainable many times.
@phadde2, who wrote:
I have a big problem with progressive Teddy Roosevelt. His “square deal” included the idea of taking away from people money that was earned in a manner that Roosevelt didn’t like — specifically capital investments, though he was also for hyper-regulation of farmers.
Unless you earned your money as a daily/hourly wage dong something TR favored (what he called honorably obtained” since he did not like finance), you didn’t deserve to have it in his view. Roosevelt said, of fairly earned income:
So what did Teddy Roosevelt mean by “honorably obtained”? This:
Note that at the time he said this, there was no income tax nor inheritance tax. He was one of the main reasons those things came about. Roosevelt’s “square deal” sounds like soft talk, but it wields a big stick beating the country along the path toward statism.
As we’ve seen. Roosevelt the Tough Republican was also Roosevelt the Vanguard Progressive whose personal charisma made statism seem both popular and necessary.
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle
@phadde2, who wrote:
We call them progressives. They call themselves progressives. They have also called themselves “liberals,” bastardizing and effectively reversing the sense of this once-useful word. But the use of “progressive” has been consistent since the late 1800s; Teddy Roosevelt even started and ran for president under the Progressive Party.
US progressives desire to maximize the control of the state for the harmony of society. US conservatives desire to maximize the liberty of the individual for the benefit of society.
The conservative arrangement has been shown to work. The progressive arrangement has killed close to a quarter of a billion non-combatants, just to achieve “the harmony of society” whether through improving society by elimination of undesirable populations (Lenin, Stalin, Hitler), running glorious “experiments” (Mao), or exerting control in the name of environmental harmony at the cost of tens of millions of lives and much more abject misery (US EPA and DDT). All subscribe to progressive goals and principles; in the US, they belong to the Progressive Caucus.
Many of them are not “good and patriotic individuals”; some are quite open about their desire to eliminate the US as a world power. Some of those, unfortunately, we have elected to public office and given control to. And thousands more of them are teaching our young people in colleges. They occasionally use socialist, fascist, liberal, et cetera for their positions, but all have a core of Marx’s progressive principles.
The other names generate arguments and confusion, such as the continual attempts to link the now-disfavored Hitler (once championed by progressives) with US conservatives using the term “right wing.” Progressive college professors have been doing this now for decades, despite the thin differences indeed between Hitler’s progressive socialism and Stalin’s.
What would you call them, if not “progressives”?
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle
When a government responds to the premise of ‘sqeeky wheels get the most grease,’ instead of wise thoughful consideration, the result is anarchy run by a government of fools who twist words for votes.
Social contract with the devil, in my humble opinion.
Regards and good will blogging.
Well, I think we need to squeak for less government, not more.
YOU CAUGHT THE FIRST MISTAKE I MADE IN FIVE HUMBLE YEARS.
REGARDS AND GOODWILL BLOGGING
I think that “social contract” is a leftist weasel term akin to “social justice.”
A contract or justice that is “social” must have an all-powerful Leviathan to both define and enforce “contract” and “justice.”
Consequently, the Founding Fathers, modeling their new American government after the teachings of the most-read political philosopher of their time (Charles de Montesquieu), split the absolute power of government to rule over men, into its three constituent parts.
Those being the executive, the legislative and judicial powers of government.
In such a government, men make contracts with one another and the government acts as referee to enforce them and resolve disputes.
History has shown clearly that man, free to engage in contracts of his own making and overseen by government judicial power, experiences the blessings of liberty, the pursuit of happiness and endless prosperity.
It is a curious conundrum of leftist weasels, Socialists, Communists, whatever you want to call them…; but the busybodies don’t really trust anyone. There are always producing lists of enemies. Nevertheless, they insist upon having an all-powerful government, and that government, their very own creation, is the most merciless of killing machines. Nevertheless, every generation the busybodies keeps trying to create bigger and biggier govenment.
It was most famously coined by Rousseau in his book with the same title. Rousseau argued that the general will of the public is the only rightful sovereign power of a given state. De Montesquieu was of much the same mind. The idea that “free” association of individuals was widely propagated but came with a fundamental and often ignored problem. Is man naturally free? If you were a Christian humanist of the preceding philosophical era like Thomas More or Petrarch. Basically, social contractualism assumed that man was naturally capable of doing good while the Christian humanists agreed that man had a sort of natural disposition for good, but needed direction toward right action. Hence why More’s “Utopia” has the citizens of Utopos living highly regulated and moderated lives. Unlike what Mark Levin wrongly posits in his assessment of one of the fathers of Humanism itself, the moderation and control of Utopos is closely akin to More’s own experience in the monastery, not the Communist Manifesto. Indeed, Marx can be seen as the final product of the project of Liberalism–the philosophical movement not the modern political definition–that was started by Rousseau, Locke, De Montesquieu, and others.
Also, the separation of powers was hardly a new concept. The Roman Republic and subsequent Italian communes had such organization long before De Montesquieu.
When I was in grad school I ranted and railed against Rousseau.
Like Karl Marx, I still can’t believe how anyone took him seriously.
You could say that Jefferson is to the American Revolution as Rousseau is to France’s Reign of Terror. Each man voiced and recorded principles that led, perhaps inevitably, to their respective outcomes.
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle
Personally, I often shudder when those speak the wisdom of Rousseu, being a fan of Hamilton and the Federalist, well you know why.
Then i find it strange you don’t do so with De Montesquieu.
Montesquieu was the first political philosopher to actually explain the nature of government.
The Greeks and others had governments involving the rich, the plebes, and some sort of judiciary arrangement. But because the nature of government was not understood, the regime always defined justice as the advantage of the strong and any human rights were defined by government, not “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.”
But it was Montesquieu who defined tyranny as the powers of government (executive, legislative, judiciary) united in one person, group of people or an institution.
So the challenge for mankind and the great achievement of America’s Founding Fathers was to design and build a government where the powers of government to rule over mankind, were institutionally and constitutionally separated.
Because his book, “Politics,” I am tempted to give Aristotle some credit too. Considering when he wrote it, it is amazing. Nevertheless, it appears the Founders most often quoted Montesquieu and for good reason.
It’s hard to beat Aristotle.
He’s my idol as a matter of fact.
Not so of the Greeks for, as Aristotle says in the Ethics, Justice is giving to each person what is due to them relative to their situation. Indeed, plutocracy was considered deviant by all but the Sophists. The rights of man were by virtue of man’s reason and predated any declaration. Aristotle in his Politics writes that the constitution of a state is not a written document, but an immanent organizing principle, analogous to the soul of an organism. Hence, the constitution is also “the way of life” of the citizens. It is not a mere guarantee of rights, but an ordering of a given community towards a final end. “Since we see that every city-state is a sort of community and that every community is established for the sake of some good (for everyone does everything for the sake of what they believe to be good), it is clear that every community aims at some good, and the community which has the most authority of all and includes all the others aims highest, that is, at the good with the most authority. This is what is called the city-state or political community.” For Aristotle and nearly every other Greek school of political thought, the community and government were not separate things. This separation and dichotomy between government and citizens would have been unheard of in the Ancient world. Those called tyrants like that of Syracuse were typically called such because they usurped authority, not because there was some conflict. This was mainly due to the idea of what the Romans called patria or love of the fatherland. Modern attempts at such nationalism fell flat or ended in the First World War.
Montesquieu merely took two things and said they were opposed based on flawed ideas of liberty. For the Ancients, liberty had causal properties to it that defined it as the ability to do something for something rather than the ability to do something. Montesquieu desired a liberty without end and should have realized the absolute pointlessness such liberty is. So liberty became the ability to determine for yourself the essential properties of reality. That is the logical conclusion of the “freedom” Montesquieu offers; a blank, purposeless slate where anything is possible if you will it to be.
Thank you for the added historical background. However, I don’t share your apparent distaste for all the Enlightenment philosophers. I don’t think Locke and De Montesquieu would have approved of Marx’s work. I doubt even Rousseau would have liked Marx’s philosophy.
Please try to temper your enthusiasm for all things Roman Catholic with a little objectivity.
There is a striking similarity between the government-less “Workers Paradise” with the idealized “State of Nature.” Rousseau is more guilty of such fantasy than Locke but the similarities and outright borrowings are undeniable. All three dream of an existence where there is no government and each individual having enough to sustain and comfort him, be it the basic necessities to the means of production.
Government is merely a tool. Government is a tool that some use appropriately. Government is a tool that most people abuse.
Government is an invention. Inventions are subject to modification. Sometime we modify inventions to suit different circumstances. In northern winters, for example, skis work better on light planes than do wheels. Sometimes we just get a better idea. Thus, the cell phone has largely replaced landline phones.
Because we all use the same government, we all have a say as to what our government should do and how it such do it. Because government exists to protect our rights (at least when it is use appropriately), government must involve itself in moral and religious issues. Hence, we each tend to approach the subject of government from our own religious perspective. That is in fact what most of the Enlightenment philosophers did. Therefore, their ideas about government were quite varied.
Because their ideas jived with those of most Americans, the founders adopted the ideas of Locke and Montesquieu. I don’t think they held Rousseau in very high regard, and I doubt they considered Locke or Montesquieu saintly. They thought their ideas well-considered.
Given how readily people can abuse and how often people have abused the power of government, I think the founders’ application of Locke’s and Montesquieu’s ideas worked well. And that is not just one man’s opinion.
Did Locke and Montesquieu influence Rousseau? I suppose so, but that is the trouble with an invention. Inventors have little control over how their ideas will be used. So it is that some people have tried to use insulin as a murder weapon. Does that make the inventor of insulin a murderer? Of course not.
Anyway, I would be interested in “hearing” briefly describe what kind of government you want. Thus far, I don’t belief your comments have made your own preferences readily apparent.
Well, the Founders seemed to have a different idea of what government was than even the Enlightenment philosophers. “We the People, in order to form a more perfect union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” This sounds more like Aristotle than Locke. A community, bound by common purpose, established a certain order for themselves. So, in a nutshell, the government is us. The Sovereign power is dispersed more than just three branches but to each and every voter. Government is not so much an invention but a natural occurrance. Every family, arguably the smallest societal unit for I reject that it is the individual, has rules for its members arising naturally from the essential nature of the society of the family itself. So also larger societies of mankind would, necessarily, require some rules to govern them.
The specific constitution of a government really doesn’t matter. Monarchy, republic, direct democracy, aristocracy; all of that is secondary to the end i.e. the final cause or purpose for governance. In a sense, government must pervade every aspect of our lives, especially government where sovreign power is given to the general public. Our whole lives must be governed because we are working towards a certain end and the only way to accomplish that end is through governing our behavior. A monarchy is easy. One person must conform himself to the purpose of the society. An aristocracy or rule of the best has that care dispersed and so it requires slightly more people to be conformed to the purpose. A republic is the most difficult as our own makes aparant. It requires each person responsible for the care of the community which would naturally force him to look to the needs of the greater community rather than himself. Self-interest, however, and the specter of individualism gives him the philosophical reasoning to vote himself more power, money, and position.
You may find this post interesting.
There is such a thing as an individual. We can deny the individual exists. God first created Adam. Then He created Eve, and then as He intended the two became one.
We can define individuality as a problem, but that problem exists only until a man learns to love God more than He loves himself.
Churches can teach us how to love God. Government? Governments that attempt such things tend to elevate the state as god. I don’t think that is what you want, but you are trying to use government when a church or your own personal example would work better.
Is there such a thing as a colective salvation? Well, God has punished nations. One time, except for one family, Noah’s, He even destroyed the whole world for its sins. Nevertheless, it seems He will judge us individually before He sends us to heaven or hell.
How did Jesus define freedom? I wrote a post some time back. => https://citizentom.com/2008/11/19/when-do-the-people-steal-their-own-freedom/
Jesus wants to free us from sin. Hence, when Aristotle said happiness lies in the pursuit of virtue, I think he got that part right.
So it is I expect you demand too much from the individual for the sake of government. We don’t exist to conform ourselves to the desires of the state, not even when the state desires us to do what is right. We exist to do what God wants us to do.
When we have a choice between God and Caesar, for the sake of our salvation and our freedom, we each must choose to love God first and our neighbor (even our leader) second, and good government allows us the liberty to do so. When we choose to abuse our liberty, good government also allows us each to suffer the consequences. That is how we learn virtue.
But, as I said before, the government is us and those who represent us, our responsibility to have right ideas becomes all the more critical. I wrote a bit on that once.
If the desires of the state via the consent of the government are for virtue as Aristotle and his Scholastic successors contend, where is the issue? In other words, when Caesar is Constantine or Edward the Confessor, must there be a choice between God and government?
Wednesday is a busy day for me, and I am tired. So now is not a good time to respond. Besides, I think I may generate on post on this subject, but I have got to think upon it.
Thanks for the reply and the link.