Author’s note: This post is the first in a series which explores the political mythos which encompasses modern conceptions of society.
In a state of nature, potential is boundless. There are no gate-keeping titans to dismiss ideas as contrary to the public good. But there are no curators either, no channels for development. Instead, men must be ever vigilant of their property for there is no redress of grievance except force. The constant expenditure of energy on perpetually looking towards security prevents the individual from growing his potential for his fulfillment and betterment.
Western philosophy has presented the social contract and the creation of the body politic as the solution to this problem. In theory, the coalescing of individuals under a power which is superior to the force any of them can exert over another and which protects rights by using that power against any member who transgresses the rights of another, creates an egalitarian balance between an individual’s ability to exercise and be secure in their naturally-held liberties. As John Locke most famously summarized: “When any number of men have so consented to make one community or government, they are thereby presently incorporated, and make one body politic, wherein the majority have a right to act and conclude the rest.”
On the surface, this seems like the height of democratic-egalitarian morality, sure to deliver those who freely choose to bind their interests under the body politic to an Elysium of justice and tranquility precluded to those who remain under the turbid dominion of nature’s anarchy.
Subsequent generations, even in a free society, are governed by the discretion of those men who banded together to form the body politic. They are twice enslaved: ruled through temporal tyranny by the wills of those long dead and subjugated to the will of society’s majority.
But there is nothing democratic about this system. It is impossible that, by ceding autonomy over his interests to an agency which exists above him, a person can be more secure in his liberty. An individual, as nature creates him, is a sovereign unit, capable of pursing his own needs and desires to whatever level he chooses. An individual in the body politic is a slave.
The body politic is simply the will of the majority. And, as Locke himself writes, the majority is able to conclude for the rest. This means that the dominant social power, which is not bound by the same natural limitations of man, exerts discretion in determining and enforcing laws. The social contract does not create egalitarianism; it creates a new and superior social entity. It robs each member of the body politic of a part of its will, grafts it into a chimerical organization which has power over and above the individual and then allows it to determine what is right or wrong under the law. This is not parity; this is hierarchy of the most despotic kind.
Yet, this basic hierarchical relationship is the root of society. Social contract theory is often offered as evidence which proves the basic beneficence of society. It is, after all, all-encompassing and altruistic in that it considers and promotes the rights and interests of each of its members equally. Clearly, however, equality depends on whose rights are primarily considered. Locke himself talks of the majority deciding for the minority. But because of the power imbalance created by the body politics dependence on the will of the majority, there is no mechanism which prevents the discretionary powers of the dominant social organs to relegate itself to enforcing the majority. Egalitarianism just as easily justifies unequal application of law as a means of creating greater social parity. The “majority” ceases to become a point of agreement among a plurality of the body politics members which fluctuates as individuals engage in discourse and change their view. It becomes a singular will conceived of in the artificially created mind of social powers and to be forced upon others. Society is no longer a protectorate for civil liberties; it creates and controls them.
Besides, to suppose that every individual borne into society has the same freedom of consent to the body politic’s dominion is also a fallacy. The progeny of the founders of a society are governed by the parameters of law setup by their forefathers. Their birth and democratic rights are interpreted as their tacit consent to be ruled by the body politic. But they have no means to challenge the foundational values and structure of society. Subsequent generations, even in a free society, are governed by the discretion of those men who banded together to form the body politic. They are twice enslaved: ruled through temporal tyranny by the wills of those long dead and subjugated to the will of society’s majority.
Social contract theory, then, does not protect men from the tyranny of force found in a state of nature. It merely destroys the balance which fear and mortality create among men and allows a prevailing will to mask itself behind moral ideas of equality and altruism and rule divorced from the constraints of natural decay.
Also published on Medium.