Hurricane Sandy and the Social Contract

Mike Appleton, Guest Blogger

The great storm that ravaged the east coast this past week brought into sharper focus than all of the presidential debates combined the central issue facing voters on Tuesday.  Those who continue to believe that we are all in this together applauded the non-partisan meetings between President Obama and New Jersey governor Christ Christie.  The ideologues on the right saw those same meetings as a cynical betrayal of conservative orthodoxy.  Alternatively, they approved the initial response of Rep. Steve King (R. Iowa), who subordinated concern over the needs of the storm’s victims to the question of  what budget cuts would need to be made before providing federal assistance.  These distinct responses accentuated the fact that the election is not about economic policy or religious freedom or the mess in the Middle East.  It is not about climate change or energy independence or immigration reform.  And it is not about abortion or same-sex marriage or the rights of public unions.  At its core, the election is a referendum on affirming or rescinding the social contract.  All the rest is committee work.

By “social contract” I mean the principles which I believe most strongly influenced the Founders, the theory of civil government expounded in John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government.  A civil society is formed, he wrote, “wherever any number of men, in the state of nature, enters into society to make one people one body politic, under one supreme government . . .  .  For hereby he authorizes the society . . . to make laws for him, as the public good of society shall require . . .  .  And this puts men out of a state of nature and into a commonwealth . . .  . “

In Locke’s view, the purpose and end of government is the preservation of property interests, which he broadly describes as “life, health, liberty and possessions.”  He describes civil government as the “proper remedy for the inconveniences of the state of nature.”  Locke’s words are echoed in the Declaration of Independence with its references to the inalienable rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  The Constitution incorporates Locke’s ideas in both the Preamble and in the division of government into separate legislative, executive and judicial branches.

The political debates over the past four years and the ideological opposition to the Obama presidency can be analyzed under many sub-headings, but taken as a whole, the arguments question the fundamental nature of government.  The following examples are illustrative:

A. The personal social contract. 

“It is not the public good that matters; it is the personal good.”

-Rep. Allen West (R. Fla.), CPAC conference, 2012

In Rep. West’s view, the social contract is unconcerned with common welfare beyond the requirements of the defense of individual interests.  The goal of government is limited to protecting one’s personal rights and, by extension, the independence of the country.  Therefore, government is a minimalist proposition.  It exists to maintain a strong national defense and the ability to prosecute and punish those who would harm one’s person or property.   The only obligation imposed upon the individual is to respect the same rights in others (or suffer the consequences) and to pay the taxes necessary for the common defense.  Although adherents to this view acknowledge the additional responsibilities of government described in the Constitution, they regard the social contract as essentially a private agreement between the individual and the state.

B. The exclusionary social contract.  

“If you’re not a property owner, you know, I’m sorry but property owners have a little more of a vested interest in the community than non-property owners.”

-Judson Phillips, president of the Tea Party Nation (quoted in Think Progress, November 30, 2010)

Although the Constitution does not address the right to vote, and the beliefs of the Founders were certainly a product of prevailing attitudes and values, the fact is that Locke considered consent an essential element of civil society. A commonwealth is formed, according to him, “by the consent of every individual.”

The history of this country has, until recently, been one of expansion of the right to vote, to propertyless citizens, to former slaves, to women and to all those deemed old enough to die in the nation’s wars.  Yet universal suffrage has been the subject of political and legislative attack in the last several years, largely, in my view, as a reaction to the election of a black president.  The lie that voter fraud compels the enactment of strict voter ID requirements has been too well debunked to warrant further comment.  The real motives are to be found in the language of the promoters of voter suppression legislation.  Florida State Senator Michael Bennett (R. Bradenton) has declared that voting is a privilege rather than a right.  “This is something people died for.  Why should we make it easier?” (quoted in the Los Angeles Times, October 20, 2011).  Writing in the American Thinker, Matthew Vadum criticized the efforts of Democrats to register the poor with the observation that “Encouraging those who burden society to participate in elections isn’t about helping the poor.  It’s about helping the poor to help themselves to others’ money.”  Gov.  Romney’s now famous comment on the 47% is a variation on this theme.  Controversial New Hampshire House Speaker William O’Brien unsuccessfully pushed legislation which would have prohibited college students from registering to vote from their school addresses, candidly acknowledging that a college student will likely vote “as a liberal.” (quoted in Think Progress, December 1, 2011).  And the Republican mayor of Arlington, Tennessee, upset that President Obama’s Afghanistan speech had preempted a Peanuts Christmas special, expressed his annoyance on Facebook with the erroneous statement that  “Our forefathers had it written in the original Constitution that only property owners could vote.  It if had stayed there, things would be different.”  (quoted in The KC  Blue Blog, December 5, 2009).  True enough.

C. The corporatist social contract.

“Corporations are people too, my friend.” 

-Gov. Mitt Romney, at a campaign rally

Gov. Romney’s assertion has legal support in the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, a case which more than any other has contributed to the dominance of wealth in the political conversation.  Of course, this definition of corporate personhood did not exist when Locke was alive.  Corporations were created solely by grant from the sovereign for specific purposes.  In the early years of the republic, corporations came into being through charters issued by the legislature.  Now they have been granted standing as persons under the Constitution, but without any of the obligations imposed upon private persons.  The notion of corporate free speech has enabled corporate interests to spend money without limitation, essentially controlling commercial political speech on the public airwaves.  And the message most prominently promoted is that the interests of capital are more important than the interests of labor, that income inequality is a function of personal resourcefulness rather than political power.

Gov. Romney approved this view when he described concern over income inequality as attributable to envy.  “You know, I think it’s about envy.  I think it’s about class warfare.  When you have a President encouraging the idea of dividing America based on the 99 percent versus one percent-and those people who have been the most successful will be in the one percent-you have opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the notion of one nation under God.” (quoted in The Economist,  January 12, 2012).

I confess to some confusion over the meaning of that statement, other than its implication that the wealthiest individuals in the world have earned a reserved seat  at the table of representative government.  In practical terms, it means that those who have most benefitted from favorable policies have no particular obligations to the commonweal.  It means that the rights of labor are subservient to the interests of capital.  It means that the elimination of unions, of pension plans and of health benefits may be justified solely on the basis of economic freedom.  It means that the accumulation of wealth is proof of civic and moral virtue.  It means that the economically powerful may continue to reduce the median income of the middle class if that is seen as  necessary to protect executive income and shareholder dividends.  And it lends support to the social darwinism perhaps best expressed by the comment of former South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer that government assistance to the poor is comparable to “feeding stray animals.” (quoted at bostonherald.com, January 24, 2010).  It confuses jealousy with the reasoned perception of unfairness.  It dismisses the argument that the growth of income inequality is primarily a result of the misallocation of the benefits of increased worker productivity.  Most importantly, it ignores the truth that the social contract cannot be fair if the parties lack equal bargaining power.  It  converts the social contract into a corporate contract of adhesion under the myth of “freedom of contract.”

D. The Christian social contract.

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise.  Those who refuse to submit publicly . . . must be denied citizenship.”

-Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (1989)

John Locke regarded civil government as a wholly secular institution.  His opinion was explained in A Letter Concerning Toleration, in which he wrote, “Civil interests I call life, liberty, health and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things, such as money, land, houses, furniture and the like. . . . Now the whole jurisdiction of the magistrate reaches only to those civil concernments . . . it neither can be nor ought in any manner to be extended to the salvation of souls . . .  .”  This principle exists in the Constitution in the form of the First Amendment, which protects both religion and unbelief.  Nevertheless, the Christian right has attempted to redefine the Constitution as a Christian covenant borne of American exceptionalism, the idea of the nation as the “shining city on the hill.”  Thus the economic theory of capitalism becomes biblically compelled and the social contract becomes a Christian-only agreement, a covenant between the nation and a Christian God.

When the polls open Tuesday morning, those who have not already cast their ballots should understand that we are deciding between starkly different ideas of government and social cohesion.  Hurricane Sandy brought many of us to our knees.  But it will serve a positive end if it also brought us to our senses.

123 thoughts on “Hurricane Sandy and the Social Contract

  1. “Studies have shown that people who watch FOX News know less.”

    Thanks Gene for revealing how you like to throw statistically meaningless “studies” as evidence during your bullying tirades. Way to go stud.

  2. Of course, maybe when your done watching Rachel or Keith my ideas may be more in line with this blogs thinking.
    Great thing is, I don’t watch Fox, nor MSNBC, I read about law, natural rights, and economics all the time.
    I get the sense, most of you spend your time arguing that I’m wrong.

  3. “I get the sense, most of you spend your time arguing that I’m wrong.”

    well they certainly aren’t working! (Political Science…bwahahahah)

  4. Thanks for revealing that you are immune to facts gathered by scientific methodology, Me.

    And Dave? You may read about law and natural rights and economics, but you sure don’t understand any of it.

  5. “Thanks for revealing that you are immune to facts gathered by scientific methodology, Me.”

    That stud…in NOT science. That is flushing grant money down the toilet.

    PLEASE tell me you aren’t associated with that? (Actually, please tell me you are!)

  6. I’m pretty sure you don’t know what actual science is any more than you do what jurisprudence is, Me.

    612 adults is a valid sample space. The MOE is within acceptable range. If you have some evidence this is an invalid poll, present it.

  7. However, I’ll have to get up and laugh at your idiotic babbling tomorrow. I have things to do before I hit the sack. Thanks for the chuckles, Chuckles.

  8. go to bed ole man. you might know political science (bwhahahah…science…bwahahah) but you dont know stats.

    612 would be a valid sample size if the questions asked had any relation to what it is to be “knowledgeable”. It not the sample size that counts…its the darn test. Anyone that has at least dabbled in science knows that.

    That you would weakly comeback with sample size and MOE shows that you are running on fumes. Get some sleep pappy, build your strength back up. This was and enduring thread and you lost some on the way. But with some sleep, a nice oatmeal breakfast with some fruit and tea and we will get you back up to normal half-wit pace.

    I will resume writing code. A much MUCH harder job than political…gulp…science (I cant believe how much those two words together make me laugh)

  9. Ah Gene, class to the end my friend, I do hope I get to meet you someday. Your dismissive tone, pompous arrogance and idea of manners in a debate has been fun. The idea you can so narcissistically pawn off others comments says so much about the coward you are. Your ego demands others praise your immoral idea of what is morally acceptable, and you blindly follow the herd. Tell me Gene, when’s the last time you had an idea that wasn’t a Democratic party one? Or better yet, one of your own?
    You spent your time arguing against freedom, well good for you, & here in this blog you may have won, but “Sir” I assure you, you will fail along with many indoctrinated such as yourself to understand that govt isn’t our saviour, perhaps you call the state god.

  10. Sorry..can’t let this end (in the middle of a loop)

    Gene: “Studies have shown that people who watch FOX News know less.”

    “Isn’t that just like a wop? Brings a knife to a gun fight.”

    Dude, You provided a link to a study that said not that FOX viewers know less…but they know less about current events. You can’t even get your facts straight.

    So not only did you provide a link to a toilet paper study, it “supposedly” answered a different question than the one you thought it did.

    Good one. Brilliant.

    You should stick to the Denny’s zingers. I think with average age of this readership being Medicare ready, your Denny’s line will ring a bell in their collective heads (oops…I didn’t go THERE did I?) Mike S knows what I’m talking about, right buddy (I didn’t forget the sociopath reference above, comrade…but Gene stepped in your line of fire)

    Stay within your comfort zone. You know…lots of quotes. A few big words. Loads of insults (the ones that hurt like “you are ignorant…or I don’t have time to educate stupid”). That’s where you are most effective. And by all means do NOT, and I mean do NOT step outside of the political science (bwahahahah) box.

  11. Lucky for you, Me, I got belayed by a phone call.

    Go tell your stats teacher (you did have one, right? I had three) that sample space size and composition validity isn’t an issue. If you have evidence the survey was skewed, present it, but your word is precisely meaningless as evidence. Or we could ask OS to chime in. He designs tests professionally and is a working science professional.

    As to knowing less, if one knows less about current events, it is simply a contributing factor to their overall ignorance which you have displayed on the topic of government in copious amounts already.

    Now get back to work, Code Monkey. Careful with that Mountain Dew diet though. It’ll rot your already atrophied brain.

    ******************

    Dave,

    Your veiled threats are mildly amusing. Could I get some fries with that, imbecile? Tough guys are so funny. You think (poorly and wrongly) that because someone is smarter than you that they are somehow incapable of defending themselves.

    *******************

    The social compact theory is the foundation for understanding governments. It’s a theory like evolution is a theory – it’s a fact that is undergoing constant refinement until basic laws can be distilled from it. Whether you two anarchist clowns believe in it or not is irrelevant to its existence. Gravity is just a theory too. Why don’t you both disbelieve it and jump off a cliff. See how what works out for you.

    You will never escape the social compact as long as you interact with other groups of humans.

    So you can both look forward to a life of disappointment.

    I suspect you’re both quite used to that by now.

    Also, the idea that I’m a herd thinker let alone a Democratic partisan just goes to show that neither of you actually read this blog before you came in with your things in your hand and talking smack about a subject that your manifest ignorance automatically made you a laughing stock. Nice try with the Rove play though. You come in spouting ridiculous rightwing propaganda so of course in your little minds that means anyone who disagrees with you – or worse, subjects your inanities to the ridicule they deserve – must be a Democrat.

    Wow. You really missed the boat on that one.

    Sorry to disappoint (pssst! that was sarcasm) but I’m one of the least partisan people you’ll ever see. Partisan politics is a sucker’s game. The two major parties and the Libertarians are all a bunch of hucksters looking to self-aggrandizement and stealing as much as they can get their hands on while serving the interests of corporatists fascism instead of serving the democratic interests of the people. I’m far worse than just Independent. I’m a Jeffersonian Constitutionalist Liberal Progressive if you must attach a label to it. I think there should be a multitude of party options (not the two and half option present now which is only the illusion of choice) or none at all. And personally I lean to none at all. Partisan politics is, next to corruption, the leading cause of dysfunctional government in this Great Experiment of Ours. My primary concerns are justice and the betterment of society through the rule of law. The rule of law that underpins the social compact theory and all forms of governance as a fact and much to your anarchist chagrin. If you’ve got a problem with seeking justice? Well then, that says far more about you than you realize. It’s not flattering either.

    Now you two nattering ninnies be sure to carry on with some more of your infantile prattle in my absence.

    I’ll need a good laugh while drinking my coffee in the morning.

  12. “Go tell your stats teacher (you did have one, right? I had three) that sample space size and composition validity isn’t an issue. If you have evidence the survey was skewed, present it, but your word is precisely meaningless as evidence. Or we could ask OS to chime in. He designs tests professionally and is a working science professional.”

    I’m sure thats OS will chime in that this garbage:

    “Fairleigh Dickinson University recently questioned 612 adults in New Jersey about how they get their news, offering as options traditional outlets like newspapers and local and national television news, or blogs, websites and even Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show. They then asked a series of factual questions about the major events of the last year, from the “Arab Spring” to the Republican race for president.”

    now somehow answers the question, do Fox news viewer know less?

    Yup settled science. You were sooo right on that one Gene. Must be such a burden to know so much. To be able to answer with scientific accuracy the questions to all the hard questions ONLY the readers of this thread care to know.

    I’d hate to live with that burden.

  13. “I’ll need a good laugh while drinking my coffee in the morning.”

    Don’t forget your fiber. You know how irritable you get without it.

  14. Fortunately no one is ever going to accuse you of being burdened with intelligence, Me.

    Produce your proof the study is flawed.

  15. “Produce your proof the study is flawed.”

    The burden of proof is on you. That is how these things work. You make a claim and then you back it up.

    You haven’t backed up squat. The poll you have linked to is just a poll. It’s one data point that doesn’t even corroborate your statement (Fox viewers know less). You are so stuck in your confirmation bias arse that you just automatically assume you are right. I can see why after ready this blog. Oh Gene, you are so smart, blah blah blah.

    NOW..stay-in-comfort-zone!

    Tell me again about Jeffersonian Constitutionalist Liberalism…

  16. Gene, I shall address your arrogance in the morning. Really, I hope your not a professor because the world would be a poorer place for your so called I’m a Jeffersonian Constitutionalist Liberal Progressive’ism.
    Gene your a liberal blow hard, who wastes his intellect disputing freedom on a blog that I thought was for it.
    If your such a wise man Gene, put it to use. Stop debating freedom, progressivism is a gateway like a drug, to the nanny state, again circular logic. But an ego like Gene’s wouldn’t dare go out and make the world a better place, nope he’d rather argue the merits of a false narrative on a blog, against someone who is trying to show the merit of non progressivism.
    To finish your obvious retort, I don’t watch fox, read real economics, not Krugman, and don’t care if you’r ego needs more validation.

  17. “Wow. This site is the Pravda blog.

    Go along with our social message or leave. Anything short of our social desires is anarchy.

    You folks have much in common with Rush L. The ONLY difference is he is on the extreme right.”

    This is Me’s first comment on this thread. Much later on Me says:

    “they pat each other on the back and they laugh at each other’s jokes. it’s one big circle jerk.”

    The implication being that he/she/it is merely a reasonable person who came here to have a fruitful discussion. It is amazing, but not surprising how a certain sample of the population is intellectually and/or emotionally incapable of understanding that their aggressive disparagement would be met with a similar response. It is the psychological defense mechanism of denial, which makes one incapable of seeing their own contribution to perceived hostility.

    Back to the social contract issue though. One doesn’t have to read Locke to understand that humans have throughout their history always progressed in a societal context. We need each other and indeed we are social animals. The major problem with our history, is that certain of us were born without the ability to have empathy for others and therefore fall into the category of sociopaths and psychotics. The destructive forces that such people unleash generally cause harm to others, through violence and/or duplicity. Since it is their nature, as the old scorpion story goes, they are unable to feel any sense of shame at their actions, only an undiminished sense of justification.
    Because of this to argue with them is fruitless since they are incapable of understanding their own deficiency.

  18. There are folks from fusion centers who are paid to “drop in”, with the goal of provoking.

    America, 2012.

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