The “social contract” is a concept used to explain the relationship between individuals and their governments. Individuals agree to abide by common rules and accept corresponding duties to protect themselves and one another from violence and other kinds of harm. This is the origin of the belief that political authority is derived from the consent of the governed.
The main advocates of the social contract were Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Locke, an advocate of natural rights, had the largest influence on the American Revolution.
Locke believed that individuals in a state of nature would be bound morally, by the Law of Nature, not to harm each other in their lives or possessions. But they did need a government to defend them and therefore would agree to form a state that would provide a “neutral judge” acting to protect the lives, liberty, and property of those who lived within it.
He argued that government’s legitimacy comes from the citizens’ delegation to the government of their right to “self-preservation,” or self-defense, which in turn acts as an impartial, objective agent of that self-defense, rather than each person’s acting individually. Thus, the Declaration of Independence states that government derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed.
”We are starting to shred the Lockean social contract. Preservation of individual and of private property rights has eroded over the years.
Importantly, the government, which is supposed to draw its legitimacy from the consent of the governed, has ceased to be a “neutral judge,” instead favoring one group over another.
Elected and non-elected officials’ treatment of the various “Occupy” demonstrations is an example.
Gone are the requirements for parade permits to occupy streets. Enforcement of health ordinances has been suspended. Occupiers have been encouraged to not involve the police when crimes are committed within the Occupier encampments.
An example of the discrepancy of treatment is that given by the City of Richmond in Virginia. In October, the Richmond Tea Party demanded a refund from the city for $10,000 it spent on permits, portable toilets, police presence, and emergency personnel for three rallies held at the plaza in which the Occupy Richmond squatters set up their camp for free.
What did Richmond do? Two weeks ago, it notified the Richmond Tea Party that it was being audited. Coincidence? At the same time, Occupy Richmond demanded a meeting with the mayor and got one.
Occupiers around the country claim that the First Amendment gives them the absolute right to trample on the rights of others. When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg finally evicted the Occupiers from Zuccotti Park, he did it under the guise of public health and safety, which, he said, trumped the Occupiers’ First Amendment rights.
“No right is absolute, and with every right comes responsibilities,” said Bloomberg. “The First Amendment gives every New Yorker the right to speak out — but it does not give anyone the right to sleep in a park or otherwise take it over to the exclusion of others — nor does it permit anyone in our society to live outside the law. There is no ambiguity in the law here — the First Amendment protects speech; it does not protect the use of tents and sleeping bags to take over a public space.”
As the old saying goes, “The rights of your fist end at the tip of my nose.” That is a statement of the Lockean social contract.
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby had a unique look at the Occupiers’ views of the property rights aspects of the social contract — the Tenth Commandment, “Thou shall not covet.”
Jacoby cites Democratic pollster Doug Schoen. “Schoen…found that most [protestors interviewed] share ‘a deep commitment to left-wing politics: opposition to free-market capitalism, and support for radical redistribution of wealth.’ They favor stiffer taxes on the wealthy (77 percent) and more regulation of business (70 percent), and 31 percent say they would engage in violence to advance their agenda.”
Jacoby goes on to say, “Economic envy may cloak itself in rhetoric about ‘inequality’ or ‘egalitarianism’ or ‘redistribution of wealth,’ but its oldest name is covetousness. That is the sin enjoined by the last of the Ten Commandments.” To Jacoby’s list of buzzwords I would add the current favorite, “income equality.”
He concludes, “Covetousness — particularly when it takes the form of class hatred — is the root of innumerable other evils…. It shouldn’t be surprising when a movement obsessed with what rich capitalists earn rather than with what they produce starts treating other people’s property and persons with contempt.”
This should come as no surprise when the instruments of wealth redistribution are euphemistically known as “entitlements.”
It has been said that neither the Declaration nor the Constitution guarantees equal outcomes, only equality of opportunity. Neither does the Lockean social contract on which these documents are based.
When a government goes from a “neutral judge” acting to protect the lives, liberty, and property of its citizens to a suppressor of rights and redistributor of property, the social contract is breached.