The Social Contract (Part Two)

It follows that when the one social convention or “covenant” prior to all other social conventions or covenants in the way of social order breaks down or is violated, a “state of nature” arises. As Thomas Hobbes wrote in his Leviathan: “For where no Covenant hath preceded, there hath no Right been transferred, and every man has right to everything; and consequently, no action can be Unjust. But when a Covenant is made, then to break it is Unjust: And the definition of Injustice, is no other than the not Performance of Covenant. And whatsoever is not Unjust, is Just.

Hobbes argued that without the “performance” of a covenant, people are left with “Empty words and the Right of all men to all things remaining” and in turn “we are still in the condition of war.” Hence, conventions and covenants have much to do with the delineation and the preservation of certain rights of both a sovereign and its subjects. 

As Hugo Grotius argued, covenants or conventions which in turn establish international law are forged through “goodwill” or “good faith” by the agreeing parties. This is evinced when we take the “Congress of Vienna” of 1815 and the “UN Charter” into account, when European leaders agreed in goodwill or “good faith” that hegemonic wars on the European continent had to be stopped and delegitimized in the former case, and when American, British, and Soviet leaders agreed in goodwill or “good faith” on stopping and delegitimizing hegemonic wars in the latter case. 

Hence, a “social contract” is a means of “walking mankind back out” of the “catastrophe of inequality and violence.” Francis Fukuyama has interpreted the concept or notion of a “social contract” as “a political solution in which citizens return to their natural equality through the emergence of a ‘general will’ that unites them in republican virtue.” Where Fukuyama got the idea that a “social contract” ends up “quashing diversity and requiring strict uniformity of thought” is anyone’s guess. And when we take the two aforementioned cases of how a “social contract” was formed in practice over the course of the last couple of centuries, there is no evidence that diversity had to be quashed or strict uniformity of thought was a requirement in forging a “social contract.” 

Amartya Sen views the concept or notion of a “social contract” as being “clearly concerned with an ideal alternative to the chaos that might otherwise characterize a society” either through the creation of institutions or merely through “social realizations” that would dampen and ameliorate the chaos and violence which emerge from inequality and war. In addition to the aim of “social realizations” behind a “social contract” are the interests of contracting parties and the avoidance of “local parochialism” which lead to the realization of a “social contract.”

It is also important to consider how the formulation of interests and the course of action taken by one party are perceived and viewed by all other parties. Arguably, how the formulation of interests and the course of action of one side is perceived or viewed by all the other parties weighs more heavily on the process of arriving at a mutual understanding and a “social contract” than any other factor. One’s interests and course of action are usually formulated in isolation from others and in a Rawlsian ‘veil of ignorance’ which requires the parties to “see beyond their personal vested interests and goals.” Thus, our course of action and our interests have to be formulated “by endeavoring to view them with the eyes of other people, or as other people are likely to view them” to borrow from Adam Smith.

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