Saturday, July 26, 2003

I'm being more flippant than I mean to be in responding to Henry's responses to my responses to what he said in the first place, not because I don't take them seriously but because I do. I'm hoping my witticisms will illustrate where I'm coming from better than another iteration of what I've already said.

The fact is there is a very basic social contract operating in most countries : a collectivity so basic, so domestic, so in front of our noses, that we sometimes fail to notice it. It goes something like this : if you work hard, get an education, take care of yourself & your family, you will do well.

Criticizing this is probably, as Henry would say, a side issue to the matters at hand. But I thought the social contract, originally, meant something more like this:

"The problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before...Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole."

Henry's version of the social contract is a peculiarly American one, in which the terms of "doing well" are dictated to each ofr us, and if we don't live up to them it's our own (individual) damn fault. Rousseau's is more radical: it is we who determine what the very terms of the social contract are, and if the terms of the contract are unjust we reserve the right to void it. That, I guess, is wilfully obtuse and oppositional--avant-garde, even?--questioning the very rules of politics, recognizing that what we regard as immutable laws are in fact conventions, adopted for some (often good) purpose, but ultimately malleable in the face of change. The social contract Henry describes may represent the "center" of American capitalist values, but I don't know if it would represent the center of humane and democractic ones.

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