Thursday, August 12, 2004

Wither [sic] that Social Contract?

A friend of mine, a politically liberal single mother who often works two jobs, has a (now) young adult offspring who is learning disabled. My friend recently recounted a discussion with her politically conservative brother, who was ranting about how we don't take enough responsibility for our lives and expect the government to take care of us. Ultimately, my friend's response to her brother was --"are you going to take care of my daughter when I die?" Right now, she lives in a group home, works as a bagger in a supermarket, and gets SSI. The young woman is doing what she's able to do, but she wouldn't surivive without help from the government.

While conservatives argue against government support, they sure don't seem to have any problem with government interference. What this conservative administration seems to have done is turned inside out the "social contract" that our constitutional republic is supposesd to protect.

I found this very informative essay about this "social contract," that begins with

Between 1787 and 1791 the Framers of the U.S. Constitution established a system of government upon principles that had been discussed and partially implemented in many countries over the course of several centuries, but never before in such a pure and complete design, which we call a constitutional republic. Since then, the design has often been imitated, but important principles have often been ignored in those imitations, with the result that their governments fall short of being true republics or truly constitutional. Although these principles are discussed in civics books, the treatment of them there is often less than satisfactory. This essay will attempt to remedy some of the deficiencies of those treatments.

The Social Contract and Government
The fundamental basis for government and law in this system is the concept of the social contract, according to which human beings begin as individuals in a state of nature, and create a society by establishing a contract whereby they agree to live together in harmony for their mutual benefit, after which they are said to live in a state of society. This contract involves the retaining of certain natural rights, an acceptance of restrictions of certain liberties, the assumption of certain duties, and the pooling of certain powers to be exercised collectively.

Such pooled powers are generally exercised by delegating them to some members of the society to act as agents for the members of the society as a whole, and to do so within a framework of structure and procedures that is a government. No such government may exercise any powers not thus delegated to it, or do so in a way that is not consistent with established structures or procedures defined by a basic law which is called the constitution
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and then, later, this:

In his treatment of the subject, Locke tended to emphasize those violations of the social contract that are so serious that the social contract is entirely broken and the parties enter a state of war in which anything is permitted, including killing the violator. Today we would tend to place violations on a scale of seriousness, only the most extreme of which would permit killing. Some would even go so far as to exclude killing for any transgression, no matter how serious, but that extreme view is both unacceptable to most normal persons and subversive of the social contract itself, which ultimately depends not on mutual understanding and good will, but on a balanced distribution of physical power and the willingness to use it. Sustaining the social contract therefore depends in large part on so ordering the constitution and laws as to avoid unbalanced or excessive concentrations of power, whether in the public or the private sector.

I know very little about the intricacies of Constitutional law. However, what I do know of successful "social contracts," whether on a family level, a neighborhood level, a community level, or a governmental level, those that work best include an understanding that those individuals who are not able to take care of themselves are taken care of by some agreement and contribution (according to ability) of the whole. To me, that kind of "my brother's/sister's keeper" is the foundation of the Christianity that Bush so vehemently espouses. Yet, in action, he and his administration have managed to turn the essence of Christianity inside out as well.

How did so many patriotic "Americans" move so far to the right of that social contract cornerstone that they openly oppose the responsibilities of that contract to collectively help those who cannot help themselves?

Didn't Christ say "as ye do unto the least of my brethren, ye do unto me?" I'm not a Christian, but Bush maintains he is. C'mon George and all you Christian conservatives, WWJD?

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