The Journey series
The Social Contract
This week’s Mustard Seed continues to examine rights. Participation in community has been viewed as a social contract since at least the time of the ancient Greek sophists.
One explanation claims the social contract is between ruled and ruler. Individuals defer to moral, social, and legal principles, rules, and institutions in exchange for state protection of their rights. Another theory understands the social contract as an evolved compendium of agreements which would rightly have been derived by rational individuals. Either way, society is claimed to exist as a web of contractual exchanges. We give as we expect to receive; we forego actions contrary to the good of others as we expect them to withhold acts harmful to us.
This is inadequate to sustain a society. It is the nature of contracts for participants to maximize gain and minimize cost. What is received must be perceived greater in worth than what is given or the transaction does not occur. One trades from their excess to procure their needs and desires. The goal is always to increase one’s personal position relative to others. We take what we can and give what we must.
It is easier to understand things by going back to the basics; the basic unit of society is the family. Society at this level obviously didn’t evolve from a cost/benefit analysis. Husband and wife marry to be together. Love overrides logic. Marriage flourishes only through unconditional giving from both parties. If either spouse takes out the scales they’re both in for a heavy time. There would absolutely be no next generation if procreation was subject to expected returns exceeding anticipated costs.
Society evolves from man’s longing for companionship with his equal. In the story of creation God brought every animal to Adam for him to name but Adam found no suitable helper among them. They were all inferior to Adam. God then created Eve from Adam’s rib to be a suitable partner. God didn’t create another Adam. He created woman, equal but complementary to man. Community comes before reciprocity. Contracts evolve incidental to companionship as we realize we each have strengths and weaknesses which complement the weaknesses and strengths of others.
Participation in community is better understood as a social covenant. People don’t come together in order to trade what they have for what they desire. People desire to be together so they offer what they can to sustain their community. Viewing society in this light it is easier to understand the line from JFK’s inaugural speech, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,”
Next week: The right to property.
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Peter T Elliott