Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Social Contract -- and the Libertarian Rejection of It

The social pact, far from destroying natural equality, substitutes, on the contrary, a moral and lawful equality for whatever physical inequality that nature may have imposed on mankind; so that however unequal in strength and intelligence, men become equal by covenant and by right.

― Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract

I was in an online debate a few days ago with a so-called Libertarian and was struck with what he was saying about “Individual Rights” and how Society oppresses the Individual .  It made me think about the relationship between the Individual and Society and I quickly realized that the Libertarian Platform rejects the Social Contract that is the basis for Society. 

In any group of people, be it a neighborhood, a community , a town or a nation, there’s a tacit understanding that we’re all in this together.  For example:  we all follow the same rules of the road when driving.  While those rules may infringe on my ability to drive on whichever side of the road I please whenever I please, what I gain by  sacrificing that ability is the assurance that I won’t have someone driving at me on the wrong side of the road with impunity, because every other driver is subject to the same rules as I am.  A hermit may say, “I’m  all alone on the road.  Who the hell is anybody else to tell me how and where I can drive?”, but anybody on the road with other people sacrifices the right to ask that question for the necessary privilege of driving with other people around.

I’ve often asked if we want a society that says to each of us “We’re all in this together” or “You’re on your own.”  I would argue that  if the Founders DIDN'T agree that "We're all in this together" was the foundation principle of the society they were building, they wouldn't have made the national motto "E Pluribus Unum" (“From the many, one”).   I would say that Libertarians are very much mistaken that "We're all in this together" implies a giving up of individual rights. It merely means that NO ONE individual has the right to dictate everybody else's rights.  A monarchy is the ultimate form of an Individual triumphing over society, and I think we can all agree that the Constitution was specifically designed to prevent a monarchy from taking power.

The purpose of the law isn't to oppress's to protect people from being oppressed. So what happens when you have someone "legally" doing to people what by any standard IS oppression – which is what the corporate forces are currently doing when they buy our legislators and undermine the regulations that keep the Market fair?  Let’s use as an analogy the most basic social interaction we all grow up with – the school yard.  What is a teacher  supposed to do when a bully is stealing a smaller kid's lunch money?  The responsible thing to do would be to protect the smaller kid from the bully.  But when it comes to our society, Libertarians assert that regulation -- the governmental teacher stepping in to protect the smaller kid in our story --amounts to infringing on the bully's "individual right" to steal from the smaller kid.  This analogy works for the corporate takeover of our nation – and corporate-backed Libertarian and Regressive pundits are the ones pushing the hardest for the proverbial teacher (our government regulations) to not intervene.

Their "individual rights" argument is one that ultimately boils down to saying that the bully has the right to steal the smaller kid's lunch money and that the teacher has no right to intervene on the smaller kid's behalf.

When the Social Contract that's built into the Constitution is often condemned as “Socialism”, we have to understand that the people who’re doing the condemning are attacking the Social Contract, either by deliberately or ignorantly confusing it with Marx’s concept of Collective Ownership and Stalin’s Gulags. It's hardly Marxism -- in fact, it's quintessentially American -- to insist that the governing power of our nation remain in public, rather than corporate hands.

My whole objection to the Libertarian stand is this -- it has no check or balance against irresponsible behavior and does nothing more than empower bullies, both in the schoolyard and in the halls of government. 

The mistake that Libertarians seem to always make is in assuming that government itself is automatically an evil, when in fact it's merely a tool – one that can be used for the benefit of all or the benefit of a few.   I'm only saying that the tool is currently being used to benefit a few and that it's within our power -- by means of voting out those few we've chosen to represent the average person's needs in government --to take that tool back and use it to benefit  everybody. When a bully's trying to hit you over the head with a hammer, you don't blame the hammer -- you take it away from the bully trying to beat you with it!