The Trajectory Of The Busted Social Contract
By Charlie Brown
I recently re-read Rousseau’s great work The Social Contract, not because I didn’t get it at first; Rousseau simply argued that the right to govern and rule was not a legacy to be passed from one family member to another. No, I understood and agreed immediately with his notion that the people are sovereign, and that no king is divinely entitled to rule.
I have ancestors who shed blood for that right, and every right thinking Americans heart is captivated by the phrase “we the people”. So I went back and read his book again. You know, to remind myself that we once believed in the right of the people to legislate and enforce the laws that they deemed fit and proper. Not like now, in other words. Once the notion that the only legitimate source of power is the power of the people takes the driver seat it is sort of obvious that might does not make right. Just because “they” can force us to do something does not make us rightfully obliged to submit. This is black and white to me. No shades of gray.
You, dear reader may disagree; that is your right. I remember plenty of people who ridiculed John Lennon for singing about power to the people. I also remember folks protesting the teaching of foreign language in public schools based on the argument that, if the English language was good enough for our lord Jesus Christ, well it was good enough for our children. And who can forget the powerful statement “keep your government hands off of my Medicare”? That one nearly got me to agree, I can tell you.
Now, these people are entitled, not only to their opinions, but to the expression of those opinions; not the least because there is probably some kernel of right in them. But they should not be entitled to govern my actions based on the way they feel. So that’s about it. Don’t trade freedom for slavery. And, oh yeah, property rights should be safeguarded, and legitimate possession of property should be proven by means and proportion of labor. There’s more, but you really should read it yourself. And this ain’t a book report. Sounds good for small groups of people, and in fact, this is how things still work in some small towns. But, what about a federal society?
Well Rousseau deals neatly with that by separating sovereign from government. Self interest would naturally get in the way of the application of laws, so government is separated from sovereign. Listen to this crazy jive: under this plan, Vice Presidents would not be allowed to start foreign wars with resource rich countries and then award their companies no bid contracts to supply the military effort. Whaaaat? Crazy! Oh, and dig this nugget, presidents wouldn’t be able to own companies that profited from trade agreements they arranged with other countries! Now that’s just plain insane! Why, who would bother running in the first place? We’d be stuck with feeble minded idiots like Eisenhower, or Lincoln, the schmuck that ended slavery (long may he rot for his crime).
Alright, so there are a few minor glitches in the expression of the sovereign power of the people, you’ll give me that much I suppose. WTO’s edict that only China may manufacture computers and internet equipment due to their exclusive rights to “rare earth”, an absolutely essential element in making internet compatible chips. I guess you could make a big fuss about a presidential election giving us Tom and Jerry as our only two choices (who doesn’t like Tom and Jerry anyway), a media lamestream and otherwise owned by corporate interests only, my personal favorite, the conversion of the American dream to a terrifying spook house ride where you get off the gondola and head straight to your seventieth birthday wearing a cool Disney costume where you get to dance all day spinning a sign in front of a car dealership; but that’s just nit picky right? Doesn’t that actually sound like a cool way to turn seventy? And, think of the exercise; you can give up your gym membership! That’s why your grandchildren don’t have anything to do with you by the way.
If you don’t like the idea of the social contract, that’s ok. The city of Geneva, Rousseau’s home city burned it after all. Voltaire made a living making fun of the social contract, but then, he was an apologist for monarchism. If you don’t like it, then you cannot really like the constitution though. And, if you don’t like the constitution, why, that’s ok too. Your right to not like it is actually guaranteed by that pesky rag.
Like it or not though, it has been broken. Flying along pretty high due to the social contract, Americans have enjoyed an extraordinary century during which wealth was redistributed from billionaires to the less wealthy, mainly through unions and minimum wage laws, workplace safety rules, crap like that, giving ordinary people incentives to invent and work hard, all the while taking care of our aging parents and the disabled among us, giving us more time and money to build our own dreams. This in turn brought out loyalty in workers, and incentives to gain more competence and standing.
Just when it got broken is unclear. My own belief is that after the west was cleared of troublesome things like outlaws, buffalo, and Indians, wild or otherwise, and the eastern banks had cached most of the gold and silver, it was time to get off the gold standard and base the value of money on raw materials and debt. There had been little need for a strong social contract before that point due to the fact that most of the nation had been living in nature, and each family worked hard simply to stay alive, taking care of their own. Nobody got very old then, and the disabled didn’t last long either.
About this time WWI struck, and fascism, a form of government where corporate monarchs legislated and enforced entirely without regard for the opinion of the people became quite popular. Great men like J. Gould, Henry (never complain, never explain) Ford, Randolph Hearst and the like pressured the stinking socialist unions with righteous violence, maiming and killing those who dared to question their right to rule. Heck, a young MacArthur even led a saber charge into a group of veterans who had the unmitigated gall to march on the White House asking for their separation pay. Not to mention the heroic bombing of striking miners who thought that they should be paid at all. The nerve of those guys!
So I suppose it was when the depression struck, and it looked like America could go under that the billionaires lost a round. Encouraged by his cousin Teddy’s success in creating anti monopoly laws that essentially separated what little money the people had from that belonging to banks and corporate investors, the American people used their constitutional right to vote FDR into the catbird seat. Enraged by this, those heroes of fascism (see above, plus Prescott Bush and some other guys who didn’t have enough money) attempted an actual military coup on the White House. Turns out that general Butler found the task not to his liking, and wound up supporting Roosevelt in the next election.
So I’m thinking that 1933 began a period during which a faltering, but swiftly strengthened social contract began. The truth is, most of us would not be here without it. This is because Rousseau was right; the sovereign cannot apply the law even handedly, resulting in unstable economies with mostly young populations that have very short life expectancies. I recall during George W. Bush’s second term, Rush Limbaugh gloating that FDR was thankfully, dead, and that soon all of his policies would be too. Dittos Rush! It would seem he was right, because now there are very few unions, actual retirement plans for working men and women are practically nonexistent, medical care and insurance are a huge joke unless you are, you know, rich, education is in the crapper, and the banks now use your money to gamble with again! Yeah, we crap canned Glass Steagall!
BooYah! In any case, combined studies show that since Citizens United got dropped on us, zero, that’s right, zero legislation has passed without support from billionaires. The result of this is that our high flying social contract is broken, and we little folk are enjoying what I like to think of as a rapid descent that will fall somewhat short of the runway.
That’s my case. We had a social contract; it can be read pretty much as the bill of rights. It’s outlined nicely in the constitution. We must have hated it, because we have allowed every president since Reagan to attack it. We have loved Limbaugh and the lesser gods of fascism like they were our saviors. Heck, we even let them redefine what it means to be a conservative or a liberal. That bastion of steadfast loyalty Newt the Poot was right; we are useful idiots, and we did hunt liberals with dogs. To extinction. I guess if you made it to the end of this, you might be tough enough for part two. Those of you who read me know I like to do series. So stay tuned for part two. The Social Contract Sabotaged.
The Butcher Shop