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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Obama’s Social Compact

"These socialist writers look upon people in the same manner that the gardener views his trees. Just as the gardener capriciously shapes the trees into pyramids, parasols, cubes, vases, fans, and other forms, just so does the socialist writer whimsically shape human beings into groups, series, centers, sub-centers, honeycombs, labor-corps, and other variations. And just as the gardener needs axes, pruning hooks, saws, and shears to shape his trees, just so does the socialist writer need the force that he can find only in law to shape human beings. For this purpose, he devises tariff laws, relief laws, and school laws." — Frederic Bastiat, The Law

President Obama is now on the stump campaigning for the 2012 election, something he has never really stopped since 2008. One of his new catch phases is the “Social Compact.” He is pushing his social concept as something he wants for all Americans — rich and poor, black and white.

The question have for Mr. Obama is whose social compact is he touting, Thomas Hobbes’ or John Locke’s? Both were 17th English philosophers who had definite philosophies as to how people should be governed. One believed in the “nanny state”, while the other believed in personal liberty and the rights of private property.

Let’s begin with Thomas Hobbes. Thomas Hobbes was born at Westport, now part of Malmesbury in Wiltshire, England, on 5 April 1588. Hobbes was a champion of absolutism for the sovereign but he also developed some of the569px-Thomas_Hobbes_(portrait) fundamentals of European liberal thought: the right of the individual; the natural equality of all men; the artificial character of the political order (which led to the later distinction between civil society and the state); the view that all legitimate political power must be "representative" and based on the consent of the people; and a liberal interpretation of law which leaves people free to do whatever the law does not explicitly forbid.

In Leviathan, Hobbes set out his doctrine of the foundation of states and legitimate governments – originating social contract theory. Leviathan was written during the English Civil War; much of the book is occupied with demonstrating the necessity of a strong central authority to avoid the evil of discord and civil war.

Beginning from a mechanistic understanding of human beings and the passions, Hobbes postulates what life would be like without government, a condition which he calls the state of nature. In that state, each person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world. This, Hobbes argues, would lead to a "war of all against all" (bellum omnium contra omnes). The description contains what has been called one of the best known passages in English philosophy, which describes the natural state mankind would be in, were it not for political community:

“In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. [Source: Leviathan XIII "Chapter XIII.: Of the Natural Condition of Mankind As Concerning Their Felicity, and Misery."]

In essence Hobbes believed that rights were doled out by the sovereign (government) and that there existed a social contract between the sovereign and the people. The individual would surrender his liberty to a benevolent sovereign that would then look after the individual.

In contrast John Locke, who hated Hobbes and would not even mention his name, has a totally different view of the social contract. Born August 29 1632 and died October 28, 1704), Locke is widely known as the Father of Classical Liberalism. He was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social contract theory. His work had a great impact upon the development of epistemology and political philosophy. His writings influenced Voltaire and Rousseau, many Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, as well as the American revolutionaries. His contributions to classical republicanism and liberal theory are reflected in the American Declaration of Independence.

Locke exercised a profound influence on political philosophy, in particular on modern liberalism. Michael Zuckert has argued that Locke launched liberalism 460px-Locke-John-LOCby tempering Hobbesian absolutism and clearly separating the realms of Church and State. He had a strong influence on Voltaire who called him "le sage Locke". His arguments concerning liberty and the social contract later influenced the written works of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and other Founding Fathers of the United States. In fact, one passage from the Second Treatise is reproduced verbatim in the Declaration of Independence, the reference to a "long train of abuses." Such was Locke's influence that Thomas Jefferson wrote: "Bacon, Locke and Newton ... I consider them as the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical and Moral sciences". Today, most contemporary libertarians claim Locke as an influence.

Locke uses the word property in both broad and narrow senses. In a broad sense, it covers a wide range of human interests and aspirations; more narrowly, it refers to material goods. He argues that property is a natural right and it is derived from labor.

Like Hobbes, Locke assumed that the sole right to defend in the state of nature was not enough, so people established a civil society to resolve conflicts in a civil way with help from government in a state of society. However, Locke never refers to Hobbes by name and may instead have been responding to other writers of the day. Locke also advocated governmental separation of powers and believed that revolution is not only a right but an obligation in some circumstances. These ideas would come to have profound influence on the Constitution of the United States and its Declaration of Independence.

Locke believed that ownership of property is created by the application of labor. In addition, property precedes government and government cannot "dispose of the estates of the subjects arbitrarily." It was Locke’s view of classical liberalism that influenced Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.

So what we have here are two different views of the social contract or social compact as Obama refers to it. From what I know of Obama and his Marxists mentors I am sure his view is the Hobbesian one, not that of John Locke who had a great influence on our founding fathers.

Over the coming months you will be able to draw your own conclusions as Obama expounds on his philosophy of the social contract. It will be the libertarian Locke vs. the statist Hobbes or liberty and freedom vs. the tyranny of the state.

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