A social contract is a grand experiment that doesn’t fit in with the history of all countries. Basically, it is an agreement between a State and its citizens as to how best to organise a society where the best common good is the goal.
It is characterised by a specific set of ideas that are at once both sweeping in scale and specific in practice. The Constitution of the United States is a fine example of a social contract.
The thinkers Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau considered the idea of a social contract and what it means. Historically the idea of a social contract was attempted in Western Europe and North America.
So, everybody knows what society should look like and agree on the way to get there. It used to be the best system going. People from horrible parts of the world still flock to Western Europe and North America.
A social contract is better than a repressive government dictatorship, I’m sure everyone would agree. And it’s better than an infomercial with hidden clauses that the buyer only encounters afterwards.
Something has gone wrong however.
Trust has eroded between the voters and the government that was said to represent them.
Nobody believes that others have good motives anymore.
I watched a charming movie called ‘Going in Style’ this week, a re-make of a previous movie about three retired friends who are let down by society and decide to rob a bank.
Now, what these characters did is wrong. The Ten Commandments are clear and forbid stealing (Exodus 20:15). In this movie, we are presented with a scenario that is familiar and maybe even some of us have experienced. Joe (Michael Caine), Willie (Morgan Freeman) and Albert (Alan Arkin) are retirees living simply from day to day in New York City when their former employer decides to ship off overseas leaving pensioners with no pension that they are owed.
It’s a technicality buried in a clause, but the employer invokes it and they are no longer obligated to support pensioners. A weasel clause in a contract wipes out a social contract to be a responsible employer and just like that these guys – and all the others – are left to rot. Additionally, the bank that handles their pensions has fooled Joe by glossing over another technicality and shepherding him to take a certain account whose fees quadruple overnight when he least expects it.
Joe, Willie and Albert discover that it’s all a house of cards based on lies, masquerading as clauses in incomprehensible contracts. It’s wrong of them to plan a robbery, however their employer and their bank have engaged in dubious ethics by lying and/or stealing.
Our own eyes teach us that elections are not honoured, lies are told with no shame. The ruling class are horrified that the Brexit vote went through, that Hillary Clinton lost out to Trump.
Pick any democratic country and you will see the pile of lies and breakdown of trust between the State and the electorate. The honeymoon phase is over.
I found it intriguing that the co-producer of this movie about a bank robbery is one Steven Mnuchin, former hedge-fund manager and occasional movie producer, and outrageously the current Secretary of the Treasury under Trump.
Could it be that even a cabinet member in the government subscribes to the idea that things in the economy are not as they ought to be? On a systemic level? When the film was in development, the script writer Theodore Melfi sought to craft a happy ending, making it different from the 1979 original version of the film, remarking that it would be perfect for the protagonists to get ahead these days (get one over on the bank), as ‘everyone hates banks now’.
Apparently banks are no longer noble or believable, along with the State, police, intelligence services or even the Boy Scouts.
For his trouble of being the Treasury Secretary at the time of a tax bill that was recently passed, Steven Mnuchin was the recipient of a large box of horse manure gift-wrapped as a present by a man who thinks Mnuchin and Republicans are evil.
Apparently, in America in 2017, everyone’s motives are suspect. Indeed, everywhere in the world, going into 2018, everyone’s motives are dodge.
I like that God’s devotion to us is not based on a contract, but a covenant.
That’s a profound difference. God has no weasel clause in a contract but a covenant sealed in blood.