The Leviathan and The Social Contract: The Dichotomy Between The Citizenry and The Government

fix the country

By: Boniface A. Sutinga

I have been struggling to pen down this write up for a while now to no avail due to some distractions but the #fixthecountry and #fixyourattitude imbroglio has ignited my thoughts.

Before the advent of State Sovereignty, Political Association and Government, humans lived in a State of Nature (SON), where “life was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” . . . in effect, akin to Darwin’s theory of evolution, everything was about the “survival of the fittest”.

Political and Social Contract Theorists such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, relied on this notion to examine the limits and justification of political authority or even, as in the case of J. J. Rousseau, the legitimacy of human society itself.

In the view of Hobbes, the State of Nature is characterized by the “war of every man against every man,” a constant and violent condition of competition in which each individual has a natural right to everything, regardless of the interests of others. The only laws that exist in the state of nature (the laws of nature) are not covenants forged between people but principles based on self-preservation.

More terrifying is that in this State there is no higher authority to adjudicate disputes hence everyone fears and mistrusts everyone else, and there is no justice, commerce or culture. Obviously this was an unsustainable condition which had to come to an end thus humans, individually and collectively, agreed to relinquish their natural rights to everything and transfer their rights and self-sovereignty to a higher civil authority or what became known as the Leviathan according to Hobbes.

The State then becomes sovereign with absolute authority in the sense that no other authority surpasses it and its will is law. However, what must be noted is that the power of the sovereign is not all-encompassing since that power emanates from the people – citizens remain free to act as they please in situations that the sovereign is silent. Herein comes the Social Contract which allows citizens to exit the State of Nature and enter a Civil Society.

The State of Nature does not disappear completely, it remains a threat and will surely return the moment governmental authority collapses suffice to say that its collapse is unlikely because its power is uncontested. In Lockes’ view, the state of nature was not as antagonistic since individuals are naturally endowed with the rights to life, liberty and property, he however agrees with Hobbes that citizens will have to depart the State of Nature and agree to form a commonwealth in order to institute an impartial power capable of arbitrating their disputes and redressing injuries.

This is how the Leviathan/Commonwealth driven by the Social Contract was established. What we now know as an organized state and formal government is as a result of this relationship i.e. the citizens agreeing to give up some of their rights and freedoms to the state and the state in return shall offer security, peace, development, social order, etc.

The Social Contract then comes into being – this contract is not imaginary or fictional, it is real and binding on parties involved i.e. the State and the Citizenry – the very legitimacy of the authority of the State over the individual/citizen is anchored on the existence of the social contract.

This contract is imperative because in the absence of any political order, humans are bound to act impulsively based on their individual power and conscience, a situation the Social Contract takes care of, i.e. humans conspired to give up their natural freedoms and rights to obtain the benefits of political order and civil rights – herein lies the very notion of governance. The contract remains valid and legitimate to the extent that the parties fulfill their parts of the agreement. Hobbes argued that government is not a party to the original contract and citizens are not obligated to submit to the government when it is too weak to act effectively to suppress factionalism and civil unrest.

According to other social contract theorists, when the government fails to secure their natural rights (Locke) or satisfy the best interests of society (called the “general will” by Rousseau), citizens can withdraw their obligation to obey, or change the leadership through elections or other means including, when necessary, violence. Locke believed that natural rights were inalienable, and therefore the rule of God superseded government authority, while Rousseau believed that democracy (self-rule) was the best way to ensure welfare while maintaining individual freedom under the rule of law. Simply put, citizens, realizing that individually they cannot provide for themselves social and political order, collectively agreed to create a monster in the form of the State, represented by a primary agent called government, to provide order.

They also agree to fuel or feed that monster and its agents by way of paying taxies, levies, duties and even handing over all their natural resources to it to enable it perform and deliver all the deliverables. All they ask for in return is for the state represented by government and its agents to prudently apply all the resources, both human and material, to bring about socio-economic development and socio-political order.

In fact, they enact laws for themselves as well as punishments in the event that they advertently or inadvertently break those same laws that they themselves enacted – that power to punish is paradoxically given to the very monster they created – the Leviathan.

They did not end there, they acknowledged that those other citizens who will volunteer to be elected to serve the monster in pursuit of the “common Good” will be so burdened to such an extent that their needs must be catered for by the monster through the use of their taxes and borrowed money. A perfect arrangement, or? The monster they created can expend their resources, borrow from other places and make them pay, and above all, can punish them if they go contrary to the very laws and rules they themselves enacted.

If they are lucky, they get to have a semblance of accountability in the form of a Public Accounts Committee or whatever they may call it hearing. With time, the greater burden of the contract is drastically shifted onto the citizenry while the State and its agents make merry . . . they are even at liberty to extend some of the largesse to their spouses on the blind side of the citizenry.

Logically, insofar as the citizens uphold their part of the contract, the State and its agents should have no excuse than to execute theirs, there is absolutely no reason for them to fail, not even non-compliance with the laws since they have the power of enforcement and punishment.

From the above, I need not further explain to anybody, not even the uninitiated mind, what the individual and collective roles and responsibilities are within the framework of the Social Contract. It is equally needless for me to attempt any further explanation of the role and responsibilities of the other principal party to the contract i.e. the State and its agents, notably, government.

At no point must citizens’ failure, individually or collectively, to obey a law or rule be used as a bases to justify the incompetence of state actors.

The State and its actors are empowered enough to deal with citizens who may find themselves at the wrong side of the law.

It is therefore erroneous and a gross misconception of governance when people who ought to know better are quick to respond to the #fixthecountry hashtag with #fixyourattitude or #fixyourselves hashtags – if citizens could fix themselves and everything around them so easily, there would be no need for the State and Government in the first place.

If citizens act contrary to law, enforce the law!


Source: Boniface A. Sutinga

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