Born free but everywhere in chains Blair vs Rousseau: The Social Contract Debate
In Mr Blair's analysis, so-called ‘radical reforms’ to welfare and public services announced in yesterday's Queen’s speech will create a new 'social contract' between the people and the state. Is this a fair and legitimate Social Contract? Just precisely who is agreeing to it?
The Disability Rights Commission, for instance, offers a differing perspective that is in sharp contrast to New Labour’s spin on the proposed ‘reforms’ to incapacity benefits - that appear to be integral to this new 'social contract'. The DRC’s Bert Massie says: "If the government is serious about supporting disabled people back into work, then the energy it has exerted in sounding tough should be turned toward the real challenges - tackling the barriers to work, ending employer discrimination and investing in disabled people's skills."
Meanwhile, Leonard Cheshire's Jon Knight said: "The government's policies could end up making disabled people, already some of the poorest in society, even poorer. People whose condition causes them pain or fatigue should not be forced to look for employment."
A famous social contract theorist was Jean Jacques Rousseau. He was cynical of certain concepts of the social contract. He warned of the wealthiest and most powerful members of society tricking the general population to accept the legitimacy of states of conflict, and so cementing inequality as a permanent feature of human society. His 'Social Contract' can be understood as an alternative to this fraudulent form of association.
His book Social Contract
(1762), emphasised the rights of the people over those of the government. According to Rousseau's line of argument, it should be the people not the Prime Minister declaring a new Social Contract. In Social Contract
he also argued that government is justified only if sovereignty stays with the people. He thereby rejected representative democracy in favour of direct democracy, modelled on the Greek polis and the Swiss canton, and stated that a government could be legitimately overthrown if it failed to express the general will of the people.Classic Rousseau Quotes: Humanity was born free, and we are everywhere in chains
- Rousseau, The Social Contract, 1762The first man who, having fenced off a plot of land, thought of saying, 'This is mine' and found people simple enough to believe him was the real founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders, how many miseries and horrors might the human race had been spared by the one who, upon pulling up the stakes or filling in the ditch, had shouted to his fellow humans: 'Beware of listening to this imposter; you are lost if you forget the fruits of the earth belong to all and that the earth belongs to no one.'
- Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, 1755In the strict sense of the term, a true democracy has never existed, and will never exist. It is against natural order that the great number should govern and that the few should be governed.
- Rousseau, The Social Contract, 1762Useful Links: Warning over benefit reformDriving a radical reform agendaNew Labour, new moralism: the welfare politics and ideology of New Labour under BlairJean Jacques Rousseau (on the Social Contract & the Origins of Inequality)
jean-jacques rousseau on education