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Expropriating Excesses: The Social Contract

War of all against all (bellum omnium contra omnes) - Thomas Hobbes

Economics as a discipline draws a playing field between the subtleties of human behavior and the intricate web of politics that form the background of policymaking. The environment of Political Economy is an outline of the philosophical investigation of social interactions that shape individual interest. The most primal of such outlines is a social contract, whereby individuals submit, either explicitly or tacitly, to a purported authority and enter into a cycle of protection and obedience. The varied nature of first principles employed to critically analyze this phenomenon needs scrutiny. It is either divine intervention as an omnipotent Reason that necessitates Machiavellian subjugation or it is the reality of homogenization. 

Chris Harman, in his A People’s History of the World draws an extensive chronology of human life from prehistory and settled agriculture to late capitalism post 1989. An existential explosion of this chronology can also be witnessed in Carl Sagan’s Cosmic Calendar, a quite popular pedagogical tool in classrooms today. In realization of the conversion of human existence in 24 hours, settled civilization spans a mere 1 hour, where capitalism occupies slightly more than 4 minutes. In the Cosmic Calendar, human existence appears right before the strike of midnight, 31st December. To think of human lives as perpetually in inequality and war is an incorrect conjecture, as anthropological and social history point to fairly egalitarian micro communities. Dynamic technical processes and productive forces at the onset of settled agriculture leads to the creation of a surplus, which also marks the transformation of labor interactions. 

Among a myriad of thinkers in Ancient Greece and Warring China, the most critically acclaimed writings are of Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher who propounded the existence of a state of nature devoid of any authority or government. In said state according to Hobbes, individual liberty reigns supreme and human life simply attempts to protect its primitive subsistence, resulting in “a war of all against all”. Hobbes hereby legitimizes the existence of a supreme authority to whom one must surrender some liberties to enjoy a lot more. Rousseau in his treatises, is quite different in his analysis. He posits that a Hobbesian state of nature presupposes that man has any consciousness of liberty, a societal output, which must be guarded. For Rousseau, an independent human mind in its infancy is a blank slate. Thus, the state of nature must be absolved of all notions of justice and liberty. John Rawls as a contemporary political theorist moves into a rather game-theoretic simulation of a veil that creates necessary conditions for its coexistence, criticized by Michael Sandel who questions its cognitive and social capacity. Noted philosophers also posit the existence of Justice as independent of human interaction, as theologically natural. Epicurean ethics however, is one of the first documented attempts to argue that Justice is the first outcome of the social contract. 

Hegelian Dialectics and its complement in Marxian Historical Materialism is a significant departure from Classical and Renaissance theory. For Marx and Engels, the driving force of human history is the relation of humans with nature. Inasmuch as social change is concerned, the exertion of effort and activity towards nature, i.e. labor, is a material reality. Here, existence precedes essence under the presupposed notion that nature and material around the human is unconscious. The interaction of humans with unconscious objects creates a dialectic. The process whereby the object becomes known is under constant change. For Hegel, a concept of material reality is omnipotent, absolute, and pure. This absolute concept is under consistent self-development that manifests itself as a natural necessity in man’s consciousness. An interpretation of this Idealism would be that man as a conscious reflex under said necessity creates a dialectic as a duplicate of the absolute concept, which undergoes a spiral of contradictions and social change. The Newtonian general laws of motion is an example of how knowledge as human labor reacts consciously to the absolute concept of an apple that falls from the tree, its duplicate. The general laws undergo constant social change as they contain contradictions. Thus, we enter the realm of Quantum Physics and Relativity through epochs of discourse. 

Marx, in his materialist perspective, rejected the ideas of absolute truth and false. Social change for him is always internalized and is not exhaustively an exogenous transformation. He posited relative truths that create and satisfy the superstructure that forms under prevalent social productive forces, the appropriation of class systems and production relations. The social contract is thus, the ownership of the means of production and the social processes that shape what is also known as bourgeois mythology. Labor is a feature common among all societies, it is never isolated. Capitalism arises out of Feudalism not because it is ideally transcendent. The superstructure transforms itself due to the incompatibility of productive forces with nature. 

Taking cue from mercantilist Europe, i.e. under a capitalist purview of the contract, Post Structuralism would associate Rex with an unlimited regulation of its populace. The capitalist state is also in ideological conflict with its international neighbors (a refined state of nature?). The generalized nature of mass produced individuality under a model of acquisitive behavior comes from a social assembly line that defines so called outlier personalities as mere defectives which need collection, scrutinization, and further refinement of the assembly line, analogous to statistical control methods employed in a milieu of Taylor’s management. Said refinement of this (social) assembly line is normalization or standardization. Mass production under this refined superstructure also transforms lacunae in social spheres such as family, gender roles, and healthcare that fits in the dialectic conforming to the class that recognizes itself as the authority.  

Francis Fukuyama’s coinage of the end of history explains the so-called defeat of Communism by western liberal democracy after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Post-1989 discourse of social structures and political philosophy as posited has led to a transformation where criticism has become descriptive, away from its argumentative aspects. Human existence has seemingly reached a plateau of eccentric and anomalistic expression where parliamentary democracy is the best humanity can achieve. The anti-critical postmodern has been naturalized to expect deviance as a subject to discipline. However, the Third-World and its recognition must not imply the fall in its capacity to criticize. The death of criticism must be revived to arrive at a new social order where Rousseau’s populism possibly complements a rather (negative) autocratic agreement of obedience and government rationality that finds a natural necessity of promoting a positive state of mutual offerings from collective labor.

By: Kunal Panda (


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