Thursday, July 14, 2005

on Slavery and That We Must Always Go Back To A First Convention

again, this is Rousseau not me.

SINCE no man has a natural authority over his fellow, and force creates no right, we must conclude that conventions form the basis of all legitimate authority among men.

If an individual, says Grotius, can alienate his liberty and make himself the slave of a master, why could not a whole people do the same and make itself subject to a king? There are in this passage plenty of ambiguous words which would need explaining; but let us confine ourselves to the word alienate. To alienate is to give or to sell. Now, a man who becomes the slave of another does not give himself; he sells himself, at the least for his subsistence: but for what does a people sell itself? A king is so far from furnishing his subjects with their subsistence that he gets his own only from them; and, according to Rabelais, kings do not live on nothing. Do subjects then give their persons on condition that the king takes their goods also? I fail to see what they have left to preserve.

It will be said that the despot assures his subjects civil tranquillity. Granted; but what do they gain, if the wars his ambition brings down upon them, his insatiable avidity, and the vexations conduct of his ministers press harder on them than their own dissensions would have done? What do they gain, if the very tranquillity they enjoy is one of their miseries? Tranquillity is found also in dungeons; but is that enough to make them desirable places to live in? The Greeks imprisoned in the cave of the Cyclops lived there very tranquilly, while they were awaiting their turn to be devoured.

To say that a man gives himself gratuitously, is to say what is absurd and inconceivable; such an act is null and illegitimate, from the mere fact that he who does it is out of his mind. To say the same of a whole people is to suppose a people of madmen; and madness creates no right.

Even if each man could alienate himself, he could not alienate his children: they are born men and free; their liberty belongs to them, and no one but they has the right to dispose of it. Before they come to years of discretion, the father can, in their name, lay down conditions for their preservation and well-being, but he cannot give them irrevocably and without conditions: such a gift is contrary to the ends of nature, and exceeds the rights of paternity. It would therefore be necessary, in order to legitimise an arbitrary government, that in every generation the people should be in a position to accept or reject it; but, were this so, the government would be no longer arbitrary.

To renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to surrender the rights of humanity and even its duties. For him who renounces everything no indemnity is possible. Such a renunciation is incompatible with man's nature; to remove all liberty from his will is to remove all morality from his acts. Finally, it is an empty and contradictory convention that sets up, on the one side, absolute authority, and, on the other, unlimited obedience. Is it not clear that we can be under no obligation to a person from whom we have the right to exact everything? Does not this condition alone, in the absence of equivalence or exchange, in itself involve the nullity of the act? For what right can my slave have against me, when all that he has belongs to me, and, his right being mine, this right of mine against myself is a phrase devoid of meaning?

Grotius and the rest find in war another origin for the so-called right of slavery. The victor having, as they hold, the right of killing the vanquished, the latter can buy back his life at the price of his liberty; and this convention is the more legitimate because it is to the advantage of both parties.

But it is clear that this supposed right to kill the conquered is by no means deducible from the state of war. Men, from the mere fact that, while they are living in their primitive independence, they have no mutual relations stable enough to constitute either the state of peace or the state of war, cannot be naturally enemies. War is constituted by a relation between things, and not between persons; and, as the state of war cannot arise out of simple personal relations, but only out of real relations, private war, or war of man with man, can exist neither in the state of nature, where there is no constant property, nor in the social state, where everything is under the authority of the laws.

Individual combats, duels and encounters, are acts which cannot constitute a state; while the private wars, authorised by the Establishments of Louis IX, King of France, and suspended by the Peace of God, are abuses of feudalism, in itself an absurd system if ever there was one, and contrary to the principles of natural right and to all good polity.

War then is a relation, not between man and man, but between State and State, and individuals are enemies only accidentally, not as men, nor even as citizens,3 but as soldiers; not as members of their country, but as its defenders. Finally, each State can have for enemies only other States, and not men; for between things disparate in nature there can be no real relation.

Furthermore, this principle is in conformity with the established rules of all times and the constant practice of all civilised peoples. Declarations of war are intimations less to powers than to their subjects. The foreigner, whether king, individual, or people, who robs, kills or detains the subjects, without declaring war on the prince, is not an enemy, but a brigand. Even in real war, a just prince, while laying hands, in the enemy's country, on all that belongs to the public, respects the lives and goods of individuals: he respects rights on which his own are founded. The object of the war being the destruction of the hostile State, the other side has a right to kill its defenders, while they are bearing arms; but as soon as they lay them down and surrender, they cease to be enemies or instruments of the enemy, and become once more merely men, whose life no one has any right to take. Sometimes it is possible to kill the State without killing a single one of its members; and war gives no right which is not necessary to the gaining of its object. These principles are not those of Grotius: they are not based on the authority of poets, but derived from the nature of reality and based on reason.

The right of conquest has no foundation other than the right of the strongest. If war does not give the conqueror the right to massacre the conquered peoples, the right to enslave them cannot be based upon a right which does not exist. No one has a right to kill an enemy except when he cannot make him a slave, and the right to enslave him cannot therefore be derived from the right to kill him. It is accordingly an unfair exchange to make him buy at the price of his liberty his life, over which the victor holds no right. Is it not clear that there is a vicious circle in founding the right of life and death on the right of slavery, and the right of slavery on the right of life and death?

Even if we assume this terrible right to kill everybody, I maintain that a slave made in war, or a conquered people, is under no obligation to a master, except to obey him as far as he is compelled to do so. By taking an equivalent for his life, the victor has not done him a favour; instead of killing him without profit, he has killed him usefully. So far then is he from acquiring over him any authority in addition to that of force, that the state of war continues to subsist between them: their mutual relation is the effect of it, and the usage of the right of war does not imply a treaty of peace. A convention has indeed been made; but this convention, so far from destroying the state of war, presupposes its continuance.

So, from whatever aspect we regard the question, the right of slavery is null and void, not only as being illegitimate, but also because it is absurd and meaningless. The words slave and right contradict each other, and are mutually exclusive. It will always be equally foolish for a man to say to a man or to a people: "I make with you a convention wholly at your expense and wholly to my advantage; I shall keep it as long as I like, and you will keep it as long as I like."

THAT WE MUST ALWAYS GO BACK TO A FIRST CONVENTIONEVEN if I granted all that I have been refuting, the friends of despotism would be no better off. There will always be a great difference between subduing a multitude and ruling a society. Even if scattered individuals were successively enslaved by one man, however numerous they might be, I still see no more than a master and his slaves, and certainly not a people and its ruler; I see what may be termed an aggregation, but not an association; there is as yet neither public good nor body politic. The man in question, even if he has enslaved half the world, is still only an individual; his interest, apart from that of others, is still a purely private interest. If this same man comes to die, his empire, after him, remains scattered and without unity, as an oak falls and dissolves into a heap of ashes when the fire has consumed it.

A people, says Grotius, can give itself to a king. Then, according to Grotius, a people is a people before it gives itself. The gift is itself a civil act, and implies public deliberation. It would be better, before examining the act by which a people gives itself to a king, to examine that by which it has become a people; for this act, being necessarily prior to the other, is the true foundation of society.

Indeed, if there were no prior convention, where, unless the election were unanimous, would be the obligation on the minority to submit to the choice of the majority? How have a hundred men who wish for a master the right to vote on behalf of ten who do not? The law of majority voting is itself something established by convention, and presupposes unanimity, on one occasion at least.

At this point, we need to stop and let these premises sink in. This is the primary basis for Rousseau's political thinking, so at this point I would like to ask whether this is a sound basis for leadershipor not; and if not, then abviously why not? I will assume after a few days that if there are no posted discrepancies then I have your tacit agreement on the foundations of Rousseau's philosophy to this point.


Blogger JasonJ said...

So, in these two chapters Rousseau argues on the right of slavery.

This of course would seem pointless to argue in our present age. Would anyone argue on the side of slavery today? Yet it is worth mentioning here, in my little corner of the world, for us to ponder and if anyone be so inclined to dispute.

What of a people alienating themselves to a master? I find this analogous to events happening in our world, in our time. What do I mean, you ask? I refer to our American situation post 9/11 and the more recent situation in London. As Rousseau stated "It will be said that the despot assures his subjects civil tranquillity. Granted; but what do they gain, if the wars his ambition brings down upon them, his insatiable avidity, and the vexations conduct of his ministers press harder on them than their own dissensions would have done? What do they gain, if the very tranquillity they enjoy is one of their miseries? Tranquillity is found also in dungeons; but is that enough to make them desirable places to live in? The Greeks imprisoned in the cave of the Cyclops lived there very tranquilly, while they were awaiting their turn to be devoured."

Our prison is our tranquility, our slavery on the other hand has been meaded out to us in much smaller doses however. What do you mean Jason? I am talking about the slavery of Capitalism. I am talking of the dumbing down process involved in what we were duped into believing was democracy some odd 230 years ago. I am talking about the America we were sold and the one we ended up with.

I read this social contract of Rousseau's and I see so many of the things that we, as a people, were promised by our leadership over the past two centuries and I see the reality of what we really bought into. It infuriates me to a point where I can no longer take it most of the time.

So let me hear your take on this before I go any further.

Tue Jul 19, 07:45:00 PM CDT  
Blogger Mannning said...

"It will be said that the despot assures his subjects civil tranquillity. Granted; but what do they gain, if the wars his ambition brings down upon them, his insatiable avidity, and the vexations conduct of his ministers press harder on them than their own dissensions would have done? What do they gain, if the very tranquillity they enjoy is one of their miseries?

Jason, the first thing I think of is historical perspective. I do not believe that our times, and our present government, is better or worse that many of the past. It is just that we are exposed to far more information than in prior years about every little step and every faux pas that happens.

The second thing I think of is that we do have a system that works, not perfectly by any means, and perhaps too slow in response to some pressing needs, but it has been chugging along better than most other governments for your 250 years. My personal belief is that on any given day, month, year, or even four years, we will experience a number of crises, a number of false starts and perhaps even more corrective steps after them. That is the usual pattern for over two centuries.

The one thing I find hard to measure is whether we are losing freedoms and liberties by increments that are too difficult to detect until suddenly a big part of them is gone. My only measure is whether I am personally impacted by the loss of any freedom, or whether anyone I trust reports that he has lost freedoms he once had, and should still have
(excepting convicted criminals, of course!).

My answer, as honestly as I can probe my own situation, is simply no. In fact, because of personal developments, my net freedom and liberty is far better today than at any other time. That is because I have retired, which gives me free time to indulge my interests, and I have sufficient funds to do what I want to do. So I am not bound by the necessity to make a living, nor to cow tow to some management or customer base.

However, there are some freedoms I miss, because of the increased security in place around DC, for example, and because of the travel I will not undertake to dangerous destinations.

But as for DC, I remember vividly what happened after December 7th, 1941, to my favorite city, resulting from going to war. Suddenly, there were antiaircraft guns emplaced all over downtown, in the parks, and in other strategic places, and troops patrolling the streets, on rooftops, and whatever. Nothing new, simply reaction to the uncertainties of war. By 1944, they were mostly gone, but to be replaced later on by rings of antiaircraft missiles during the Cold War. Now they are all gone.

So will the tighter security
around there today, sooner or later. Ah, perspective -- what comes around, goes around.

Same with governments. I have lived from Roosevelt through Bush II. Large swings to the Left, followed by swings to the Right, and with enormous difficulties, such as WWII, at every turn; many times we wanted to run downtown to 1600 PA Ave, and jerk the incumbent out of there.

Without providing any proof, I would speculate that the sins of every one of those Presidents, if fully revealed somehow, would shock the body politic to the core. They are not fully revealed, and for good reason. But that isn't the thrust of this little tome.

One word keyed me here, and that was tranquillity! No one has ever said that tranquillity was a right: it is to be provided for, surely, other things being equal. But life isn't organized around tranquillity, personal or civil. The world isn't organized around tranquillity either, witness the some 60 or so wars going on the average every year in the 20th century alone. Throw in pestilences, hurricanes, tsunamis
and "ordinary crimes" and you have a very untranquil world, not to mention also having to deal with internal genocides, famine, poverty, crime and other failings of foreign governments (and ours, too!).

Ah! Perspective! We are extremely fortunate to be living in the US, as compared to just about any other country I know. Just pick one, and look hard at it.

The slavery of Capitalism has bitten you? Whether slave or free, one must work for a living, provide for the family, and build a home that is as secure as possible. But, I am not as aware of this slavery aspect as perhaps you are.

I have never felt to be a slave, except at my own choice, and because of my own ambitions. I chose to work and struggle long hours to be promoted and raised in salary. I chose to change jobs for a better deal. I chose to move many times, 17 in all, including lots of in-company moves. I chose to take night courses, and to study on my own. I was compensated for it all, too, in many ways. The fact is, I enjoyed all of it, except the war part.

Many of my friends were far less adverse to risk than I was, and therefore they launched companies right and left. At least seven of them are now in the millionaire bracket, and most of them are still sitting on top of livewire organizations. Many times I had the urge too, to form my own company, but opted for the safer route to a monthly paycheck each time I did get the bug.

In a later post, I will make a comparison of what I feel are the deficiencies of the Social Contract relative to what we have now. So far, I have logged about 21 of them, but they do need some work to reduce overlaps.
Will look in later.

Fri Aug 12, 05:12:00 PM CDT  

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