Arguments against political science Ruthless Criticism

Translated from Sozialistische Gruppe, Erlangen/Nürnberg

Arguments against political science

In the human-all-too-human sciences, a platitude can’t be old enough not to be repeated over and over again. When knowledge doesn’t matter, but interpreting domination, violence and virtue as enormously sensible does, the intellectual tradition “proves” the importance of “problems” solely by affirming that they exist. This is the value of the history of ideas for political science. If the mind “proves” that power is reasonable and necessary not just today, but has been for over two thousand, why not fall back on this?

The ancient thinkers are useful for providing good “reasons” for subjects that modern citizens get emotionally involved in – which is why the reasons are not very important. If ARISTOTLE defines man as a “social animal” = a state-forming being, he is no less “interesting,” i.e. useful, than HOBBES, who defines man as by nature “antisocial” and misanthropic, i.e. “lupus.” After all, in both cases, misanthropy is only a small detour in arriving at the same groundbreaking discovery: “The state is cool!”

And yet one could certainly learn one thing from the ancients when they show up in the curriculum: namely, that partisanship for violence and domination cannot do without stupidities of a high caliber. To do this, however, one would have to do them the honor of taking their thoughts on man and state seriously and therefore questioning their truth.

The contract theory of Thomas Hobbes:
One minute the riffraff are at each other’s throats – the next minute they’re friends again

I. The “Epistemological interest”

As if from the very start he wanted to expose the lie of every writer of secondary literature who sympathetically categorizes his theory into an expression of “his times,” Thomas Hobbes put in writing, in no uncertain terms, the conclusions he drew from “his time.”

“But now on the contrary, that neither the Sword nor the pen should be allowed any Cessation … are so many signes, so many manifest Arguments, that what hath hitherto been written by Morall philosophers, hath not made any progress in the knowledge of the Truth.” “For were the nature of humane Actions as distinctly knowne, as the nature of Quantity in Geometricall Figures, the strength of Avarice and Ambition, which is sustained by the erroneous opinions of the Vulgar, as touching the nature of Right and Wrong, would presently faint and languish...” (De Cive, Introduction)

There is civil war, and Hobbes’ diagnosis is constructed in such a way that the only therapy worth considering is his: the war proves to him that state theory is inadequate. The criterion for its truth is peace. If truth is supposed to eradicate ambition, avarice and erroneous opinions, which are allegedly to blame for war – he conversely does not mean anything theoretical by “erroneous”: it consists in disrupting the peace – said “opinions” do this just by claiming for themselves a private judgment of “Right and Wrong”:

“ ...and that the question whether any future action will prove just or unjust, good or ill, is to be demanded of none, but those to whom the supreme hath committed the interpretation of his Lawes; surely he will not only shew us the high way to peace, but will also teach us how to avoyd the close, darke, and dangerous by-paths of faction and sedition ....” (ibid.)

This makes it clear, on the one hand, that the security Hobbes wishes to establish for the sake of peace is not a theoretical one. Seeking peace coincides with seeking to promote a “civil commonwealth.” (Leviathan) On the other hand, he allows himself the contradiction of wanting to theoretically derive the very result of his analysis which he postulates as necessary from the outset – the sovereignty of the state can only exist as absolute.

II. “The idea of man”

In contrast to the religious legitimization of feudal rule as one of “God’s graces,” Hobbes constructs a model of the state that corresponds to the natrue of its “elements,” men. This, of all things, has earned him the label of an “empirical political theorist,” very “unjustly”: simply taking the “experience” of the struggle for state power between Cromwell and Charles I as a starting point, different conclusions could have “resulted” than, of all things, that man is struggling with himself and therefore urgently in need of a state.

Hobbes constructs his man according to what he intends to prove. Firstly, his essential destiny is supposed to be a “motion of limbs” and, as a mere natural being, to have no free will. “Now appetitie, then aversion, is generated by those things desired or shunned.” (De Homine) The will is declared to be a product of external nature, thus denied and at the same time assumed: In accordance with his (moving) nature, man directs his will – aimlessly and self-indulgently at everything; and with this cheap trick for an argument, secondly, the fundamental “anti-social” nature of man is also checked off.

Certainly every desire has a measure in itself because it is always determined qualitatively and quantitatively. This is the only reason there can be a satisfaction of desire. Hobbesian man, because he has nothing specific in mind, is of course never satisfied, and therefore wants above all that no one else gets anything; an invention that necessarily entails the “war of all against all” in the “state of nature.”

“Man is then most troublesome when he is most at ease.” (Leviathan)

“It may seem strange to some man that has not well weighed these things that Nature should thus dissociate and render men apt to invade and destroy one another.” (ibid.)

Thus destined by nature to do evil, Hobbes then also gives him “reason.” This is determined no less contradictorily than man himself. The fact that he has reason, i.e. that he thinks about what he is doing, does not detract from his natural determination to do evil. On the contrary, it makes it even worse: while animals “cannot distinguish between injury and damage; and therefore as long as they be at ease, they are not offended with their fellows,” for man “joy consisteth in comparing himself with other men, can relish nothing but what is eminent.” (ibid.) Thus, on the one hand, he has a negative relationship to all other individuals that is as necessary as it is groundless; on the other hand, Hobbes now introduces freedom of action as a consequence of reason, which he has just denied. In the end, he only envisions the “war of all against all” and the “homo homini lupus” so that the state can emerge out of this.

III. The “sovereign contract”

Therefore, in and through “war,” there arises among men

“the foresight of their own preservation … of getting themselves out from that miserable condition of war which is necessarily consequent, as hath been shown, to the natural passions of men when there is no visible power to keep them in awe”

“And reason suggesteth convenient articles of peace upon which men may be drawn to agreement.”

What drives him toward evil then drives him back toward good! This contradiction is now absolutely necessary, because without a “reason” that has the content of “a state must be created to tame me,” Hobbesian men will never agree, let alone establish a state “by contract.” Because he himself is supposed to not be able to abide by his highly reasonable principles; that is why he creates a state power which then compels him by force to do exactly what his evil ego always prevents him from doing.

IV. “Leviathan”

But that doesn’t mean peace, happiness and pancakes breaks out: If they were all “reasonable,” there would again be no need for absolute force! Hobbes thus concedes “a little peace” and “reason,” which is just enough to make a treaty, only to immediately deny it again. The treaty-makers remain the wolves they are:

“Therefore it is no wonder if there be somewhat else required, besides covenant, to make their agreement constant and lasting; which is a common power to keep them in awe and to direct their actions to the common benefit.” “And covenants, without the sword, are but words and of no strength to secure a man at all.”

Hobbes is kind enough to explicitly put the circularity of his covenant idea in writing: This contract is only possible if the force that arises from it compels everyone to abide by the contract, i.e. if the force already exists beforehand. Contradictions can be ignored when, by hook or by crook, the citizens surrender of their will is to be legitimized as their voluntary act. An individual will that opposes the state is declared to be a logical impossibility by Hobbes with the conclusion that a contract for rule = a contract for submission: it is their political will “and consequently he that brings an action against the sovereign brings it against himself.” (Leviathan)

It’s almost like in the modern constitutional state: exercising the will is permitted as long as it does not affect the state. Hobbes did not want to rely on voluntary submission. The democratic guild of political scientists is happy to forgive this, since with the insights from II and II above they nevertheless argue more or less their most important lesson: the legitimization of rule.

John Locke: On Government
How the lords of property overcame their untenable state of nature and finally came to agreement thanks to the state.

In the history of political ideas, John Locke is praised as the “pioneer of the liberal democratic state.” While Hobbes justified absolutism with his homo homini lupus and is therefore not so easily assimilated into the democratic guild (which, of course, doesn’t change the fact that modern democrats can’t “derive” the state without thinking of anything other than the Hobbesian construct of a profoundly evil human nature), Locke is said to have the advantage that “from the symmetry of his conception of man” emerges an “equally balanced picture of statehood.” “His” state was not as “gloomy” and “strict” as Hobbes’, but on the other hand he was also careful not to fall into “effusions of harmony” like his fellow contractor Rousseau did 70 years after him. In short: Locke is an extremely popular classic among today’s political scientists because he was a “herald of freedom” and yet always kept an eye on the “reality of a broad power base” (all quotes from the afterword to the Reclam edition by Mayer-Tasch). One can say this much about the political science ranking which does not examine a single thought, but strictly follows the criterion: What does the man offer our need for justification which praises modern democracy as the most successful combination of freedom and subordination?

I. Locke’s state of nature

Like all the classical authors who wanted to put the bourgeois state power in the right as opposed to a feudal power which legitimized itself with divine authority, Locke draws up a “state of nature” at the beginning of his (second) treatise “On Government” that is supposed to be valid prior to any political power. Of course, this has very little to do with nature, as can easily be inferred from the explanations of its inventor:

“To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.

A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection ...”

As mentioned, the author’s intention is clear: the emphatic assertion that men are free and equal by nature is aimed at the propagandists of the feudal order who legitimized their favorite power’s access to the lives and belongings of its subjects and the creation of privileges as the enforcement of a divinely ordained natural order. However, Locke’s reversal of this logic is just as absurd as the assertion he is opposing. Nature never, ever brings about a law that grants people freedom and property. Freedom – whether perfect or not – always refers to a relation that society – or more precisely, a law-making authority – takes to an action. It is the explicit permission to have oneself (!) and/or a thing at one’s disposal, something that wouldn’t make the least bit of sense without the power to just as well prohibit it. Locke’s way of saying that freedom of property, life and health exist without asking anyone’s permission is an obvious idealism: the assertion of one’s own freedom always assumes dependence on others who have discretion over whether this claim is respected – after all, one does not need to expressly allow oneself what “seems best for oneself”! And Locke’s condition of freedom and equality assumes that the elementary “legal rights” he cites are not so self-evident. The state philosopher readily admits in the course of his argument that the “state of nature” he conceives, in which all individuals endowed with rights do nothing but rip into each other, is anything but a state of things, but requires continual forcible reinstatement:

“And that all men may be restrained from invading others rights, and from doing hurt to one another, and the law of nature be observed, which willeth the peace and preservation of all mankind, the execution of the law of nature is, in that state, put into every man’s hands, whereby every one has a right to punish the transgressors of that law to such a degree, as may hinder its violation: for the law of nature would, as all other laws that concern men in this world be in vain, if there were no body that in the state of nature had a power to execute that law, and thereby preserve the innocent and restrain offenders.”

“Every offence, that can be committed in the state of nature, may in the state of nature be also punished equally, and as far forth as it may, in a commonwealth.”

Of course, this once again raises a number of questions. Where should the constant need to harm one another come from if everyone wants nothing more than to “guide their actions” without dictation? Locke expressly refuses to accept the fact that in doing so he gets in the way of others – namely because of the nature of his “property,” i.e. the means with which he wants “his best.” Insofar as he only does this, everything is for him in the most beautiful (natural law) order. All that remains is the assumption of an unfathomably evil will that wants to invade the lives and property of others, which always threatens to destroy the coexistence of the “by nature” free and equal citizens. But: if everyone must be assumed to have such a will to encroach, constantly and in principle, how can the same people then be the appointed guardians of the law who, in punishing the wrongdoers, have nothing else in mind than the disinterested protection of law and order? A strange construction: everyone is a potential “lawbreaker” and at the same time a potential enforcer of the law!

Finally: where does the power necessary for punishment come from for the individual if there is no relationship of superiority and subordination between the equal members of society?

The point of these “absurdities” is, of course, this: Locke constructs his “state of nature” so absurdly that its own untenability becomes obvious. One can already guess what is coming: the positive characteristics of the “state of nature” – a universally valid law that grants “rights” to everyone without them having a master over them; which everyone violates just as much as they ensure that it is observed; whose violation everyone punishes on behalf of everyone else – are precisely the defects of that ominous state of affairs which must be eliminated by creating an independent political power.

“Want of a common judge with authority, puts all men in a state of nature: force without right, upon a man’s person, makes a state of war...”

It is no coincidence that this kind of derivation is reminiscent of a sleight of hand trick: if all the determinations of a legal relationship are included in the “state of nature” and the corresponding violence that gives the law its validity in the first place is left out (or, which is the same thing, it lets the individuals subject to the law enforce it on their own), then the absence of this violence suddenly becomes very noticeable: a “state of war” threatens which, on the other hand, no “living being endowed with reason” can want. So the “state of nature” can only endure if it is abolished and “transitions” into a state of affairs supervised by a sovereign power. And that is the fundamental legitimization of the bourgeois state power which for its part has no independent purpose at all, but is supposed to be sovereign over its subjects solely to make the “blessings” of the “state of nature” permanent – by thankfully preventing the transition to a “state of war” time and again.

II. Property and money

In contrast to Hobbes, who defines the state exclusively as the successful tamer of untamed human nature, Locke’s derivation of the state makes use of a category that actually has something to do with the bourgeois state power, that is, property, the protection of which is the primary concern of “political society.” The only question is whether Locke’s property has anything to do with the legal relationship of the same name established by bourgeois power. This is how he sees property:

“Thus the grass my horse has bit; the turfs my servant has cut; and the ore I have digged in any place, where I have a right to them in common with others, become my property, without the assignation or consent of any body. The labour that was mine, removing them out of that common state they were in, hath fixed my property in them.”

The author’s confusion here consists of the following: Either it is about the relationship of men to nature, which they engross for the purpose of enjoyment or alter through labor in accordance with this purpose: In that case, however, all remarks to the effect that this would establish a legal relationship that excludes others from the means on which they depend for their existence have no place. How could the latter result from the mere appropriation of a piece of nature? Or does he imagine from the outset a relationship in which the enjoyment of a patch of earth competes with the enjoyment of others? In that case, however, the existence of a force is always assumed which assigns the character of property to the means of subsistence? How “natural” Mr. Locke’s right of property is can be seen from the fact that his scenario also includes, without further ado, a “servant,” i.e. someone who is forced to provide pure service to a master and whose work products “naturally” become the master’s property. Somehow, then, certain people must have been violently separated from their means of (re)production. And conversely, the purpose of this relationship of enjoyment cannot possibly be to enjoy the gifts of nature made available through labor as undisturbed as possible. But this is precisely how Locke wants to see the world of property: Each of the lords of property claims his share of property over the natural foundations of life, which, however, he does not need to enforce against anyone because he is only interested in its innocent enjoyment for the purpose of consumption anyway, which is why this type of property right should also have very narrow limits:

“But be this as it will, which I lay no stress on; this I dare boldly affirm, that the same rule of propriety, (viz.) that every man should have as much as he could make use of, would hold still in the world, without straitening any body; since there is land enough in the world to suffice double the inhabitants, had not the invention of money, and the tacit agreement of men to put a value on it, introduced (by consent) larger possessions, and a right to them.”

“And thus came in the use of money, some lasting thing that men might keep without spoiling, and that by mutual consent men would take in exchange for the truly useful, but perishable supports of life... So this invention of money gave them the opportunity to continue and enlarge them.”

Locke himself must have realized that his harmonious view of property never makes the transition to a sovereign state power plausible. And that is ultimately what matters. Consequently, he also constructs a fall from grace which seems very innocent in its own right, but which nevertheless upsets the beautifully balanced world of property and causes the “encroachments” which then make the intervention of a state easy to understand.

None of this is logical, any more than the preceding: Why should “men” have suddenly become dissatisfied with the state of affairs described by Locke? Why should they suddenly want more than they can enjoy? Conversely, why should money – defined by Locke as the mere possibility of “enlarging property” – mess up this peculiar rule of propriety? How do the participants in this “market activity” come into possession of “lasting” money instead of “perishable” goods? They must have already produced for the market, i.e. beyond their own needs, for the purpose of turning their products into money. And the “enlargement” of property – still presented as the sum of useful goods – is simply impossible through the mere “invention of money”: after all, money is neither labor power nor means of production that help produce more goods.

In short: Locke’s peculiar functions of money themselves presuppose that it is about something other than the production, storage and consumption of use values. As a legal title to wealth that is separate from all useful things (and guaranteed by the state!), money by no means merely establishes the right to exchange it for every conceivable “means of subsistence.” Insofar as the possession of money is declared to be an indispensable condition for consumption, it also ensures that the members of society are divided into those who have money, and thus have the means of producing material wealth, and those who are forced by a lack of money to serve the property of others. How this relation of productive exclusion, which presupposes nothing less than the violent separation of a considerable part of the subjects from their means of subsistence, and which requires constant violent supervision to maintain it, is supposed to arise from a “convention of men” – such petty questions never even occur to Mr. Locke. After all, he wanted to “derive” the bourgeois state as the sovereign servant not of any people, but of property owners.

III. “Political society” – or: the social contract

It’s not difficult to guess how the old Englishman’s derivation continues: the owners diligently use their naturally lawful property, agree on hard money in the interim, thereby creating the “opportunity” for “unequal possession of the earth” and, at the end of their free handiwork, find themselves faced with a “condition” in which “his hold on the property he has in this state is very unsafe, very insecure,” i.e. “a state in which he is very free, but which is full of fears and continual dangers.”

Then follows the contradiction of all contract theories in matters of the state: the same people who are endowed with the will to take advantage of each other and who have created the necessary instruments for this make an “appeal” to each other in order to “agree with other men to unite into a community, so as to live together comfortably, safely, and peaceably.” Or:

“The great and chief end, therefore, of men’s uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property.”

Again: it’s either-or! Either the lords of property are sorry for the conflicts that make their existence so insecure and get rid of them – in which case no violence is needed. Or they want their advantage to continue at the expense of others, in which case, however, they are unlikely to bring themselves to team up. And in the latter case, the violence to which they supposedly voluntarily submit by no means ensures security and comfort, but rather that these conflicts can only be dealt with by referring to and using the means of a supreme force.

Mr. Locke spends the rest of the book setting out the constitutional principles of his state power and describing them in such a way that it fulfills the mission he has assigned to it. It is then like a modern political science seminar: The state philosopher ponders the problem of whether the sovereign rule he demands does not for its part degenerate into “tyranny” and comes up with a lot of “regulations” that should prevent such a “degeneration.” And lo and behold: with all the “restrictions” on sovereign power, the most important thing is not to misunderstood them, but to understand them correctly, namely as methods that truly perfect the sovereign’s exercise of power. A few samples:

In this Locke is indeed very modern, or rather: the political thinkers after him have not come up with anything better in terms of glorifying the bourgeois state: The power of the bourgeois state is not denied; its unlimited validity is demanded so that it can fulfill the tasks assigned to it: peace, freedom, protection (of property). But at the same time, efforts are made to prove that this power, unlike its predecessors, is legitimate. The fact that it does not act arbitrarily, but “only” makes its people do their duties according to its own principles, is enough to praise it, even if these principles in turn end in a higher principle, the unrestricted sovereignty of the bouregois state both internally and externally. Incidentally, the fact that the people are presented as the ideal sponsors of this power is anything but a relativization – on the contrary: insofar as this power is “one's own,” there is not the slightest reason to refuse to obey it; actually, there is the absolute duty to submit. Old Locke therefore already came up with one “right to resistance” – one to defend the principles of liberal government against the “tyrants” who want to override them...

Finally, an example of how clumsily the revered classical author argues when he “justifies” the fact that the bourgeois state power “cannot” be anything other than an executive organ of the people’s welfare:

“But though men, when they enter into society, give up the equality, liberty, and executive power they had in the state of nature, into the hands of the society, to be so far disposed of by the legislative, as the good of the society shall require; yet it being only with an intention in every one the better to preserve himself, his liberty and property; (for no rational creature can be supposed to change his condition with an intention to be worse) the power of the society, or legislative constituted by them, can never be supposed to extend farther, than the common good.”

This is also a very “modern” way of thinking: “giving up liberty,” i.e. subordination to the state, is the only possible way to maintain (one’s own) liberty. And why should one believe in this paradox? A seasoned state philosopher does not even bother to provide positive proof of the extent to which the sovereign state benefits which interest. That would also reveal which interests it continually restricts. He prefers to stick to his own fiction that the state is founded by contract – and lo and behold: if one assumes that people founded the state of their own free will, then it simply must be good – otherwise they wouldn’t have founded it in the first place! Anyone who claims otherwise is abusing mankind and his “reason”! A truly invincible argument!

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Social Contract
How Jean establishes a society with Jacques

The work is over 220 years old, the author has long since become dust and ashes – yet the verdict “hopelessly outdated” does not apply to the “contrat social” by the nature and state philosopher Rousseau. It is all the more astonishing that this old thinker formulated his “principles of constitutional law” against a regime that no longer exists. It can be assumed: The old thinker still seems to have a lot to offer the insatiable legitimization needs of today’s political scientists who glorify democracy as the most humane order – even if, in their opinion, his theory was completely wrong.

Neither the society nor the state of his time suited Rousseau. He found the “mores” depraved, the citizens selfish, and the distribution of wealth terribly unjust. He drew from this the peculiar conclusion that he should abandon any theoretical examination of the social conditions. The starting point of the “contrat social” is the statement

“MAN is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.”

which Roussaeu immediately abandons:

“How did this change come about? I do not know.”

I don't care, because I am concerned with something else. He is not at all concerned with what the rule he has identified and considers harmful is, how it came about and whether it should be abolished if necessary. The combination of these two sentences already contains all the idealism of the philosophical view: “Man” is indeed not free – but I, Rousseau, want to raise the postulate that he is free as an argument against the “chains.” Rousseau does not accept the feudal ideology of God-ordained social inequality and therefore the natural institution of absolute monarchy – and opposes it with the idea that everything could be different if only everything were not the way it is. Instead of a concern with objectivity, there are reflections on “principles” that should apply: those of a “legitimate” rule.

The social contract: the bourgeois join together with their own kind ...

In Rousseau’s contract theory, too, the natural man is free to give up his freedom. However, unlike Hobbes and Locke, for example, he does not invent an “objective constraint” for this, which would result from human nature (because their quarrelsome nature makes it virtually impossible to live together without a contract = rule). On the contrary:

“being born free and equal, [they] alienate their liberty only for their own advantage.”

However, it soon becomes clear that the “advantage” for which man supposedly uses his freedom to give it up of his own free will ultimately only consists in the fact that he rules over himself.

“The problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before.This is the fundamental problem of which the Social Contract provides the solution.”

Rousseau sets out to do nothing less than square the circle: He only “obeys himself alone” (why obey then?) by submitting and in submission “remains as free as before” – how could that possibly work? Strange: people are supposed to be in desperate need of “defending” and “protecting” before entering into the contract, but from whom, exactly? If they wanted to attack each other, the contract would not come about anyway. Rousseau doesn’t give any argument as to why they should not be able to live together without a contract, but at the same time assumes that one is a necessity for each individual. On the other hand, if individuals are assumed to be able and willing to conclude a contract among themselves with the content of “protect,” why is it even needed? The idea that people have to commit themselves to what they want in order to be able to command themselves to do what they want is a stupid one.

... in order to rule themselves ...

Although submission is supposed to be hunky-dory for the people, Rousseau is also quite familiar with the idea that voluntary submission to one’s – supposedly – own will is an impossibility: strangely enough, it always requires coercion:

“In order then that the social compact may not be an empty formula, it tacitly includes the undertaking, which alone can give force to the rest, that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free; for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his country, secures him against all personal dependence.”

If one wants to think of “freedom” as being free from any “chains,” from coercion, the statement would be obvious nonsense. On the other hand, one has to admit that it’s a very modern idea. Freedom is, firstly, obeying the government because it represents the common good, and secondly, loving the fatherland – that almost sounds like the Chancellor! However, the comparison is not entirely fair because, unlike the democratic ideology of politics, Rousseau stubbornly insists that citizens should exercise power over the government themselves. Even with the unambiguous formula about being forced to be free, he does not want to refute his starting point that men should only follow their own will!

This contradiction only expresses explicitly what is already included in the postulate of the contract itself: the contracting parties, insanely enough, only agree on wanting to reach an agreement, but on nothing else. Otherwise there would not be the “problem” of having to constantly reconcile the “special wills” with the “general will.” So Rousseau first imagines a group of individuals characterized by a congruence of interests, has them conclude a contract, and then reintroduces the permanent disagreement between the “special wills” and the “general will” as an argument. Oh dear: the general will does not even exist, it must first be constantly created by working through the “special wills.” If the benefit of all is the starting point of the contract, this should not be so difficult, one might think, because what is in the “general interest” corresponds to that of the individual. This is exactly what Rousseau demands and at the same time constantly denies. Somehow there is always a deviation:

“Each individual, as a man, may have a particular will contrary or dissimilar to the general will which he has as a citizen.”

It is inconceivable, however, that “man” should split himself into that hybrid being bourgeois and citoyen; this being owes itself to his social construction, in which simply nothing fits together.

... but he is not citoyen enough to do that...

He explicitly excludes a bourgeois society with its class antagonisms from being the basis of his social contract:

“Under bad governments, this equality is only apparent and illusory: it serves only to keep the pauper in his poverty and the rich man in the position he has usurped. In fact, laws are always of use to those who possess and harmful to those who have nothing: from which it follows that the social state I advantageous to men only when all have something and none too much.”

In such a society, the assumption of a social contract would be nothing more than a bad joke, Rousseau even believes, because the contract – i.e. the benefit of all which he postulates as the starting point and content of the agreement – would lead to an ad absurdum if it were concluded between the “haves” and the “have-nots”:

“The terms of the social compact between these two estates of men may be summed up in a few words. ‘You have need of me, because I am rich and you are poor. We will therefore come to an agreement. I will permit you to have the honour of serving me, on condition that you bestow on me the little you have left, in return for the pains I shall take to command you.’” (A Discourse on Political Economy)

For his model of the state, he postulates, on the one hand, the ideal of a community of small property owners without class antagonisms. For this reason, he also assumes that the general interest can be established through a debate in the marketplace in which everyone (in modern terms) “contributes”: this should “filter” the general will out of the special wills. On the other hand, he takes it for granted that there are “special wills” that cannot be reconciled without force for inexplicable reasons (at least not economic ones!). In order to bring them into line, a sovereign coercive authority over the individuals is therefore necessary, which must have “absolute power” over them and at the same time be absorbed into their will: The absolute sovereign is the totality! Individuals with a somewhat unwieldy special will can rejoice: as citizens, they want to give up their special interests anyway as soon as these are rejected by the citizens’ assembly. But because every individual is supposed to be both bourgeois and citoyen, and since a bourgeois does not want this abstraction from his own interests, the people as a whole cannot and must not rely on themselves.

... which is why he as sovereign forces himself!

“The Sovereign, being formed wholly of the individuals who compose it, neither has nor can have any interest contrary to theirs … The Sovereign, merely by virtue of what it is, is always what it should be.

This, however, is not the case with the relation of the subjects to the Sovereign, which, despite the common interest, would have no security that they would fulfil their undertakings, unless it found means to assure itself of their fidelity.”

In accordance with this contradictory definition of man – the reflection of the unresolved contradiction between the general interest and particular interests – Rousseau constantly wavers back and forth between fundamental trust in the ability of citizens to “govern themselves”:

“The people, being subject to the laws, ought to be their author: the conditions of the society ought to be regulated solely by those who come together to form it.”

and an equally fundamental mistrust:

“How can a blind multitude, which often does not know what it wills, because it rarely knows what is good for it, carry out for itself so great and difficult an enterprise as a system of legislation?”

By using “auxiliary constructions” such as the institution of the wise “legislators” who, however, must have no power at all in order to not curtail the power of the sovereign people, he only cheats his way around his fundamental contradiction: his mistrust is entirely justified insofar as he demands nothing more and nothing less from his citizens than devoting themselves to “the fatherland” and making a virtue of distancing themselves from their own interests. In short: they are supposed to be completely and utterly citoyen:

“The better the constitution of a State is, the more do public affairs encroach on private in the minds of the citizens.”

and they never are:

“each individual, having no taste for any other plan of government than that which suits his particular interest, finds it difficult to realise the advantages he might hope to draw from the continual privations good laws impose.”

They are both incapable and capable of governing, which he simply identifies with sacrifice for the community. The solution to the problem: an arduous education in civic virtue, following the example of Sparta! Private interests, which on the one hand are supposed to be part of the common will, are on the other hand morally criticized as “selfish,” and it would be best if

“each citizen should have a religion... that will make him love his duty”

The legitimacy of a rule is therefore constituted by “chains” that are eminently self-determined.

And what do we learn from this?

These demands of his ideal state on the citizens have earned him various reproaches from political theory, which do not have much to do with his theory, but more to do with how today’s political scientists think of democracy.

“Totalitarian elements...”

can be found in his theory. Special interests are suppressed, and uniformity is the order of the day. The objection deliberately overlooks the fact that Rousseau assumes a society in which equality means more than an equal political right to obedience, namely economic interests that are pursued collectively. This is precisely his crime, because such a society appears “unnatural” to people who want to confuse capitalism and its conflicting interests with human nature: It can’t be abolished. Instead, according to the theory of pluralism, the democratic state performs the following trick on the interests: It restricts them all – and so they all come into play equally. While Rousseau at least noticed that a “social contract” is an absurdity under the conditions of a bourgeois class society, the theory of pluralism claims the following nonsense against his state model: the interests are not capable of being reconciled by themselves (it therefore also assumes that they are mutually exclusive without giving any further reasons for this), but can nevertheless be reconciled with each other by the state balancing them in such a way that all sides benefit.

Conclusion: Society is pluralistic: Basta!

“Identity of rulers and ruled” – simply impossible!

In our country, the people are of course sovereign, anyway. But any interference in politics outside of elections is suspicious per se. Citizens therefore empower parties to rule over them, and they must regard this activity as the implementation of their will.

What occasionally comes across as a “technical argument” (“The marketplace would be far too small for everyone”) of course contains the secret insinuation that governing is a business of restricting the subjects, which is not expressed quite in this way, but rather formulated as an objective constraint to unify the many opinions.

Conclusion: rule presupposes real sovereignty in order to function.

And where they are right, they are right!

Political science and its classics
Contract theories: unfortunately inconsistent, but very plausible!

If one disregards the particular contents of the contract theories, which were used to justify quite different concepts of the state, what remains is the message about the bourgeois state that political scientists like:

“The figure of thought of the contract is to show that the state is the united power of men. Political power results from the agreement of the people. Only their consent to the contract obliges citizens to obey the law.”

State power as a voluntary agreement between its subjects...

One agrees with the “classics” in their preference for the contradictory fiction that individuals, in order to get along with each other, would all voluntarily agree to submit together to a “political power” – and thus constitute it in the first place. Today, historians of ideas would no longer claim this was ever actually the case. But why shouldn’t one imagine it that way if the “basic idea” of all these theories casts such a pleasant light on state power?

However, this “basic idea” also has a catch. If all contracting parties are in agreement, why then would they still need a contract? A contract does not simply mean a “consensus.” Rather, the “civil law concept” of a contract involves the following: Two or more wills come to an agreement on a service and a service in return and undertake to carry out this will. An obligation would be superfluous if each party was just as interested in their own service as in the return service of their contract partner, i.e. if the interests of both parties coincided. However, since a contract is only a means of ensuring a service, i.e. the consensus in a contract is based on a conflict of interests, every contract assumes political power as a guaranteeing authority that enforces compliance with “private agreements” when necessary. Without a higher-level authority, there is no obligation.

In political theory, on the other hand, we are familiar with the miracle of citizens committing themselves to a higher authority whose sole purpose is to force “social behavior” on them (which, according to contract theory, is the prerequisite for the conclusion of the “social contract”). The concept of self-commitment is a contradictio in adjecto: “I commit myself to do what I want to do anyway” – this contractual content would be utter nonsense and not an obligation. Conversely: since something is to be simulated here as the content of the will of the citizens – the submission of the will – which can hardly come about as the result of this same will, every contract theory insists on coercion. The assumed contradiction of a citizen’s will that wants to submit itself and at the same time does not, leads to the circularity that a voluntary agreement is reached, which the power thus established must first force the citizens to comply with. Hobbes was honest in formulating this circlularity in the construction of contracts:

“And covenants without the sword are merely words, with no strength to secure a man at all.” (Leviathan)

... a nice thought...

Political scientists today readily admit such inconsistencies because they regard “the contract” as nothing more than a metaphor anyway. (“This is what contract theory can tell us...”) It is supposed to “tell us” that the state should be regarded as a trustee of its citizens. We are supposed to believe this, which does not prevent political scientists from presenting the inventors of this ideology as innovators and, half benevolently, half ironically distanced, telling us how the old thinkers cobbled together their “state models” in order to achieve the desired result:

“The trick of the state of nature construct is that it is a fiction which dismisses any thought about political system. The state should thus appear to have been created by people who consciously want to overcome the state of nature. This is not a value-free description. The state of nature is constructed in the way one wants one’s state to be. Ideas of time and anthropological assumptions enter into this.”

The fact that the legitimizing intention was the guiding principle behind the thinking here is brushed off with a casual “What else?” and not even considered as an objection to such a theory. What matters is whether the intended message comes across as credible. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep a casual distance from individual “arguments” while still awarding plus points:

“Free and equal individuals live in Locke’s state of nature. As is the case with such medals, there are encroachments on the property of others. With the introduction of money, greed and envy find a wide field of action. ... He demonstrates a sense of reality here, more so than Hobbes and Rousseau. The state of nature has advantages and disadvantages, but bourgeois society is safer.”

A very dubious compliment to Locke, by the way: no, he did not get carried away with such “one-sided” statements about the “nature of man” as his colleagues (social vs. antisocial), but instead uses the platitude “everyone fights about money” to make it plausible that it would be better to end the “state of nature”! A “sense (!) of reality” is demonstrated by those who invent their construction in such a way that one can occasionally recognize something in it that “exists” – even if it is only capitalistic worldly wisdom that is being sold as anthropology. The fact that this is meant as a derivation of the state and is useless as such – without the state institution of property, money would not exist at all, so the reasoning is circular – is no tragedy if one is so keen on accepting the ideology that protection of property is a beneficial state function. It might be theoretically weak, but the upshot isn’t bad (“safer”)!

... but unfortunately always inadequately justified.

However, not every “inconsistency” is dismissed so casually; the political science interpreters are a bit picky. Occasionally, they even think up some new ones that the theory is not guilty of when they don't like its results. No theory is satisfactory and that’s no wonder: the comforting message of the “contract” is one thing – and what the “classics” wanted to justify with it is quite another.

Agreeing with Hobbesian man, for example, that “absolute submission” to the “absolute state” is inappropriate! Political scientists do not notice anything absurd about the idea that the content of the will should be to limit itself. But if the fiction includes the renunciation of the wills of contractors as the content of the contract, then they shake their heads uncomprehendingly: Who would sign something like that?! It’s so badly constructed, where’s the benefit in that?!

Quite apart from the fact that such objections do not do justice to the theory because they seek to discredit the fictitious Hobbesian men who want to save themselves from their own “war of all against all” with the rational cost-benefit calculation of a democratic citizen with respect to the services that the state provides him: If one is going to take the fiction seriously, then do it right! If one wants to make a reasonable calculation – one that’s based on the interests of the citizen – into the basis of a contract to submit, it would not come about in any form. The “benefit” that the subjects gain for their promise of obedience always consists in their restriction by the political power. The high art of political science legitimization of the state consists in interpreting this as a useful service for the citizens. Today, political scientists have mastered the “trick with the state of nature” invented for this purpose in the short form of the argument “without a state there would be chaos, no rules, crime...” One imagines the competitive society, which is enforced and guaranteed by state power and which conversely needs this rule to maintain the division of citizens into “poor” and “rich,” would remove the state – and lo and behold, the competitors would attack each other and the poor would take wealth away from the rich. The result of this thought experiment taken seriously: Without the state, the welfare state that the state maintains with its power could not exist. The result in terms of legitimization: Thank God for the state, because without it there would be no order.

And we can already see rule as a mutually beneficial relationship: obedience is “exchanged” for order, which means that consenting to submission also seems to be an act of reason. State and citizen would be a unity precisely in this, by taking action against them. This contradiction is inherent to all political theory, insofar as it is the legitimation of rule. The demand made by historians of ideas on the classics to present “unity” in a “consistent” way in their contract models is therefore impossible to fulfill. Used as material for the political science problem of “under what conditions can reasonable people promise obedience to a state?” and measured by this standard, all the forefathers of political science discredit themselves, some more, some less.

“For Locke, government by consent does not mean government by the people, but government for the propertied.”

That is not believable. If everyone is supposed to agree, the theory has to come up with a fictitious benefit for everyone! He can’t stand up and demand that the state should be there for the wealthy! But it’s not that bad. Firstly, Locke otherwise has his merits, and secondly, everyone in 17th century England thought so “anti-socially” that they could not discover the “welfare state” as their ideal, in which, as is well known, the “propertied” benefit much less from politics than the “people.”

Rousseau comes off better on this point:

“If one wants to take a realistic or ideology-critical view of contract theory, Rousseau (especially in the 2nd Disours) is enlightening. He relentlessly exposes the principles of bourgeois society. The contract as a deceptive maneuver of the privileged.”

Do we want to? Sure, we can do that. Rousseau, it is true, thought that in bourgeois society the idea of the contract contradicts itself, that an agreement between “poor” and “rich” is impossible due to a lack of common interests. Exactly, says the political scientist: This shows once again that when constructing a contract model, you have to be very careful about the conditions you set for the consent of the subjects, otherwise it becomes “inconsistent.” If we want to think of rule as a contract, we have to presuppose a reasonably just society.

What is political theory? Speculation? – No! A construct? Obviously!

According to the criterion "Is this a satisfactory invention?", the history of ideas awards points to the classics, but this is by no means supposed to make the case for science as speculation:

“Theory as a hypothetical model does not mean wild speculation. It must be related to empiricism.” So it is supposed to be controlled speculation. Thoughtful yes – but not only that!

On the one hand, the approach to these theories is characterized by indifference to their content: “inconsistent” here and there - maybe, but overall not so bad. Partisan, yes, but that doesn’t detract from their significance. After all, they are only supposed to be useful for sharpening students’ awareness of political problems. On the other hand, one can only criticize them if one shows them respect in principle:

“Contract or consent theory raises more questions than it solves and leads to major theoretical difficulties. But it formulates plausible premises for politics.”

One can indeed learn a great deal from them, namely precisely what political science wants to teach: in principle, the classics share the interest of political science in elevating a relationship of subjugation into an expression of the will of the subjugated. That is very plausible. Asking what a beautiful state might look like is an honorable undertaking with a venerable tradition. It is therefore very correct to turn up one’s nose at “real politics.” Political theory has always been above that, because politics does not correspond to its ideals anyway. This is not due to rule itself; it could also be done differently, because political theory can imagine it to be much more beautiful than it is.

What if that isn’t true? What if the state is exactly the way it is and there is nothing to appreciate about it? Political philosophers will never find out because they are too busy appreciating democracy as an (unfortunately not entirely successful) attempt to realize their ideal of a humane rule.