Our Social Contract is Broken

Source: thoughtco.com

For years, the social contract that we have in the West has been broken. We have many ways at our disposal to correct the brokenness, and as Catholics, we need look no further than within our own Church to find ways to mend and even overhaul the social contract.

The pandemic has laid bare that we need to make changes to the system because far too many people in our country are falling through the cracks. To rectify the injustices, we need not go headfirst into complete socialism, but socialism is a deep well with many useful ideas to help create a better social contract.

Many of these ideas are not incompatible with the Catholic Church. Indeed, evidence of their compatibility can be found in liberation theology and personalist philosophies—I am a student of Emmanuel Mounier, so I would be remiss to not mention his contributions as a Catholic and socialist.

This is, of course, a massive topic to handle in such a short piece, so I will do my best to make an introduction to questioning the hegemonic social contract theory of our society. I will do so relying on the works of Mounier and other Catholic sources, such as Catholic social teaching.

The social contract is broken in many regards: it is broken in terms of the structure of our society; it is broken in terms of our economy; and it is broken in terms of our justice system. I want to discuss briefly the first two issues, as I discuss the topic of justice in another post.

The decadence of the social and economic aspects of our social contract are linked. We live in a liberal democratic and capitalist society. These two things, liberal democracy and capitalism, need not go together, but we have put them together.

To keep things simple, in our social lives, we have begun to isolate ourselves and distance ourselves from one another. Think of our communities: people are less reliant on communal structures and are less involved in their communities.

Many thinkers of the left and the right have pointed to the hollowing out of communal life that our social contract has done. The rise of individualism means that we are less attached to the structures that once gave our lives meaning (Taylor, 1991: 2).

Mounier saw this back in the 1930s, so this is not a new issue. His concern is that we were putting up roadblocks to communication. These roadblocks began then to alienate us from each other (2016: 40). Pope Francis touches on this issue of alienation in his latest encyclical (2020: s13). Individualism is, in many ways, antithetical to Catholicism and Christianity. Individualism forms persons who are concerned with their own interests.

This is not the way of Christ. Christ is selfless and concerned with the wellbeing of others. If we think of scripture, we can look to Matthew 25: 35-40 where Christ talks about when He was naked, hungry, thirsty, and in prison.

We are called to tend to those on the margins who are our sisters and brothers. We can also look to the parable of the Good Samaritan that Pope Francis uses in Fratelli Tutti, as it too serves to remind us to care for others. One of the main causes for our alienation and disjoining from communal structures is our economic system.

The capitalist system, which has as many varieties as socialism, is in large part to blame for the brokenness of our social contract. Part of the reason that the communal structures are disappearing is that our economic system has made work much more precarious and the least well off amongst us are required to work more and more jobs in order to support themselves and their families.

We have all heard this before: we need to pay people more. It is not only about paying people more, but it is also about making sure that people have job security and are not treated as disposable. Life needs to be more than surviving.

Indeed, Mounier argues that our basic needs must be met but need more to life than that (1961: 453). To fix our social contract, we need to make sure that everyone’s basic needs are met. This does cost money, but it is money well spent if we could help to ensure that everyone sleeps in a warm bed at night.

To achieve this, Mounier does propose a socialist economy that flips capitalism on its head. His proposal is one echoed by liberation theology and even echoes things that Pope Francis has said.

The biggest economic issue is that the human person is being used to serve the interests of profit and capital, which denigrates the dignity of the person. Indeed, Mounier proposes an inversion that has ‘the person as its principle and its model’ (1961: 603). What we can learn is that the economy should be serving the person’s interests and not the other way around.

Amongst other things, this does mean that the social contract should ensure the vital necessities of the person, such as housing, food, healthcare, education, basic clothing (Mounier, 1961: 453) and make sure that they can achieve their personal necessities, i.e., the enjoyment of cultural activities, sports, travel, and leisure (Mounier, 1961: 453).

This is a massive topic, and I have barely scratched the surface of it. In short, the social contract is broken because we have created a society in which we treat humans as disposable.

Capitalism has created structures that put its profit and success ahead of the lives of the humans that make it function. If we want to fix our social contract and restore dignity to human beings, we need to overhaul our economic structures. We can change our morality as much as we like, but nothing will truly change until we change the economy.

Luke Gilmore is an Alumnus of Campion College, the University of Regina., and is a political scientist..

  • Hans Solo
    Posted at 08:34h, 17 April Reply

    “We have all heard this before: we need to pay people more. It is not only about paying people more, but it is also about making sure that people have job security and are not treated as disposable. Life needs to be more than surviving.”

    I think you have a point here. But whereas you think a system overhaul is needed, I think a personal overhaul is demanded. We must adapt , plain and simple.

    This might seem harsh and cruel, but I think any other view is simply not accepting life on its own terms. Thank you luke for the reflection.

  • Richard Grover
    Posted at 08:49h, 17 April Reply

    Thanks Luke. Your article reminds me of Rev. JSWoodsworth, Rev. Tommy Douglas, Dorothy Day, the co-op movement, and also of Jesus and the early Christians who “…lived together and owned everything in common: they sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed.” Acts 2:44-45

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 13:23h, 17 April Reply

    Thank you Luke!

  • suzanne renaud
    Posted at 15:12h, 17 April Reply

    Thank you for your reflection. One way to structure the economy as well as provide job security is to look at how we buy our food. Growing food locally would cut. down on the carbon emissions used to transport food halfway across the country and the world. Support for farmers and their workforce to provide food to regional areas is one way to provide jobs for many people. Technology today can assist in growing fruits and vegetables that in decades past was impossible to do. It would be an immense change to reverse the current food distribution system and food economy. But it is a good place to start and it has already started in some communities across Canada.

  • Roy Fanthome
    Posted at 03:17h, 18 April Reply

    Sorry to disagree with your conclusion that economic systems merit greater attention than the moral reconstruct we require. Days of the first disciples were great and they could live idealistic lives of sharing and sharing alike. However. In my humble onion we have come two thousand years from those fortunate days. Society has come through experiments of one sort or the other to arrive at our current state of democracy; in most cases veneered by social improvements, spurred on by stories of wealth and success. That does not account for the outrageous experiments in social behaviour. The basic fault is our rejection of old orders, based on love and respect for fellow humans. Until that returns, we will continue on our downward trend to individualism, coveting goods that belong to (all), and the worship of mammon.

  • Michael Bautista
    Posted at 11:25h, 18 April Reply

    I agree with you that capitalism is broken. Capitalism theoretically is supposed to promote more cost efficient production through a competitive process between various companies or to promote creativity to make a better product. However, it is no longer about that. It is about satisfying shareholders with continuous increasing profits. Without those profits, fickle shareholders sell to buy something else that is better. Service fees go up to increase profits. Goods are made in faraway places to decrease production costs with unfair low wages, to increase profit. It seems to me capitalism is more about money than efficiency or creativity; clearly I don’t believe profit is the outcome measure for success.
    Ecclesiastes 5: 10 states “The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity.” A vanity is something done in vain, a folly. Worship of mammon is a folly.

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