Several times during California's recent recall election, Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante invoked the idea of the "social compact." Demonstrating that he understands political philosophy about as well he understands California's electorate, Mr. Bustamante used this venerable theory to support the standard left-liberal arguments for the minimum wage, government-subsidized health care, and the "right" to a college education.
Were we to recommend a useful new book that explains social compact theory—and its place in American political thought—we doubt it would make it onto the Lt. Governor's reading list. But perhaps Precepts readers would appreciate the recommendation.
While other books about the founding often stress the philosophical differences among America's Founders, a new collection of essays shows that there was a broad consensus around the theory of social compact. This term, used in the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 and in numerous other founding-era documents, implies that human beings are by nature free individuals, and therefore that any legitimate government must be formed by the people's free choice—a social compact based upon their voluntary consent. This idea leads to the conclusion, embodied in the Declaration of Independence, that the purpose of government is to protect individuals in their natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The book, The American Founding and the Social Compact, is edited by Claremont Institute Fellows Thomas G. West and Ronald J. Pestritto—both professors of politics at the University of Dallas. It contains essays by several prominent scholars, including chapters by Peter Myers and Michael Zuckert examining social compact theory as it appears in the works of John Locke and William Blackstone, and Brad Watson on an early critic of the theory, David Hume. Essays on what might be called the "official" American version of the social compact argument include editor Tom West on the political theory of the Declaration, Jean Yarbrough on Jefferson, and Edward Erler on citizenship in social compact theory. The book concludes with three chapters on individual Founders: Karl Walling on Alexander Hamilton, John Paynter on John Adams, and Steven Forde on Benjamin Franklin.
Friends of the Claremont Institute and its mission will find this new book an important contribution to their understanding of America.