Contractarians and Contrarians
"No man has any natural authority over his fellow men."
— Jean-Jacques Rousseau, French philosopher
The obvious punishment dispensed by government is symbolised by the mythological king Sisyphus who was condemned to a lifelong punishment of pushing a boulder uphill. He never succeeded because the boulder kept tumbling back downhill.
Do citizens have any sort of binding contract with government that is signed, sealed and delivered except for the birth certificate issued by a government official? Disgruntled and disappointed contractarians, and proactive and productive contrarians lead the charge in this never-ending debate that questions the irrational government-created systems we have unwittingly accepted as a lifelong punishment.
Niccolo Machiavelli’s statement that ‘the promise given was a necessity of the past; the word broken is a necessity of the present,’ reveals the open secret of what contractarians feared, and contrarians expected. The discerning seeker and the hapless believer grapple with this evil in all its various frustratingly cruel manifestations.
‘A body of unchanging moral principles regarded as a basis for all human conduct’ is the generally accepted definition of natural law. It’s the main root that has spouted thousands of shoots that have become treaties, declarations, proclamations, executive orders, letters patent, royal charters, and man-made legislation. ‘The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred in their bones.’
Contractarians and contrarians react, act and interact according to time and tide, tests and tribulations. One tacitly accepts while the other openly questions and avidly challenges authority depending on persuasions from eastern and western political traditions. Either way, you keep debate robust and proactive in the hope that government listens and decides on much-needed reforms. But, as Rousseau warned, a few lording over the many has consequences just like suspect ideas.
The western political tradition has been bullied and sullied by false premises and meaningless promises because some ‘enlightened’ political scientist, or an ‘awakened’ philosopher thought he or she had seen the light. Take Jean Jacques Rousseau, for example, who said, among other things, that ‘when man left the state of nature and entered into the civil state (government), he substituted justice for instinct in his conduct that gave him the morality they had formerly lacked’.
Rousseau was obviously not versed with the intricacies of natural law. If he thought morality came from a government that had carved laws for such an eventuality, he was dead wrong. Maybe he was a nihilistic genius?
But Rousseau changed his mental posture when he remarked with volte face vigor that ‘people in their natural state are basically good. But this natural innocence, however, is corrupted by the evils of (modern) society.’ Here he becomes an ardent advocate of natural law because he went on to teach that ‘I prefer liberty with danger than peace with slavery.’ That, essentially, is the difference between the contrarian and the contractarian. John Adams, second President of the United States, gave credibility and credence to both contrarians and contractarians that ‘there is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty,’ as if acquiescing to Rousseau’s lament.
Where do we Malaysians stand whether as lone seekers or as group believers? Are we dedicated contractarians every four or five years in that we grant credibility to Part VIII (Elections) of the Federal Constitution (FC)? Or should we stay aloof as contrarians in the Thoreau tradition and refuse to vote en masse? Will Article 39 FC (Executive authority of Federation) and Article 41 (Supreme command of armed forces) stop the evil?
A potentially free society must be able to pose such questions to hypothetical situations that will yield political maturity. There is a huge number of contrarians who want corruption snuffed out for good, but seem incapable of achieving any semblance of success. Malaysia’s unique Code of Conduct or the Ethos of Enlightenment comes in the Rukun Negara with strong roots in natural law. It sends a clear message to government and the governed alike. Whether the government listens is a daily manifest in media reports and news outlets.