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Social Covenants… by Seth Kaplan

In Africa, Asia, culture, ethics, Europe, human rights, political science, religion on January 12, 2014 at 00:57

From: Social Covenants Must Precede Social Contracts By Seth Kaplan, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

The differences between the two ideas are stark. Social contracts are written agreements entered into on the basis of self-interest for specific purposes. Social covenants, in contrast, are sustained not by the letter of any law or by self-interest. Instead, they depend on fidelity, trust, and loyalty. As moral philosopher and religious leader Jonathan Sacks writes,

Social contract creates a state; social covenant creates a society. Social contract is about power and how it is to be handled within a political framework. Social covenant is about how people live together despite their differences. Social contract is about government. Social covenant is about coexistence. Social contract is about laws and their enforcement. Social covenant is about the values we share. Social contract is about the use of potentially coercive force. Social covenant is about moral commitments, the values we share and the ideals that inspire us to work together for the sake of the common good.

In societies riven by divisions and lacking any organization that can be relied upon to adjudicate disagreements between competing groups effectively, such as the state, some form of agreement between important groups is crucial to ending conflict and dividing up power in a way that ensures a degree of common understanding on how the state ought to work. Such agreements—between different actors within society, not between the state and society—must occur before determining the nature of government, just as the U.S. Declaration of Independence preceded the U.S. Constitution.

The power of a social covenant flows less from its conception and implementation than, as Elazar points out, from:

The way it informs culture, especially political culture, endowing particular peoples with a particular set of political perceptions, expectations, and norms and shaping the way in which those perceptions, expectations and norms are given institutional embodiment and behavioral expression.

Read the article

Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

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