The Book: Outline

Working Outline

Initial Outline Ideas:

Preface – Explains to the reader that this book is a series of essays on social ethics.  Say what it is not: i.e. a piece of academic research.  The purpose of the book is to address that which we all hope to avoid — a world in ecological, economic and social collapse — by referencing the ideas of 17th Century English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes.  Make case for why Hobbes is right for the increasing social chaos of the 21st Century.

Introduction – What do we do if the wheels completely come off the fragile (almost non-existent) Global Social Contract and human kind is confronted with epochal crises of economic, social and ecological collapse?  Garrett Hardin’s, “mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon.”  The thesis of Hershel Elliott . . . any set of values which destroy the ecosystem out of which they arise, must be rejected.  This book anticipates the issues arising in a total global collapse of the economic, social and natural environments.  And asks, is it possible for democratic governance to achieve the mutual constraint through mutual agreement referenced by Hardin, and doubted by Elliott?  John N. Gray (London School of Economics) suggests that the upward angle of population growth in the past century is reciprocal to the angle of decline anticipated by environmental collapse in the next . . . how can a social contract be maintained in a world losing 5 billion people in less than 100 years?

Chapter 1, Hobbes:  The Conditions of Nature applied to a Globalized World:

  • The failed states and the failure of global structures beyond the nation-state  (equality of power).
  • The failed free market, and the collapse of international financial systems.
  • The failure even of war.
  • The failure of “the rule of law” because there is no “ruler of law” (i.e. international courts with compulsory jurisdiction).
  • Scarcity and human necessity: disease, hunger, potable water.

Chapter 2The Nature of the Beast: Use the many facets of constraint on the cover of the Leviathan as the example, or visual/narrative lead in to the chapter.  Admit that this is a “beastly subject” to have to consider, especially for a “good liberal.”  And that was Hobbes point in naming his great work of Social Ethics, The Leviathan.  The function of the sovereign is to prevent the eroding effects of “freeridership.”  Use example of mortgage lending practices of recent years, and the resulting collapse of world capital markets.

The full spectrum of constraint . . .  Use this definition: “So Leviathan is the ‘Governor’ of man, he (Hobbes) appears to be identifying Leviathan with the sovereign rather than with the state in its entirety.  So Leviathan is not only beast, but also man, a machine, a god, the state as a whole, and the sovereign, that part of the state wielding absolute power.”  (Johan Tralau, “Leviathan, the Beast of Myth,” The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes’s Leviathan, edited by Patricia Springborg, p. 62.  For me then in this modern version of Hobbes undertaking, the Leviathan is any and all means necessary to preserve the Social Contract.  (Good cop/Bad cop; hard vs. soft power.)  Is it Hobbesian only to discuss the former, not the latter.  How does education fit into all of this?

Chapter 3: What Is the Nature of Social Contract in the 21st Century? Use the great quote from The Cider House Rules (John Irving’s novel), “They aren’t our rules.  We didn’t write them.  I don’t see no reason to read them.” to frame the issue.  Discuss Hobbes notion that the Social Contract is between each individual (citizen) and the sovereign, not a “body politic” or aggregated community of public interest(s) and the sovereign.  Implications for global, democratic governance: at some level of scale pure “representation” not to mention “authorization” fails.  We’re there.  Payne’s “Give me liberty or give me death.”  may be exactly where libertarian democracy is headed: we get both, liberty and extinction.

See Tom Sorell’s essay in Companion page 145.  “ . . . a social contract does not create moral values where there were none; it rather connects moral values to the goods of self-preservation or peace.  These are nontrancendental goods par excellence because they are all about the protection of mortal life.  What is more, these goods can plausibly be said to help organize moral values.  Peace and self-preservation are the goods that all of the moral prescriptions and prohibitions – the laws of nature – can be taken to promote, and from which they can be taken to be derived.  The most fundamental laws of nature imply that one should seek peace by giving up some liberty.  This is done by contracting with others to obey a sovereign power.  Making social contract is morally required because seeking peace is morally required, but the idea of the social contract does not bring the concept of peace down to earth.  It is already down to earth, understood as ending or preempting the life-threatening situation of war.”

Chapter 4, Frost, Mending Wall: “Something there is that does not love a wall.”  Social entropy, anomie.  Is the human animal capable of living within a civil order without destroying it?  Hobbes believes it is in our “rational self interest” to do so.  Are we rational in any social sense?  Will we tend the wall on our own?  Can social entropy be reversed without a sovereign maintenance man?

Chapter 5: Godzilla meets the Monster of Frankenstein.  The Nation State and the Multinational Corporation. The Mortal God vs. the Juridical Person. Develop Hobbes idea of the sovereign as “The Mortal God.”  Compare Hobbes 17th Century “mechanical world view” to the 21st Century “cyber world view.”  Is the “juridical person” (The MNC) as phony as the nation state . . . or can humankind create “organizational arrangements” that legitimately partake in that which is essentially human?  Hobbes calls the human heart a “spring” . . . not much different from our calling the human brain “a computer!”  Hobbes would probably give the MNC certain prerogatives of natural person-hood . . . but as for persons, a Leviathan is needed.  What is the Global Leviathan for MNC’s?  What is the Global Leviathan for Nation States?  Hobbes thesis, when applied to the corporate behemoths clearly would call for each yielding independent autonomy in order to avoid the “war of all against all.”  Western liberalism is, I think, alien to such notions.

Chapter 6:  The Leviathan Index.  Might not it be possible to understand large social systems better, if we understood how much coercion each uses to achieve civility, legal compliance, etc.?   What are the factors for Nation States?  What are the factors for MNCs.  Is it impossible to gather and compare such data.  It surely seems to be for MNCs.  And for Nation States much information is available, but it is hard to use in any meaningful comparison.  Setting a research agenda.

Transparency and compliance.  (NB: This may need to be a separate chapter.) What do we mean by transparency when we apply it to MNCs.  The excuses for opaqueness.  Trade secrets and other forms of intellectual property.  Use example of the failure of US to ratify the UNCLOS, based on the requirement that it make certain deep sea technology available to Third World Countries.  Maybe the only way MNCs can be trusted is through required/regulatory conditions of transparency, disclosure.  Critical difference between “natural persons” and “juridical persons.”  Natural persons need privacy to maintain psychological integrity.  Not MNCs or Nation States.  Natural persons do, however, need to be (Bonhoeffer’s phrase) “straight forward.”

Chapter 7: Scaling Things Down.  Why highly functional teams (within large social organizations) can achieve mutual accountability with little mutual coercion.  Are humans capable of living/thriving when forced into the scales and complexity of modern institutions? If we want smaller “beasts” we need downsize institutions of affinity and work.  And we need to “yield up sovereignty” that is, authorize functions of the Leviathan that are not “democratic” in any “one person one vote” sense.

While our survival depends on trusting each other (Auden, “We must love each other or die.”) humans seem congenitally unable to do so in scales much beyond limited geographic or single affinity “neighborhoods.”  Does Hobbes have anything to suggest to a world he never imagined?  Could smaller functional, high trust units create the conditions for the yielding up and authorization of sovereignty at global and ecosystem levels of complexity?

Chapter 8: The New Hobbesians.  The mythical (historic?) story of Alfred the Great.  Chesterton’s poem, Balad of the White Horse.  Quote: “I give you naught for your comfort, Naught for your desire, Save that the storm grows darker yet, And the Seas rise higher.”  Define “The New Hobbesians” and do a brief “where they are coming from piece on each.”

John N. Gray

Philip Pullman

Richard D. Lamm

Hershel Elliott

Conclusion: Do we only change in crisis?  Are we doomed by the same social genetics that made us, for a while, the dominant species on the planet/  Maybe domination was not the point?  Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

(posted January 26, 2009)