Jan 27, 2012

The Myth of "Democracy": "the State of Nature" and "the Social Contract"

Since the accidents at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Plants, I've seriously doubted if Japan is really a democratic country. So I wrote the entry "Is Japan Really a Democratic Country?".

Now, I want to understand what "democracy" really is, so I'm trying to read classics about democracy, such as Thomas Hobbes' "Leviathan", John Locke's "Second Treatise of Government", Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "The Social Contract", and John Rawls' "A Theory of Justice".

I'd like to know why they started their discussion about democracy from "the State of Nature".

In the beginning of "Second Treatise of Government" John Locke said as follows.

To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what sate all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bonds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.
(Section 4)

John Rawls' idea of justice, a modern political philosopher, is based on the concept "the veil of ignorance", which is also one of the variations of the concept of "the state of nature".

John Locke said that human beings in the state of nature were in "the state of perfect freedom". But "the state of nature" is hypothetical and actually there is no "the state of nature" on the earth.

Even the most uncivilized people have their society. Every society has its own rules, which usually aren't written law but are shared by the members of the society in the forms of customs or culture.

Everyone is born into their society with its rules, which exist before they are born. So they are obliged to the rules of the society and they aren't in "the state of perfect freedom".

John Locke thought that "the natural law" was universal. But the customs and the cultures are different between each society, so customs and cultures aren't "the natural law".

And then, they discussed about "social contract". I'd like to quote a phrase from "Second Treatise of Government" again.

Men being, as has been said, by nature, all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent. The only way whereby any one divests himself of his natural liberty, and puts on the bonds of civil society, is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living on amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security against any, that are not of it.

When the United States of America was founded, the people agreed on a "social contract" in the form of the United States Constitution with their free will. And the people who get U.S citizenship make the Oath of Allegiance, including "allegiance to the United States Constitution". This is a form of "social contract".

But in Japan (and I guess, in many other countries), we are born as Japanese people without any agreement. People who are the children of Japanese become Japanese without any free will.

John Locke wrote as follows.

It is plain then, by the practice of governments themselves, as well as by the law of right reason, that a child is born a subject of no country or government. He is under his father's tuition and authority, till he comes to age of discretion; and then he is a freeman, at liberty what government he will put himself under, what body politic he will unite himself to: for if an Englishman's son, born in France, be at liberty, and may do so, it is evident there is no tie upon him by his father's being a subject of this kingdom; nor is he bound up by any compact of his ancestors.

If we can freely change our nationality, it can be said that we make our democratic country based on our free will. I don't know about the situation in Europe at that age, but it was free to change nationality, wasn't it?

Logically I can change my nationality, for example I can become naturalized as a Singaporean. But actually it's quite difficult.

I was born into Japanese society and culture and brought up as Japanese, so it's not easy to change nationality and live as a Singaporean. In fact there are few Japanese people who change their nationality and few foreign people who get Japanese nationality. Most people who get Japanese nationality come from former Japanese ex-colonies, such as Korea.

Most Japanese people don't think (even imagine) that they choose to be Japanese with their will. They are just Japanese. If they heard, "You contracted to be Japanese with your will, so you have responsibility as a Japanese citizen. If you don't like it, you could leave Japan", they must be quite surprised.

Most Japanese don't feel reality with the concept of "the state of nature" and "social contract". I doubt if they understand the concept of "democracy". I guess that they think of "democracy" just as "taking a vote". And when I see "Arab Spring", I wonder if they also really understand what "democracy" is.

"The state of nature" and "social contract" isn't real history, and in this sense, they are a kind of myth of "democracy". We, who don't share European traditions and myths, need a different undersstanding philosophy and myth of "democracy", which isn't based on the concept "the state of nature" and "social contract", don't we?

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