In an earlier post I suggested that it was rather strange that Mauss felt the need to drag the concept of ‘the social contract’ through the ethnographic case studies in The Gift because they illustrate the antithesis of Hobbes’ argument for the social contract (through which citizens surrender a degree of their personal power and authority to a centralized form of government in exchange for its protection and the ensuing social equilibrium or social order), and a centralised form of government.
Hobbes’ argument is based on an assumption that the ‘natural’ state of human relations is ‘the state or war of every man against every man’ (because we are by nature inclined toward competition, conflict and chaos so the story goes), whereas Mauss’ material suggests that people are inclined toward cooperation and interdependence, which effects social equilibrium and social order. I pointed to anarchist theory as an example of theorists that have considered this distinction at length.
Well this morning I was looking through an old notepad for something completely unrelated and found notes I’d previously taken down on an article by David Gauthier, which deals with the social and cultural assumptions underlying the idea of the social contract. This is a particular relevant excerpt:
“But more than this is implicit in contractarianism. It would be compatible with the claim that the individual is prior to society, to suppose nonetheless that human sociability is itself a natural and fundamental characteristic of individuals, which expresses itself directly in social relations among human beings. And this is denied by contract theory in its insistence upon the essentially conventional character of society. Men who were naturally sociable would not need to contract together in order to form society, and would not rationalise society in contractual terms. Athough contract might be the foundation of government, as in Locke, society would not be a purely artificial creation. Contract as the foundation of all society is required only by men who are not inherently sociable’ (Gauthier, D 1977, ‘The Social Contract as Ideology’ (in) Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 6, No. 2, p. 138)