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The H3O/Art of Life Blog

  • Writer's pictureThe H3O/Art of Life Blog

The Social/Racial Contract, Pt. 2

(To read part one, click here.)

By Dr. Josef Ben Levi

Presented by Omni University

The classic social contract is primarily socio-political, but also economic. John Locke is all about private property and its protection. But it is the economic aspect that is most "salient" in the Racial Contract as it is calculatedly aimed at economic exploitation.... There are other benefits accruing from the Racial Contract including  far greater political influence, cultural hegemony, the psychic payoff that comes from knowing one is a member of the Herrenvolk (what W.E.B. Du Bois once called "the wages of whiteness"). But, the bottom line is material advantage.

In the Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, (especially "Of national characteristics"), Immanuel Kant, following lines from Hippocrates' "Airs, Waters, Places", outlines a geographical and psychological -"moral"- classification of humans. Taking skin color as evidence of a "racial" class, Kant classified humans into white (Europeans), yellow (Asians), black (Africans) and red ("American Indians"). In Kant's table of "moral" classifications, the Americans are completely uneducable because they lack "affect and passion". The Africans can only be "trained" as slaves and servants:

"The race of the American cannot be educated. It has no motivating force, for it lacks affect and passion. They are not in love; thus, they are also not afraid. They hardly speak, do not caress each other, care about nothing and are lazy. However, the race of the Negroes, one could say, is completely the opposite of the Americans; they are full of affect and passion, very lively, talkative and vain. They can be educated but only as servants (slaves), that is they allow themselves to be trained. They have many motivating forces, are also sensitive, are afraid of blows and do much out of a sense of honor."

When Montesquieu wrote from his position as planter, he described his Black property thusly: "it is impossible for us to assume that these people are men because if we assumed they were men one would begin to believe that we ourselves were not Christians."

When Locke wrote about slavery and the conditions under which property in land might be acquired, American conditions were far more directly relevant than those in England where chattel slavery was unknown and where the original acquisition of land was an historical fiction. Given his reputation as a defender of property rights and personal freedom, Locke has been accused of hypocrisy for his role in promoting and benefiting from slavery and the expropriation of indigenous populations, actions that would seem to contradict his philosophical position. This is too charitable.

Locke's intention, in this passage, was to demolish the idea of Sir Robert Filmer that Englishmen (including English Americans) could voluntarily agree to submit to a government with the absolutist claims of the Stuarts-- it was this submission to which the term "slavery" referred. At the same time, he allowed for absolute chattel slavery, with power of life and death, in the case of "prisoners taken in a just war.' "In his work on the Fundamental Constitution of the Carolinas, Locke extended the same absolute power to the owners of African"slaves".

There is an obvious contradiction here. While Africans were frequently enslaved as a result of war, there was no reason to suppose this war to be "just", and it was obviously impossible to extend this "justification" to their children. The right of each to all things invites serious conflict, especially if there is competition for resources, as there will surely be over at least scarce goods. Conflict will be further fueled by disagreement in religious views, in moral judgments, and over matters as mundane as what goods one needs, and what respect one properly merits.

Thomas Hobbes says that: ", in a state of nature, without any form of civilized government, are in a war of everyone against everyone. Without any sort of government,the life of man would be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short". Man is naturally selfish and craves power, but for there to be peace and order in the world, he tells us, we should place one man or group of men in charge; one man or a group of men to have all the power. The only reason we conform to an organized society and agree not to harm another person is to protect ourselves from being harmed by other people.

 The social contract was formed because of the constant fear of death. What if the ruler violated the contract? When the king becomes a tyrant and acts against the interests of the people, they have a right, if not an outright obligation, to resist his authority. The social compact can be dissolved and the process to create political society begun anew.


Charles Montesquieu (1748/2010). "The Spirit of the Laws"

Benjamin Isaac (2004) "The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity"

Charles W. Mills, (1997) "The Racial Contract"

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1755/1993) "The Social Contract and Discourses"

John Locke (1689/2002) "The Second Treatise of Government and a Letter Concerning Toleration"

John Locke (1762/2011). "The Fundamental Constitution of the Carolinas

Thomas Hobbes (1651/1985) Leviathan"

Immanuel Kant (1764/2011) "Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime and Other Writings"

David Hume (1750/1963) "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and Other Essays".

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