Arvid Nyquist was nineteen years old and an utter No-Hoper the day the Social Contract arrived in the mail. He knew little about anything, had no idea of what he would do in life, and no idea how his life (or anyone’s) would turn out. He was, therefore, the ideal person to wrestle with a Social Contract. For this reason, the Social Contract Committee had allotted three votes to him and all others of his general description. Less reliable folk, steeped in tradition and (therefore) bad ideas, had only two votes and sometimes only one.
Anyhow, if anyone was ever behind a Veil of Ignorance, Nyquist was the guy. He should have had ten votes. He was the original Unencumbered Self, assuming he got as far as having a Self at all. For the Social Contract Committee, he was a real discovery, almost as good as a boy raised by wolves in India. Actually, he was raised by rather indifferent people in Indiana. In a modern American court, he would have been the ideal juror.
Anyway, the Committee – more formally, the Presidential Commission on the Thought of John Rawls – even put Nyquist on its ubiquitous posters promoting the Social Contract Process. Nyquist didn’t know that, either. To see how all this got started, we have to go back to 2030, when President Wiley Cutthroat’s advisors convinced him that the United State was way behind the theory curve compared with the European Union. “Well, who the hell do they read?” thundered his Electedness, consciously modeling himself on the legendary Elby Jay. A quivering advisor managed to choke out, “John Rawls, Sir.” “Well, we’d better all read him,” grunted the Unitary One before turning on his heel toward the Overseas Peacetime Targeting Room. (They say he was always happiest there.)
Anyway, one thing led to far too many other things and before you knew it, there was a Presidential Commission working on a Social Contract suited to our times. Any skeptic can imagine how awful the results would be. Even so, it was duly enrolled on a scroll ten by ninety meters with copies mailed out for approval by the masses. The copies, naturally, were smaller. The document contained 411 Articles, supplemented with twenty volumes of commentary not mailed out.
Everything seemed to be in the Social Contract – from something called the Paregorical Imperative (or so Nyquist read it) to the kitchen sink, or at least a “right” to modern plumbing. This last item was an implication of some UN document from the late 1940s. Rawls’s famous “difference principle” was enshrined along with some escape clauses involving an Italian fellow called Pear Toe and some kind of optimism. The right to a national identity was on page 81, limited only by the prior right to a global identity (p. 2).
So of course, Nyquist was perplexed. What was a Social Contract after all – and what was he supposed to do about it? His friends offered advice. One said, “Well, this Social Contract’s all one thing, Arvid, you got to vote it up or down -- the whole deal. You can’t pick out things you like and vote for them.” Another friend added, “This is it. You gotta be careful. Once you vote, you’ve voted for all time.” These comments were true enough. There was ample precedent, too. We had a deal like that once before in 1787-1789, or so many folks said. Of course, Nyquist didn’t know that.
Soon total strangers came around trying to influence Nyquist’s vote. This was very much against the rules. The Committee had made it clear that the three voting classes – unencumbered, slightly encumbered, and badly encumbered – were to deliberate on their own, without reference works of any kind or any outside influence whatsoever. Exceptions were to be made at the Committee’s discretion. The process greatly resembled public zoning hearings, but was much more streamlined. Attempts were made to block radio and other waves from reaching the disassembled sovereigns – the “sovereign stooges,” as one cynic(1) had called them.
Even so, Marxists dropped around to lecture Nyquist on the Social Contract’s failure to sort out the means of production and Georgists hounded him about its failure to include the Single Tax. There were many other such axe-grinding delegations. Finally, a very elderly Catholic Priest called Father Brown came along, accompanied by some fellow known only as GKC. These two ghostly figures were at pains to show Nyquist that whatever the Social Contract said, it could not stand above the divine and natural laws.
Nyquist was more confused than ever. He wasn’t sure he liked Article 238 about every Sentient Being’s “right” to have his social outlook coercively altered if any two Mental Security Officers so directed. Then there was the “right” to serve as a soldier in humanitarian interventions. These “rights” seemed never to end.
Time was short. The great day was fast approaching when the Sovereign Isolates would announce their soon-to-be-aggregated wills. In fact, the big day was tomorrow.
In the end -- and defying earlier expectations -- Nyquist voted against the Social Contract. En tusen jävla! [A thousand devils!] What had this boy done? A pandemonium of outrage rose up. You’d have thought the Stock Market had crashed (again) and all the ravenous crows in New Jersey had arrived on your front lawn. Nyquist’s “ratification refusal” was not to be tolerated – why, he was a Failed Constituent Actor. As always, Jason Spratt of the Plato Institute (putting the oats back in the haute bourgeoisie since 1979) took the lead in affirming the inner-and-outer conventional Wisdom. “See here, Nyquist,” he sputtered in an op-ed in the Universal New York Times, “you can’t reject the Social Contract. It is irrefutably the product of your Free Will, to be sure, but just as irrefutably that Free Will must be properly formed and must yield the right outcome, or where would we be?” Assuming serially the personas of Madison, Marshall, Lincoln, Plato, al-Farabi, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, and Harry Jaffa (not in that order), Spratt continued: “We the People are the Ultimate Sovereign, just as the Cuban People (materially present in Miami) are the Ultimate Sovereign over our American Coaling Station in Guantánamo. But proper and just sovereignty must never be used for Evil. When it is, it forfeits its claims. We are surprised that Nyquist has not distilled these points from the four winds whence we ourselves gathered them.”
Social Contact supporters in general waxed abusive. Law Professor Crass Sunshine saw Nyquist as “obviously suffering from anti-federalist panic,” while Old Neo-Conservative Robert Warlike Pagan wrote an instant book, Nyquist: Copperhead, Traitor, and Francophile. Poor Nyquist – that ideal numskull – was unrepentant. He’d never thought much in his life and then these people demanded he think and now they didn’t like the results. This didn’t seem fair, although naturally he had little notion of the status of fairness in the Rawlsian hoodoo. So, of course, he was tasered(2) – and more than once. He lived, but vowed never again to take up Serious Thought. And so might we all do, when offered an abstract social contract.
Hic expliciunt gestae Arvidii Nyquisti
1 Historian Eugen Weber.
2 The Social Contract wisely provided for an Electrical Power, citing Benjamin Franklin, founder, on the subject. This power usefully supplemented the Commerce Power, the War Power, and the Anything-At-All Power (“The Popular Assembly shall have power to make all laws easy and convenient”).