by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 27 June 2007)
While visiting a bookstore recently, I picked up Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s book, The Social Contract, and I stumbled upon a phrase that caught my eye. It was just a footnote at the end of a chapter, but it spoke volumes about how I interpret government at this point in my life.
This philosopher felt it was important for the people of a society to come together and create a social pact that would become law. It was then the responsibility of the government – a group of citizens chosen by the people – to implement and enforce the general will of the people comprised in the social pact.
In order to cite the footnote that caught my eye, it is first necessary to quote the text to which it was linked in the original passage. Rousseau said, “I shall end this chapter…with an observation which might serve as a basis for the whole social system: namely, that the social pact, far from destroying natural equality, substitutes, on the contrary, a moral and lawful equality for whatever physical inequality that nature may have imposed on mankind: so that however unequal in strength and intelligence, men become equal by covenant and right.”
This is one of the primary reasons we have national constitutions, so that we are all bound by the same premise that each person in society is protected by a national agreement that affords equality to all regardless of race, gender, financial status, intellectual prowess, physical strength, etc. This concept, at face value, is one of the better ideologies of governmental systems in existence today.
However, the footnote that caught my eye offered the flip-side perspective on this social contractual agreement among citizens. It said, “Under a bad government, this equality is only an appearance and an illusion; it serves only to keep the poor in their wretchedness and sustain the rich in their usurpation.”
Just this first line alone made my mind whirl with thoughts of the various bad governments in our world today including America and Guyana. Rousseau’s words on this matter seem to ring true if we examine the corrupt practices of our governments.
I live in the US and I need only watch the news for ten brief minutes to learn of yet one more government official who has been made richer by the money of the rest of us. The latest example is the now former U.S. deputy secretary of state Paul Wolfowitz, who even used his position to give his girlfriend hefty pay raises.
In Guyana, there can be no doubt of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Bribery, corruption and back room deals now run the governmental system – and sadly, even the judicial system.
In such circumstances as these, the equality promised by the social contract – the national Constitution – is only an “appearance and an illusion.” This situation perpetuates an unequal system and promotes the continuation of an oppressive and corrupt government.
As if that was not bad enough, the footnote continued, “In truth, laws are always useful to those with possessions and harmful to those who have nothing; from which it follows that the social state is advantageous to men only when all possess something and none has too much.”
I have always found it highly entertaining and quite ironic that the same PPP that proudly professes its supposed communist principles are the same persons who flaunt their wealthy lifestyles – which puts them far above the financial bracket of the average Guyanese.
For America, Bush and his cronies will be out of office in the next elections. His party does not stand a chance of winning the presidential seat. At this point, it seems America would rather put a woman or an African-American man in the White House (neither of whom have been president in America’s history) before they let another Republican ruin the country for four more years.
I cannot help but wonder about what the Guyanese people will do if they are presented with the chance to make such a drastic change in the next national elections. I truly believed this change could have come in the last elections. I was sorely wrong.
Currently, some places in the nation have wonderful new streets and other places have cratered roads that destroy their cars. Some places have water and electricity and other places do not – or only have it sparingly. Some places have a multitude of choices when it comes to television programming and others have been stripped of those choices for unknown reasons.
I am no oracle, but even from thousands of miles away I can see a dark cloud descending on Guyana. It seems there is a foreboding shadow on the horizon that can only be averted by a genuine application of the nation’s social contract by those who have been ensured with the implementation and enforcement of the citizens’ general will.
As much as my heart goes out to the people of Guyana, the current government is in office for one reason – because the citizens of this nation put it there. What can be said when the people knowingly choose to retain an incompetent government? America did it in the last presidential elections too and look where it has got them - more corruption and made to look like fools in the international community.
If this statement is true, “In truth, laws are always useful to those with possessions and harmful to those who have nothing; from which it follows that the social state is advantageous to men only when all possess something and none has too much,” then all that is necessary to promote lawlessness is a continued state of poverty for the general population.
At this point, one must ask what is being done to promote the financial success of the general population. One must also ask what is being done to discourage the financial success of the general population. The answer to these questions will provide us with a clear motive of any nation’s leaders and present a measuring stick of equality for the future.