As I was considering John Locke’s understanding of the ‘social contract’, which first placed men under governments (Essay Concerning Human Understanding & Second Treatise of Civil Government (1690)) , I came across Lincoln Lewis’ Guyana does not need an ethnic party as a third party (KN: 08/07/2018) in which I detected a belief that, with hindsight, I should have recognised before. As if its truth and universality are self-evident, he exclaimed, ‘If the PPP and PNC have been condemned for being race-based parties, how does it become commendable today to encourage the establishment of a party to represent the interest of a single [Amerindian] race?’ Lincoln might not be aware of it, but this statement misrepresents the position of many people, and in it also lies the fundamental error of his discursive edifice.
But firstly, in this article I am not concerned with Mr. Lewis’ disapproval of the formation of an Amerindian party, for I am certain that if he imagines such a party holding the balance by winning and properly utilising 2 to 5 seats in the National Assembly, he will come to envisage how relatively quickly more resources will pour into Amerindian areas and how their social condition, the stuff upon which social status and respect are built, will be positively transformed. In any case, notwithstanding his well-intentioned persistent preaching about the need to hold leaders accountable for their performance and to the law, what persists has not helped either the first peoples or Guyana. Indeed, it occurred to me that the context that led to Locke’s social contract is indicative of both the difficulty Mr. Lewis faces and its overcoming.
That aside, I cannot remember ever condemning the PPP or PNC for being ethnic parties. My position has been that I understand why they are and will continue to be so for some considerable time. Given the ethnic nature of Guyana, we can risk claiming what one is usually warned to avoid saying in this kind of analysis, namely that if tomorrow the PPP and PNC should disappear two similar entities would take their places the same day! So, I will not waste my time blaming the PPP or PNC for being what they are and behaving as they do, for this will distract and lead to the kind of wholesale moral condemnation that will not be very helpful. As I have said many times before, on political matters Guyana does not have a single/independent public opinion that, when necessary, can be mobilised against the regime, and, therefore, I do not expect more than the most suboptimal political accountability.
Nevertheless, I do blame the leaderships of the PNC and PPP for knowing that they are operating ethnic parties, for being aware of what needs to be done to make this condition work for Guyana and for solemnly promising but failing to act upon this knowledge! Reference to political theory helps, for few political discourses are actually new and as we shall see below, according to John Locke, not even the natural law constitution established by heaven was able to shift similar dispositions by reasoning and threats: radical reforms had to be made!
In Locke’s Protestant theodicy, there exists ‘a supreme Being, infinite in Power, Goodness, and Wisdom, whose Workmanship we are, and on whom we depend.’ Man were made to live and prosper in the ‘state of nature’, which was governed by ‘a law of nature … which obliges everyone: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s pleasure: and being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for ours.’
God sent us ‘into the world by his order, and about his business’ and our lives and that of others are not to be willfully taken ‘unless it be to do justice on an offender.’ Our duty is to determine our individual purpose for living and go about fulfilling it, and to allow others to fulfill their purpose with little or no hindrance. A person’s property is of vital importance to his purpose on earth and should not be interfered with, for to do so will be in essence to interfere with the work of God.
Notwithstanding providing men with reason, God knows that some men will not naturally act reasonably for ‘though the law of nature be plain and intelligible to all rational creatures; yet men being biased by their interest, as well as ignorant for want of study of it, are not apt to allow of it as a law binding to them in the application of it to their particular cases.’ So a method of punishing those who fail to comply and rewarding those who follow the dictates of reason is required. ‘God the righteous Judge, ready to render to every Man according to his Deeds; … To him, I say, who hath a prospect of the different State of perfect Happiness or Misery, that attends all men after this Life, depending on their Behaviour here.’
Mankind was originally conceptualized as one community ‘distinct from all other creatures. And were it not for the corruption and viciousness of degenerate men, there would be no need of any other; no necessity that men should separate from this great and natural community, and by positive agreements (social contract) combine into smaller and divided associations.’ The social contract created the new civil state and civil law and judges, all with the authority to force men to comply.
This was a gigantic step for both God and man for it established an intermediation between men and God: men were to be firstly judged, not by ‘God the righteous Judge’ but by fellow men with all their human frailties. If heaven’s work on earth was to be done there had to be strict limits on the authority of these first line rulers, who might be tempted to relieve people of their property and otherwise hinder them. The earthly rulers had to understand that man was only giving up his natural rights ‘to the extent that the preservation of himself, and the rest of that society shall require’ and that ‘[a] government or sovereign that claims absolute power over its subjects exists in a state of nature (i.e. a state of war) with respect to those who are under its dominion.’
The central lesson for us is that once it was realised that rationality, fantastic laws, and fabulous promises of perpetual happiness and threats of horrendous pain were insufficient to overcome the extant communal dysfunctions that threatened the human capacity to do God’s business on earth, the wise decision was made to radically reform the natural constitution which was established by heaven.