of Individualism and Collectivism:
Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau
Published in Politics & Society, volume 28 number 2, June 2000, 265-304.
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This is an article that arose because more than 15 years ago, I taught in an interdisciplinary course at Occidental College. In this, I was supposed to be the economics teacher, but I also had to read and talk about such bizarro stuff as plays by Euripides (bizarro only from an economist's point of view, of course). As one of the major benefits I got from the class, I got to read the most important writings of three European political philosophers, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It came as a revelation that orthodox economists were followers of Locke without knowing it. That is, they treat property rights as “natural,” as existing in a “state of nature.” (Believe me, the late Nobel Prize-winning economist Gerard Debreu and his followers actually talked about “states of nature.”) That is, they implicitly assume – along with all of the liberals, whether neo- or New Deal – that there's a consensus underlying society's property system, a tacit social contract.
Struggling over Rousseau (a somewhat deviant and romantic liberal), I realized that his ideas made sense as an equilibrium (and economists love equilibria)! In his Social Contract, people choose the “social contract” democratically, in an Assembly of all. The enforcement of this contract in turn shapes them – via censorship, a civic religion, limits on property ownership, and more – so that they accept the will of the majority and live according to the social contract. (It's a little bit like Plato's Republic, in which the Guardians are highly regulated, almost like the Marine Corps. But Rousseau proposes it for the entire community.) I also pondered Marx & Engels' comments on the social contract in The German Ideology, which suggest that a true social contract could arise only in a working-class revolution. Fiddling at my desk one day, I drew a graph showing this kind of equilibrium, but it also a Hobbesian equilibrium, in which bad social conditions encourage extreme individualism – which causes the continuation of the Hobbesian war over time.
In this vision, individuals “choose” society and society “chooses” people, by shaping their actions and personal characters. In the full model, people choose society in two ways, via individual actions in civil society and via votes in a general Assembly. Going the other way, people are “chosen” by society through the establishment of traditions and through the shaping of their personal characters. (I omit the role of in- and out-migration.) Eventually, I brought in stuff from the “public choice” and game theory literatures (along with some psychology, such as that surveyed by Matt Rabin).
In the end, there are several main situations:
In the paper (page 294), I described a three-way conflict between Id, Ego, and Super-Ego. The error was that I said that the conflict implied a “voter’s paradox.” Given the preferences I posited, this is not true. Here’s a case where there is such a paradox:
An Internal Voter’s Paradox? The conflict of three motives may be an internal “voter’s paradox.” This is a problem a situation noted by Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat, a.k.a. the Marquis de Condorcet, in the late 18th century. Suppose we see the following preference rankings:
1. The impulsive Id prefers stealing now (S) to doing so later (D), which, in turn, is preferred to never filching (N). (S > D > N, where “>” means “is preferred to.”)
2. The cautious Ego prefers strategic delay to impulsive theft; mindful of the consequences of being caught, it will settle for never robbing at all over smash-and-grab. (D > N > S.)
3. The priggish Superego prefers never swiping over stealing, while seeing delaying as rank hypocrisy, which is worse than stealing. (N > S > D.)
This paradox means that an individual (“Snidely”) could be forever unable to come to a final decision. Suppose that he makes his decision by majority vote concerning two alternatives at a time. Then which action wins depends on the order in which the votes are taken:
· if S and N are compared, then N wins, backed by Ego and Superego.
· if N and D are compared, then D wins, backed by Id and Ego.
· if S and D are compared, then S wins, backed by the unusual union or Id and Superego.
If the three participants vote for the three options at the same time, no option can win a majority. A persons with these three preference rankings is thus in deep difficulty.
As noted in the main text, education may minimize this problem. If successful, this would produce “single peaked” preference rankings for the three parts of the self, so that we do not see the inconsistent results above. “Single peaked” preferences would mean first that the three alternatives appear on a continuum (say S, D, N). This implies that the participants share a basic consensus about what’s right and wrong, left and right, etc. Second, each “voter” has a favorite. The further away from the favorite the other alternatives are, the less it is favored.
The priggish Superego, for example, might be trained to avoid treating the Ego’s strategic concerns as hypocritical. Its ranking would then be N > D > S. This implies that the first vote would result in N. The second and third votes produce D. A three-way vote would still not produce a majority for any of the options. But a little compromise would result in D.
revised 0 XXX 0000 by James G. Devine