The Citizen and the State
Sat, 05/28/2016 - 10:28pm
“As soon as any man says of the affairs of the State "What does it matter to me?" the State may be given up for lost.” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract
A recent editorial in the Barbados Advocate explored the nature of electoral promises and concluded, in my view, quite rightly that despite their certainty, definiteness and intelligibility in some cases, they nevertheless remain legally unenforceable by the electorate in case of a failure or refusal to perform by the promising party simply because they lacked the quality of any common intention between the parties that such breaches of promise would be the subject matter of litigation in a court of law. Hence the opinion that these promises were not “worth the paper on which they were printed.”
There was the further contention that the promise on the part of the political party in return for the exercise of the elector’s franchise in its favour created rather a status relationship of the government and the governed or the citizen and the state; a relationship of unequal bargaining power that left the citizen/elector with the sole remedy of exercising his or her franchise against the candidate for the breaching party at the next general election. Since this applies no matter which of the two major parties forms the governing administration, the elector is reasonably likely to feel him or herself stuck between Scylla and Charybdis in electoral choice. The acronym “DBLP” to express this frustration is swiftly gaining currency among the local bloggerati.
That some agreements may create relationships of status to which are attached certain rights and obligations is not a novel thesis.
The contract of employment creates the relationship of employer and employee in which both parties enjoy certain rights and are subject, in addition to their express undertakings, to defined implied or statutory obligations simply as a result of their status in the relationship. For example, the employee, by virtue of being an employee, is under an obligation to obey the lawful reasonable orders of the employer and to be faithful to the interests of the employer (the duty of fidelity); while the employer, qua employer, assumes an obligation to pay wages so long as the employee is ready and willing to work and, at least for now in local law, to treat the employee with trust and confidence.
Similarly, the contract of marriage makes the parties husband and wife, statuses to which historically prescribed rights and duties are also affixed. Thus the parties have mutual rights to the sex, services and society of each other while the status relationship subsists.
The relationship between the governors and the governed bears close analysis in this context. Clearly, the government, in the form of the state, has at least the obligation of not infringing the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the citizen, in addition to any other similar entitlements whether created by custom, statute, customary international law or treaty implication, so far as these are capable of enforcement. Equally, there is a civic entitlement to security and good administration in that official decisions will be made fairly, in good faith and without regard to irrelevant considerations. Correspondingly, the citizen is obligated to obey those provisions of the law that relate to the good ordering of the society and the economy. Refraining from breaches of the peace and the payment of taxes and other statutory rates are premised on this obligation. And, since it is a continuing relationship, there should optimally be elements of mutual trust and confidence.
However, in a developing society such as ours there also exists a penumbra of rights and obligations that may still need to be defined and articulated. For instance, is there a civic right to taxpayer-funded education from nursery to university? To effective waste management? And, if there is, what are the sources of these rights and the correlative state obligations?
The differences here between this political status relation between the citizen and the state and the others already referred to are, first, that the former is a more fluid relationship based principally on the constitutional prerogative of the governors to determine the mode and prioritization of the disbursement of state funds and, second, the absence therein of any reference point for frequently occurring terms and conditions since each polity has its own inherent context. This might explain why local health care is still essentially taxpayer-funded, while in the comparatively wealthier US there is no such reality.
It is my view that the articulation of the entitlements of the governed in a polity such as ours is the peculiar preserve of the citizens themselves through the process of democratic bargaining with the state. Still, there are some hindrances to the realization of this. For one, our political system is not ideally fashioned to accommodate the private individual point of view; the praxis of representative democracy here entails that any alternative views of governance be posited on behalf of the citizens by those members of Parliament that do not support the government. Second, the temporary governors remain constitutionally free to choose to ignore all proposals that do not comport with their development vision for the state.
Given these limitations, the notion of a status relationship between the citizen and the state in which the citizen has any substantial bargaining power or immediate influence is an unlikely reality now and perhaps in the near future.
A revolution in political thought on governance only may be necessary to alter the status quo. Our research agenda should be “how in the current ethos is the citizen to become more empowered”?
“In a republican nation, whose citizens are to be led by reason and persuasion and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of first importance” – Thomas Jefferson