Panarchy and Contractarianism Social contracts between states and their citizens are at the core of Panarchy. Therefore, Panarchy is a cosmopolitan type of Contractarianism (Contractarianism means political and ethical theories that are founded on contracts). Contractarianism and Panarchy agree that the relations between states and their citizens, formalized by constitutions and laws, are conventional rather than natural; politics is not reducible to biology since there is no “natural” political order. Political systems result from human decisions, agreements, or coercion. They do not emerge “organically.” Panarchy and Contractarianism also agree that consent expressed formally in a contract is the normative foundation for the political order. Voluntary consent legitimizes states, their relations with their citizens, and the constitutions that regulate them. The social contract is also the basis for the mutual obligations, responsibilities, duties and rights, of citizens and states. The scope of Contractarianism is broader than that of a normative political theory. Contractarianism also includes contractarian ethical theories and systems of justice. Panarchy is just a normative political meta-theory. Panarchy is metacontractarian in the sense that unlike traditional contractarian political theories (Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Rawls, Nozick, Narveson, etc.) it does not say anything
normative about the contents of the social contracts that should regulate the relations between citizens and states. Indeed, it argues there is no “one size fits all” social contract that is best, at least in broad terms, for all human beings. Arguably the differences between people make such a contract highly unlikely. Panarchy is meta-contractarian in agreeing with contractarians that a social contract is the normative basis for politics; but it is beyond (meta-) Contractarianism in denying that there is any single contract that should be the basis for political relations and so it says nothing about the contents of such contracts. The main difference between Panarchy and the classical contractarian political theories is that Panarchy interprets the social contract literally as an actual contract negotiated, agreed, and signed between state representatives and citizens. The classical contractarian political theories interpreted the contract as hypothetical, mythical-historical, or metaphorical. The mythical-historical interpretation failed because as David Hume noted, there has never been a moment when society was formed by agreement, contractual or not, out of unattached individuals. As we know today, political history began with humans already in tribes. People have never been alone at some dawn of history in primordial forests killing each other, until they came to understand that they would benefit by founding a state and reaching an agreement with a sovereign or with each other. Contractarian political philosophers posited instead a hypothetical presocial situation, whose details differed from philosopher to philosopher. Then, they attempted to extrapolate what hypothetical people, who sometimes missed some universal human properties, like an identity, and sometimes had properties that fell short of universality, like advanced rational and deliberative skills, hypothetically would have agreed on. Philosophers used such hypothetical thought experiments to explain and justify the state, and different and mutually incoherent normative and critical theories about what the state should be like and what kinds of rights and duties citizens and states should have and owe to each other. Thought experiments about the emergence of political society and states from agreements among individuals under varying abstract conditions are far from everyday experience, so intuitions are particularly uncertain guides in attempting to infer their results. Unsurprisingly, contractarian philosophers who made different assumptions, often implicit, about the hypothetical background conditions for social contracts, reached different conclusions about the nature and details of that contract. Hypothetical social contracts reached via contrived thought experiments were used to explicate more than support the kind of intuitions each philosopher had in the first place. Many of the critics of Rawls’ system of justice criticized this intuitionist and hypothetical aspect of his influential contractarian political philosophy. The moral appeal of Contractarianism is based at least partly on its voluntarism. If two parties to a contract agree voluntarily, without coercion, on its terms, they generate commitments to fulfill the terms of the contract. However, hypothetical social contracts that emerge from thought experiments can hardly be said to be voluntary. Abstract figments of somebody’s imagination cannot consent to social contracts that are binding on real people. Without voluntary consent, the political normative conclusion is precariously weak. As Dworkin (1975) put it, a
hypothetical contract is no contract. Hypothetical “agreement” to hypothetical social contracts that result from thought experiments may be at most a heuristic devise for claiming that one has discovered a rational, though hypothetical, agreement between hypothetical people without passions, interests, biases, or identities. But there are no such people. The Rawlsian original agreement is justified by rational deliberation, not consent and obligation. Real agreement must presuppose that people are different, otherwise there would be nothing for them to debate and any one person could do all the rational thinking because the others would be just clones who would repeat the same rational process of reasoning and reach the same conclusions. Hypothetical agreements intuited by a philosopher (or a revolutionary avantgarde) can be anti-democratic when they replace actual agreements by real majorities. They may assume that humanity is not sufficiently unbiased and rational to know its own best interests and that therefore a superior thinker or avant-garde must intuit them. Such hypotheticals are wrong because they reduce consent to hypothetical procedure and hypothetical procedure to pure rationality, and pure rationality to the intuitions of one thinker, who can manipulate hidden conditions to generate any desired results and ignore the actual democratic aspirations and interests of real people. One such condition is often the absolute homogeneity of people who should have the same interests, information, and risk analysis and tolerance. The worst outcome is when armed intellectuals attempt to achieve by force the elusive homogeneity or when they skip it to imagine what rationality dictates. This has constituted the intellectual foundation of totalitarianism from the Jacobins to the Bolsheviks (Tucker 2008). Following the apparent failure of founding a normative political theory on hypothetical contracts justified by thought experiments about hypothetical, homogenously uniform, people, some philosophers attempted to substitute implicit agreement in actions or tacit consent for the hypothetical social contract. Following Plato and Locke, the acceptance of benefits from the state could be interpreted as tacit agreements to a social contract with it. However, as Nozick retorted rightly, we are not obliged to those who force us to accept benefits. Panarchy is different in four major ways from contractarian hypothetical and thought experimental normative political theories: It is meta-political rather than political, it is empirical rather than rationalist, historical and evolutionary rather than timeless, and it is founded on a strong and actual rather than weak and hypothetical agreement. Panarchy does not advocate any particular universal social contract that all hypothetically homogenous people should have reached consensus about under science fiction-like conditions that never happened and never will. It says nothing about the kinds of states or social contracts that may emerge in a universal Panarchy. Panarchist political meta-theory allows for a process of exit from and entry into social contracts to be reiterated. Each political exit and entry represents a likely improvement, or the person who exits and enters would have remained loyal to their state and social contract. The result is an evolutionary progressive process that through reiterated exits and entries generates a trend for political improvement. This process is akin to creative destruction in free markets where consumers exit relationships with firms when
they see a prospect for a more satisfying relationship with another firm. This ameliorative trend is absent from contractarian political theories that allow only for a single social contract that cannot be reversed in light of later experiences. Panarchy as a methodology for normative political choice is founded on empirical trial and error experimentation rather than rational intuition. Following experience, some people may find the social contract they signed faulty or deficient and prefer to try a state with a different model of state and social contract. Others may be happy with the social contract but feel its implementation inefficient or corrupt and would like to try a different state with a similar social contract. All such choices would be based on experience, as in democratic elections but with greater number of more precise choices that are not subject to revisions after the elections by coalition partners or lobbyists for minority special interests. Exit and entry do not require rational deliberations. People who are politically unhappy can exit and try another state and if that does not work, try again; they do not need to understand or be able to explain exactly why they want to exit and why they are hopeful the next state they choose to try may be better. By contrast, the contractarian normative theories that rely on hypothetical consensus among rational homogeneous hypothetical people on a hypothetical social contract are rationalist. Rather than rely on experience, they attempt to intuit rational solutions from thought experiments. The Panarchist trial and error empirical method is closer in this respect to empirical science than to rationalist philosophy. Panarchy as a meta-political system is an evolutionary process rather than a description of a model of a state. It creates the conditions for innovation and experimentation with better state ideas, contracts and management practices, and for states founded on bad ideas and contracts or on incompetent or corrupt management to disappear. Over time, this generates a trend towards better state models and their management. By contrast, classical hypothetical Contractarianism considers the social contract to resemble original sin, for all time without change or progress. Panarchy is founded on voluntary consent in an explicit and robust sense. This consent offers a stronger normative foundation for social contracts than hypothetical consent under otherworldly imagined conditions.