Political totalitarianism and the social contract: Envisioning contractualism for the 21st century


  • Rok Rok Svetlič


social contract, totalitarianism, state, legitimacy


This paper proposes an analysis of the social contract as a vital a priori concept needed in thinking about the prevention of political totalitarianisms. After analysing its conceptual
foundations out of the dynamics of Western metaphysic, it demonstrates how the social contract for the 21st century cannot be a mere continuation of the contractualism of the
17th century. The most important shift in contractual thought is the insight that the individual (and his contractual will) cannot be taken as the foundation of the state organism. To understand the relationship between the individual and general will, against which it is possible to consider contractualism for the 21st century, the paper draws on Hegel’s concept of the civil society (Bürgerliche Gesellschaft). This allows for overcoming the impasse of contractualism in thinking about the state, while at the same time keeping the initiative of the autonomous individual at its core. A legitimate state must incorporate countless channels through which the thinking of autonomous individuals passes into the life of a state. It is precisely the keeping alive of this sphere that guarantees that the state does not slide into a totalitarian pattern.