Ukrainian intellectuals discussed the philosophical aspect of the social contract and its practical significance

Aspen Institute Kyiv continues a series of dialogue activities on various aspects of the social contract. The Institute involves Ukrainian intellectuals and leaders from different spheres of our society in these activities. In addition, as part of the project’s development, the Institute prepared a collection of essays written by leading Ukrainian thinkers.

A public discussion titled “Social contract in Ukraine: Quo vadis?” was held on January 24. The participants made the discovery of the philosophical aspect within the social contract, as well as its practical and methodological issues. For example, how to find social agreement and what actions should be manifested.

Watch the recording of the event via link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkIEN_7jUpU&t=1522s

At the beginning of the event, Yulia Tychkivska, Executive Director of Aspen Institute Kyiv, noted that military victory requires a high-quality shared vision of the future in which Ukrainians would like to live. Moreover, she stated that the future must be worth the sacrifices we make every day.

Vakhtang Kebuladze: “All the most important social and political products of human history are products of our collective imagination”

Vakhtang Kebuladze, philosopher, publicist, translator, and professor of T.G. Shevchenko KNU, said that he used to perceive the concept of a social contract as a metaphor, which denotes not such specific events in the history of humanity, but a particularly long, stable process. On the other hand, our time has been accelerated and compressed, especially with the Maidan, the beginning of the war and the full-scale invasion of Russia. There was a feeling that these were precisely the moments in the development of humanity and European civilization when a social agreement could be concluded.

Answering the question about the normativity of the social contract, Vakhtang Kebuladze noted that the concept of social imagination suits him best:

— To my mind, all the most critical social and political products of human history are products of our collective imagination. I support constructivism in historical knowledge and refer to Benedict Anderson’s work “Imagined Communities”. First, he talks about prosperous political nations, Western European and American, as products of shared imagination. Our collective imagination can build fundamental constructs and natural political formations. Our future depends on how our vision will work — for Ukrainians and all civilized humanity.

Mr. Kebuladze also added that Ukrainians’ imagination of a world without Russia and the realization of the products of this imagination in actual actions could be a specific solution.

Oleg Khoma: “Those who invented the concept of social agreement put a diametrically different meaning into it than we do today”

According to Oleg Khoma, a philosopher and head of the Department of Philosophy and Humanities at VNTU, the concept of “social agreement” is insidious. First of all, intuitively, most people know what an agreement or a contract is. Secondly, it is primarily a profound philosophical concept.

— Those who invented the concept of a social agreement inserted a diametrically different meaning than we do today. For them, social agreement is the primary act of society formation. When we speak about it, society springs up. And to update a social contract means to change it — to cancel the previous one and create a new one. For theorists of natural law, this is a rearrangement of the people. Let’s think, using this metaphor – do we want to rearrange the Ukrainian people?

According to Oleh Khoma, when we talk about the social contract, we do not mean that we want to live together, but as the positioning of the people and the government, the type of accountability, understanding of justice, and control. In this sense, it is impossible and unnecessary to abandon the “social contract” metaphor if used consciously. At the same time, another meaning should be attached to it.

Yaroslav Hrytsak: “The social contract consists in the fact that society has those institutions that it is ready to tolerate or withstand”

Yaroslav Hrytsak, historian, public intellectual, and professor at UCU reflected on the trust that arose in Ukrainian society during the full-scale invasion of Russia and how it can be saved.

— Even if we live by the metaphor of a honeymoon, we understand that the honeymoon cannot be stretched; it must be dragged into a stable marriage. Trust arose as a result of the war because both society and the state now work for survival and security. To hold and institutionalize this trust, we need institutions that will be responsible for this trust.

Mr. Hrytsak believes that the social contract consists of the fact that society has those institutions that it is ready to tolerate or endure. It is not about personal trust that the old social contract offered, but institutional trust. According to the historian, a motivated group of people must appear and come to power with their political project, restarting the country by creating new game rules and institutions to consolidate such trust. This is possible only in a critical situation.

Pavlo Sheremeta: “Economic freedom is associated with well-being and achieved through greater productivity”

Pavlo Sheremeta, Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine (2014) and distinguished fellow at GLOBSEC spoke about the economic dimension of the social contract. Mr. Sheremeta believes increasing economic freedoms and productivity is necessary for Ukraine.

— Economic freedom is associated with well-being and is achieved through greater productivity. One of the main factors for this is competition. If you see that your competitors are working more productively, you either die or start working more productively.

Mr. Sheremeta named two additional factors for achieving economic productivity. The first of them is infrastructure: Russia carries out terrorist attacks on energy and transport infrastructure. The damaged system will need to be restored innovatively at a much higher level. The second is education: the state’s guarantee of competition in the education sector and a certain level of investment in it should be part of the social contract. Сitizens have to worry about their education for their interest.

Vsevolod Rechytskyi: “We must understand our national code and reproduce it in the basic law”

Vsevolod Rechytskyi, jurist, political scientist, and associate professor of UCU, spoke about affairs between the social contract of Ukrainian society and our Constitution. He believes it is necessary to understand our national code and reproduce it in the Basic Law.

— The problem is that people with a collectivistic mentality drew up the Constitution of Ukraine. The theory of liberal democracy is developed down to the last detail. It is evident in Western-type countries what the constitution is and how it should work. The only necessary thing is to define the so-called national codes correctly. According to Alvin Toffler, it is a set of principles and rules that permeate the activity of civilization. This is a pre-law, a pre-constitution, and the constitution uses these national codes as a source. It would be a big mistake to mix them up. We must understand our country’s code and reproduce it in the Basic law.

Vsevolod Rechytskyi calls constitutions “documents of freedom”. He believes that the only thing that all Ukrainians would unconditionally agree to is a system of governance under which they would retain maximum individual liberty. Mr. Rechytskyi believes if Ukraine wants to join the European Union, we need marketization, privatization, and increasing attention to private property. It is also possible to create an upper chamber of parliament for the upper/middle class. Such a chamber would show healthy conservatism. In addition, we must end the era of collectivism and socialism. 

Dialogue was moderated by Yulia Tychkivska, executive director of Aspen Institute Kyiv, Denys Poltavets, director of program development of Aspen Institute Kyiv, Olesya Zhulynska, head of communications and public relations of PrivatBank, and Andriy Kulakov, program coordinator of the Community of Aspen Institute Kyiv.

The project “Social contract for Ukraine” is implemented with the support of NED (National Endowment for Democracy).