CSR and the Social Contract: Locke or Rousseau?

CSR and the Social Contract:
Locke or Rousseau?
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)
The father of modern Social Contract theory
Hobbesian Social Contract (I)
State of nature:
• No government, no laws, thus no private
• Life is a war of every man against every other
man; “nasty, brutish and short”
• Essentially the law of the jungle
Hobbesian Social Contract (II)
Social contract:
• Every individual surrenders its “natural liberty” to
a common centralized power, a Sovereign
embodying the State
• The Sovereign has a monopoly on the use of
force, and more generally, on political power
• The Sovereign defines and enforces what is legal
and illegal. Private property is thus constituted,
but subject to limitations imposed by the
sovereign, including confiscation
The Hobbesian Sovereign
• The Hobbesian Sovereign personifying
the State, made up of individuals
• The sword and the staff symbolize secular
and religious power
Social Contracts and Economic Systems
Classical Liberalism
(Small government protecting Private Property)
Social Liberalism
(Strong government expressing the General Will)
Contemporary Examples
Social Contract
Type of Capitalism
Founding Idea
Neo-Mercantilistic State Capitalism
Sovereign Power
Classical-Liberal Laissez-faire Capitalism
Private Property
Social-Liberal Welfare Capitalism
General Will
Where does CSR fit into this
CSR is essentially about the social
responsibility of business beyond what is
stipulated by law, i.e. a voluntary
(Cf. Carroll 1991/1999, Schwartz & Carroll
2003, Windsor 2006.)
Basic observation
• The notion of CSR does not fit with the Hobbesian, Mercantilistic model beacuse in
this model the Sovereign arrogates all social power and thus all social responsibility.
• I.e. in the Hobbesian socio-economic model there is no room for a voluntarily
assumed social responsibility on behalf of private citizens and private firms. Why?
Because voluntary responsibility presupposes individual freedom, and in the
Hobbesian model there is essentially only one free individual (in a strong sense of
freedom), the sovereign.
• In this sense CSR appears to be an intrinsically liberal, post-Hobbesian notion. In
other words, CSR seems to be intrinsically linked to the political and economical
thought of the Enlightenment, emphasizing the freedom of the individual, including the
individual firm (corporate citizen.)
Which apparently leaves us with
the choice: Locke or Rousseau?
That is – does the concept of CSR fit best with
A Locke-style Small-government Classicallyliberal type of socio-economic system, or:
A Rousseau-style Strong-government Sociallyliberal type of socio-economic system?
• To me, this comes down to the question: Does
CSR figure as a complement or a supplement
to the social responsibility enacted by
• I express this in terms of what I call the
”complementary” and the ”supplementary
The Complementary Hypothesis
• Social responsibility is a null-sum game; public and private social
responsibilities crowd each other out.
• Thus the more social responsibility is arrogated by centralized, public
institutions (elected government, labor unions, etc.) the less social
responsibility is voluntarily assumed by individual/corporate citizens, i.e.
the private sector defined by its private property.
The Supplementary Hypothesis
Social responsibility is not a null-sum game; public and private social responsibility does not
crowd each other out but rather reinforce each other.
Specifically, the more formalized responsibility for public affairs is entrusted to the general
populace through centralized institutions expressing the general will (elected government,
labor unions etc.) the more informal social responsibility is simultaneously encouraged among
citizens acting privately (which could be conceived to hold for corporate citizens as well.)
The hypotheses could be the
starting point for:
• Further conceptual analysis
• Empirical investigation
Thank you for your attention!

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