In times like this, the social contract becomes little more than a flimsy veil, failing to hide the naked power behind it. In theory, we live in a liberal democracy. In practice we are under the thumb of what William Cobbett memorably called "the Thing" – a great, lurking, self-serving power. Today's Thing is a hydra with two heads – corporation and state – and both have the same message for us: behave yourself, take out a loan, go shopping, keep the economy afloat. Your duty is not to be alert, active citizens but passive, obedient consumers. Oh, and if you've done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to hide.
We are becoming a nation of enforced conformity. In this context, liberty means the freedom simply to be yourself. The freedom to go about your business without being watched by cameras; the freedom to make merry or make trouble on your own streets; the freedom to pursue alternatives to the consumer economy. It also means freedom from coercion: freedom from databases, identity cards, iris scans, fingerprints, random searches, imprisonment without trial or justification. It means, above all, having the freedom, and the power, to say no to the Thing.