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social contract theories

  • This theory originated during the Age of Enlightenment that typically addressed the questions of the origin of society and the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual.
  • This theory focussed on "man" as a rational being who has rights no matter what position he holds in society.
  • This theory states that people will come together and sign up to a social contract whereby a formalized government will be the logical outcome to keep the chaos in check.
  • Thomas Hobbes -(1651)an English philosopher through his book Leviathan written during the English Civil War stated that in order to avoid chaos, people must accede to a social contract and establish a civil society
  • Stated that the protector's sovereign power derives from individuals' surrendering their own sovereign power for protection.
  • John Locke-English philosopher who authored 'Second Treatise of Government' (1689) stated that state of nature is not that of any disturbance or commotion. He stated that persons in a state of nature would willingly come together to form a state.
  • The Law of Nature would bind people in a state of nature morally, not to harm each other in their lives or possessions, but without government to defend them against those seeking to injure or enslave them, people would have no security in their rights and would live in fear.
  • Locke argued that individuals would agree to form a state that would provide a "neutral judge", acting to defend the lives, liberty, and property of those who lived within it
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau, French Philosopher, in his anthology 'The Social Contract' 1762 stated "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains."
  • The state of nature was a primitive condition without law or morality, which human beings left for the benefits and necessity of cooperation. As society developed, the division of labor and private property required the human race to adopt institutions of law thereby pressure threatens both his survival and his freedom.
  • To avoid this, general will is significant where people will have final authority and state is contributory to the collective interest.
  • This theory implied a proscription against despotism. Moreover, government is only legitimate insofar as it is subordinated to popular sovereignty.