The Social Contract: Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau

The three philosophers, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were three key thinkers of political philosophy. The three men helped develop the social contract theory into what it is in this modern day and age. The social contract theory was the creation of Hobbes who created the idea of a social contract theory, which Locke and Rousseau built upon. Their ideas of the social contract were often influenced by the era in which they lived and social issues that were present during their lives.

Although all men sit in different positions on the theoretical political spectrum, which is derived from their work on the Social Contract Theory, they carry both similar and differential ideas (it can be argued where each man rests depending on who may be analyzing their work, but for the most part their position is clear). A key similarity between all three men is that they believe that there should be at least some sort of social contract of a supreme power such as a government in order to govern the rights of man.

Of course it is obvious that the men are linked together by their ideas of a social contract because they have built upon each other. What is significant about this similarity is that, although not all three men have similar views on how the government is formed, but they all have similar ideas on the underlying concept of why government should be formed and a social contract established. This is essentially to protect and preserve the rights of man in some way which somehow preserves mans existence. Hobbes feels that mans craving for power and natural state of war is controlled by the social contract, therefore maintaining mans existence.

“ the final cause, or end design of men (who naturally love liberty, and dominion over others) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves (in which we see them live in commonwealths) is the foresight [prospect] of their own preservation and of more contented life thereby, that is to say, of getting themselves out from that miserable condition of war which is necessarily consequent (as has been shown) to the natural passions of men, when there is no visible power to keep them in awe and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants and observation of those laws of nature…

” (Levithian, Pt. 2 Ch. 17 s. 1) Locke, similarly feels that, he purpose of law is not to restrict the freedom of man but rather to preserve man and grant him liberty. “… the end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom: for in all the states of created beings capable of laws, where there is no law, there is no freedom: for liberty is, to be free from restraint and violence from others. ” (Second Treatise, Ch. 6 s. 56) He feels that because man is so vulnerable in the state of nature, laws are created to establish mans natural rights (property).

“… If he [man] be absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest, and subject to nobody, why will be part with his freedom?… To which it is obvious, that though in the state of nature he has such a right, yet the enjoyment of it is very uncertain and constantly exposed to the invasion of others… This makes him willing to quit a condition… that he seeks out, and is willing to join in society with others, who are already united, or have a mind to unite, for the mutual preservation of their… property.

” (Second Treatites, Ch. 9 s. 123) Third, Rousseau feels that the creation of a social contract secures mans rights “… whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free; for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his country, secures him against all personal dependence. ” (On the Social Contract, Book 1 Ch. 7) he feels that man in his natural state would not be able to survive and that is where the use of social contract enters.

According to Rousseau, the social contract is essential if man intends to survive. “ Such being the case, that original state cannot subsist any longer, and the human race would perish if it did not alter its mode of existence. ” (On the Social Contract, Book 1 Ch. 6) The concept of a social contract and the idea that it is used for preservation, and ultimately security of man is what makes these men relate to each other, but they have some very differing ideas and arrive at different conclusions so there is quite a selection of differences to choose from.

It can be argued whether their social contract is a literal contract or a hypothetical contract. One key difference between the three thinkers is their differential idea of what the state of nature is. Hobbe’s has a famous quote that defines man in a poor way. “

In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, brutish, and short,” (Leviathan, Ch. 13 s. 9) Also Hobbes declares “… that the nature of man, we find three principle causes of quarrel. First, competition; secondly, difference; thirdly, glory. ” (Leviathan, Ch. 13 s.

6) He also feels that unjusticeness is non-existant in mans natural state. “To this war of every man against every man, this is also consequent; that nothing can be unjust.. Where there is no common power, there is no law; where no law, no injustice. ” (Leviathan, Ch. 13 s. 13) Gathered from Leviathan, Hobbes views man’s natural conditions as bad, egoistic, and revolving around war. This is a particularly dark view of mankind. Locke feels that men are all in a natural state of freedom.

“… we must consider the state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit within the bounds of nature, without asking to leave, or depending upon the will of any other man. ” (Second Treatise, Ch. 2 s. 4). Rousseau opens On the Social Contract with his famous quote “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. ” (On the Social Contract, Book 1 Ch. 1).

This means that it is actually civilization that corrupted man and not his natural state. All three definitions of man’s natural state completely differ from one another, establishing that their ideas are completely differential. Personally, I find the social contract appealing in some way, and unappealing in others. In regards to man’s natural state I would have to agree with Hobbes Idea simply because from looking upon others, and myself as well, man has a tendency to be egoistic and their natural state is war.

One may look at corrupt government in modern society and it is plausible that the war that exists in these countries due to a corrupt government (or a non-existing government) is a product of mans natural state. The Social Contract is also appealing because the idea of security is absolutely essential in society because all man wants to feel safe in society- this is an absolutely plausible idea because it is evident in society that people indeed want security.

It seems like they desire security for all the reasons of which Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau describe. On the other hand, the men’s ideas of which types of governments would best suitable for governing man seems quite far fetched because a monarchy seems quite outdated. The idea of democracy is quite nice, but from what is evident in modern society as democracy seems to be twisted and ideal democracy seems far-fetched.