To ensure public safety and protection is properly provided to all citizens equally, many societies fee that the best decision is to relinquish some of their rights in favor of a government control over this protection. However, with this decisions come many different ideas, concepts, and factor that determine when the central government no longer provides the services which they are obligated to perform. Although many of these ideas and theories are centuries old, they do play a vital role in the modern day criminal justice system.
This paper will discuss the concept of the social contract theory, specifically that of John Locke, and examine how the concepts of his theory pertain to current events involving the criminal justice system. The social contract theory of John Locke was based on the idea that individuals lived in a state of nature, which in Locke’s opinion, was a place of peace that lacked any type of civil leadership or authority (Lawson, 1990).
In this state of nature, each individual had his or her own rights to seek justice for crimes committed against them in whatever fashion they felt was fitting. However, in Locke’s Second Treatise, he discussing the idea that since every single individual is not equally suited to take on the role of being the judge, jury, and executioner, it is in the best interest of society to give up these rights in favor of a civil society where the state took on the role of maintaining order (Lawson, 1990).
Many of the ideas formed in Locke’s social contract theory mimic the modern criminal justice system. As citizens of a society, we give up many of our rights to protect ourselves in favor or a centralized system or rule governed by elected officials. Under this state governed society, individuals would have the freedom to live their lives without having to worry about protection. However, Locke also brings up the ideas of when individuals have the rights to go against the states authority when the protection from the state is no longer available or has become corrupted.
According to Locke, if the executive power of a society dissolves into tyranny and citizens are no longer able to make laws in favor of their own preservation, the executive power puts themselves back into a state of nature and also in a state of war with the people (Friend, 2004).
Locke believed that under these conditions citizens had the right and obligation to resist authority and reconstruct a better government (Friend, 2004), The condition that Locke discusses in which a citizen has the right to go against state authority is an issue that is very prevalent in today’s society and a major issue in the criminal justice community, especially in law enforcement. In many communities across the country, citizens no longer feel safe in their communities due to high crime and gang activity. However, these same communities and residents also feel that local law enforcement and government agencies are responsible for these issues because they are failing to provide adequate protection.
When situations like this arise in communities, citizens are more likely to take the law into their own hands and revert back to what John Locke described as a state of nature. Furthermore, Locke suggests that when citizens no longer feel protected by the state, they can handle matters in whatever way the choose fitting even if their chosen means were considered illegal prior the dissolving of the government and protecting themselves cannot be considered civil disobedience or vigilantism (Lawson, 1990).
However, as long as the government protects and allows the citizens the right to peacefully fight and organize for reforms in protection and government control, then the government has not dissolved, under the conditions described by Locke, and citizens would be obligated to obey the laws of the state (Lawson, 1990) Within the past six months in Chicago, there have been several examples of individuals taking the law into their own hands since they no longer felt like they received adequate protection from law enforcement.
On May 26, 2010, the Chicago Sun-Times reported about one such incident where an elderly man shot and killed an armed man who had broken into his apartment. According the Sun-Times article, the man had been robbed just months earlier and vowed never to be a victim again (Janssen, 2010). This situation sparked heated debates within the city regarding the elderly man’s actions. Residents of that community argue that the police do not offer enough protection in the predominantly African-American community and that it is time for the residents to take matters into their own hands.
What made matters worse was that the robber had a long history or weapons convictions, which provided more evidence that the criminal justice system was not doing their job. However, other individuals felt that although the elderly man’s actions may have been justified in this specific situation, others should not follow his lead and begin to take matters into their own hands but rather rely on law enforcement and our elected officials to bring change to the community.
This situation is a prime example of the concepts present in John Locke’s social contract theory and how they are shaping modern criminal justice systems and communities that they govern. In conclusion, for a society to have equally distributed justice and protect, the choice is often made to give up the right to protect ourselves in favor of state control, which is the basis of the social contract theory.
Although similar to other theories, John Locke’s interpretation of the social contract theory discusses the situations that justify and condone the actions of a society when the society no longer has the protection of the state. It is these ideas that still fuel arguments and debates on when and at what point citizens have the ability and obligation to protect themselves without the consequences of becoming criminals themselves. Friend, C. (2004).
Social contract theory. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://www. iep. utm. edu/soc-cont/#SH2b Janssen, K. (2010, May 26). Man, 80, ‘did what he had to do,’ killing home invader. Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved from http://www. suntimes. com/news/metro/2320350,home-invasion-suspect-shot-052610. article Lawson, B. (1990). Crime, minorities, and the social contract. Criminal Justice Ethics, 9(2), 16. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.