Modern politics governments differ from state to state based on their constitutions. The origins of some of these constitutions are somewhat unclear and my essay will attempt to shed light on what foundations they might have been built. I will give Thomas Hobbes definition of man in the ‘the state of nature’ and the transformation from this state to society, with differing views of this transformation given by John Locke and John Jacque-Rousseau.
A comparison of the Social contract theories of Hobbes, Lock and Rousseau will be made to assess how they may have influenced and may continue to influence modern politics. The negative and positives, which range from individualistic to liberal and humanitarian aspects of the social contracts will be assessed and applied to the of types governments likely to have been influenced by these contracts and how they may continue to influence future politics. Hobbes’ depiction of the state of nature is that within which man is born free, equal and rational.
Faced with scarcity of resources, he will exercise his freedom by taking what he desires from another, killing him if needs be. Hobbes’ notion is that of creates perpetual fear and suspicion, creating what “war of man against every man”, resulting in man’s life being “short, brutish, solitary and poor”. Hobbes also highlights that man’s primary concern is ‘self-preservation’, and to achieve he mutually gives up his freedom, forms a community with a set of rules and appoints a head, preferably a Monarch, who punishes transgressors in a bid to ensure peace and safety.
(Tuck and Silverstone, 1998 :21-35) this is Hobbes notion of a social contract and beginning of civil society ruled by an absolute power, whom man cannot rebel against for fear of returning to the ‘state of nature’ rebellion is permissible where the Monarch fails to protect man or orders man to kill himself. Rebellion and removal of the Monarch, according to Hobbes will catapult man back into the anarchical ‘state of nature’. (Tuck,1996:91-132). Hobbes’s contract theory depicts a totalitarian government can be said to have influenced the formation of tyrannical governments.
(Li, 2010). Locke however sees a man, whose morality prevents him from harming another. In his opinion man creates his rightful property when he mixes his labour with what he takes from nature, as long as he only takes what he needs. (Macpherson 1980: 52-75). He agrees with Hobbes’ notion of the social contract which offers peace and security, but Locke adds that laws are ‘designed for the good of the people’ not the individual. Locke also says that under agreement, government is formed and delegated the power to punish transgressors.
In disagreement with Hobbs, Locke states that the social contract can however be revoked and the government replaced by revolt if needs be, should it fail to protect man’s life, liberty and property, returning to a civil society. (Wolff 1996:19-20). Locke’s notion equality of man, calls for a government comprising of legislative and executive bodies with separated powers, to serve the removal of the arbitrariness of laws. According to Locke Government’s involvement in man’s life should be limited to ensuring his protection. Locke’s theory leans heavily on man’s ability to exercise his freedom and rightfully acquire property.
This notion is said have heavily influenced the drafting of the Declaration of Independence in the United States, and also foster the spirit of giving to charity by those who can afford to. Lind (2012). Rousseau’s notion of the social contract comprises the General Will, in which incorporation into society ensures man’s enjoyment of freedom. The General Will, therefore seeks to serve and benefit the general good of men, casting aside individual needs. He states that with the General Will, hurting one person constitutes hurting all the members of society.
On this basis, his preference of government is that which is ‘tolerant’ and directly guided by serving the ‘public good. ’ In contrast to both Hobbes and Locke, he proposes that all laws and decisions based on the agreement of all men, despite of their individual preferences. Rousseau’s theory can be attributed to have influenced social democratic governments where those who can, contribute to look after those who are unable to. Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau notion of the ‘state of nature’ and its transformation to modern society is likely to support the notion that modern politics may have been influenced by the social contract theory.
The fear and suspicion within the state of nature may be seen as paramount in compelling man to surrender his natural freedom to some kind of government, in return for peace and security. There is evidence that Hobbes’ individualistic, totalitarian notion of government, Locke’s moral and encompassing liberal society and Rousseau’s humanitarian aspect, have all had a profound influence on the existence of dictatorial, liberal and social democratic governments as well humanitarian organisations.
Whether agreed or otherwise, I think man finds himself compelled to conform to the status quo as to return to the ‘state of nature’, albeit unknown, is less preferable than submitting to the rules of modern society where he is assured continued peace and security. In comparison, the benefits derived from the social contract outweigh the uncertainty of the state of nature, influencing him to opt for the former rather than the latter.
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