What is Social contract theory?
Social contract theory defines itself as economy is based on capitalism. This concept suggest that the economy is based on contract, society and government is also based on contract. This theory was popular in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Many philosopher such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean Jacques Rousseau explained the meaning the origin of government and obligations of the subjects.
When we talk about social contract theory we instantly think about Thomas Hobbes, but in reality Machiavelli define state and citizenship. The concept of social contract theory deals with how slowly new systems evolved, how people created laws of citizenship, and how new definition were presented. In his initial times Machiavelli explained what citizenship is, and who should be considered citizens. Although Plato and Aristotle also talked about citizenship but Machiavelli thought or explanation was entirely different, the situation of living before the formation of state was natural condition, when people used to live in forest. he explained that in very beginning people used to live in anarchy, they were hunters and gatherers, In those condition there were no form of security.
To overcome these situations people started building up state and when state evolved, then new systems slowly arrived. One of big contribution came from Thomas Hobbes; Hobbes for the first time used the term ‘Social contract’.
Thomas Hobbes said that people agreed on some kind of ‘contract to come out from situations like anarchy, that contract was social contract. Hobbes further explained that contract was held between Peoples natural rights and state (sovereign god).
Thomas Hobbes talked about natural rights & natural laws:-
- Natural Rights – these are those rights which get by birth, for example right to life.
- Natural Laws – Right which we create through our intellectual capacity.
According to Hobbes, state is supreme power. Also state should haves powers to capture individual citizens life, land & property if required, as he believes life and property meant to safeguard state itself.
After Hobbes, John Locke contributed in social contract theory, Locke criticise Thomas Hobbes and Robert Filmer in his book ‘The two treaties on civil government’. He was contemporary of Hobbes, it is said that he wanted to challenge Hobbes theory of absolute state. However Hobbes works become controversial and prohibited by the church, hence he targeted the theory of absolute state given by Filmer in this book “Patriarcha”.
Locke first time evolved the term ‘liberal’ that means “A free man”, Locke said state can’t take life of an individual neither can take their property, thus he contradicted Hobbes theory of giving state an absolute power.
Here Locke gives some rights to the citizen, which is :-
- Right to property
- Right to life
- Right to freedom
Among these he used to considered right to freedom most important.
At last Jean Jacques Rousseau came up with his ideas on social contract theory, Rousseau is known as father of French revolution. The greatest contribution of Rousseau is the theory of ‘General Will’ or ‘Popular Sovereignty ‘.General Will is the collective interest of all the individuals living in a society, it talks about what is good for the society as whole.
His theory was different from Locke, as Rousseau found some improvement in Locke concept of giving absolute freedom to an individual. Later Rousseau prefunded democracy with a purpose of formation of positive form of government and the contract made between the people and the government could able to remain intact.
Is social contract theory applicable in today’s world?
When we look at societies and its social structure, we can clearly see the influence of social contract theory in contemporary era. These theories helped in development of society and its people also because of different thoughts and concepts presented by Philosophers like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Rousseau we get to know the ideas of equality, freedom, liberty, sovereignty and democracy.
Social contract theory was the foundation on which today’s form of government evolved. Many of its concepts and ideology is still practised and exercised in the larger parts of world.
But when we talk about today’s world social contract theory is not entirely relevant in present scenario. Thomas Hobbes theory suggest that state should have complete powers and state can take life and property of an individual but state is made by people to serve their interests also it completely contradicts his own theory of natural rights. Thus state can’t take life and property of its citizens which was rightly explained further by John Locke but his concept was again contradicted by great philosopher and thinker Rousseau, as Locke talks about giving absolute freedom to an individual, which is not possible as there should be some rules and regulation in the form of laws and ethics, which according to Rousseau comes under ‘General Will’ that is the collective interest of all the individuals living in a society, but when we consider ‘general will’ as correct form of moving a government then we are talking about majoritarian form of government which only works for the will of majority.
This form of governance also reflects in current times, were government considers thoughts and ideology of citizens who are in majority and completely ignoring the will of citizens in minority. These minorities can be in form of religion, gender, culture and ethnicity.
When we talk about 21st century India we can find various cases to support this argument, these are recent LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning) earlier supreme court of India criminalised these communities completely smashing their rights, feelings and freedom of living. Later they got decriminalised but the concept was the same as, why they got criminalised at first place was due to majority community was not ready to accept them.
Similarly we can witness such kind of thinks in other democratic institution where ideology of majority wins, thus it does not considers “Every ones will” and their aspirations.
Also, social contract theory was the base on which present form of government evolved, thus these theory is not entirely applicable to the contemporary era, as we are suppose to further evolve to form a state which more precisely considers every individuals thought process and ideas rather than generalising their intellectual thinking.