The Social Contract Tradition

According to the social contract hypothesis, society is a system defined by voluntary agreements among individuals for mutual welfare, uplift, and protection. This study argues that the ideal social contract tradition only applies to societies at the stage of government establishment. This theory cannot account for present relationships between citizens, the government, and society.

The social contract tradition views society as a network of relationships geared at achieving its members' natural rights.

The legitimacy of authority in society is based on the approval of the people and their ability to protect and promote their welfare. Citizens have a responsibility to obey the laws in return. Thomas Hobbes lived through the English Civil War, a time when the people were contemplating between having a powerful traditional monarch and a system where the people are more represented and the governance system conforms to their will. Locke rejected the absolute power given to the monarch, believed to have come from God. He also rejected sharing of power between the parliament and the monarch. He argues that all members of the society should be equal. He opposed the idea of absolute power. Hobbes' theory can be effectively used to explain the current situations where regimes resort to brutality as a way of holding onto power (Gamst 21).

John Locke's perception of people's relationship with the authorities

It was based on the assumption that the nature of mankind allows him/her to conduct themselves in a manner that they see fit, irrespective of what others do or think. Locke prepones that by the State of Nature, human beings are forbidden from harming others by God. However, man should accept to abandon the state of nature because violation of one's peace by another can spark an unending war. Locke notes that by giving up some of the power given to them by nature to an authority, human beings promote their own wellbeing. People choose to be part of societies for mutual benefit (Gamst 19). They lose their State of Nature by becoming subject to the power of the majority in society that they become part of. Jean-Jacques Rousseau notes that the social contract is a result of the changes that make it harder for humanity to satisfy their needs. The people gave up freedoms enjoyed in their state of Nature, thus becoming ready to be controlled by the will of the others in return for mutual benefit. The division of labor was introduced for economic convenience. John Rawls' theory is more recent and concentrates on the joint perception of justice by members of society. He appreciates that people are disinterested in others' wellbeing. Using similar methods for choosing the basic principles governing society will make people equal. Individuals are likely to agree if all people are subject to similar rules. Rawls notes that individuals can agree without even a constitution or an authority. Robert Nozick's political thought is based on the thought by Rawls, Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. However, there are slight differences where he believes that individual rights exist prior to the social contract (Caldera n.p). The proponents of the social contract tradition believe that human beings are rational agents who see more benefit in forfeiting some of their freedoms to become part of organized societies from which they draw mutual benefit. Their theories account for the behavior of most people who are ready to abide by the laws set up in society. These individuals hope that other people will behave in the same manner and that the government will work towards upholding their rights and freedoms.

Major Critics of the Tradition

According to David Hume, the idea that all individuals consent to the formation of a government is false. Hume believes that in reality, very few people are loyal to the government (Caldera n.p). Many people, including those within the ranks of power, undermine the responsibility of the government towards its people. Hume believes that the relations between the government and the people are defined by utility rather than agreement, promise, or consent. The only reason why a person has a duty to follow the laws enacted and enforced by the government is that their obedience Maximizes the total utility of the general society. Hume accepts the idea of proponents of the social contract idea that the very first governments rose out of promise, consent, and agreement. He notes that one should not assume that the current generation understands the factors that led to the formation of the government. They only conform to the laws and regulations formulated and enforced by the previous and current governments as a way of increasing their utility.

Critics of the tradition do not seek to falsify the social contract a normative thesis. Instead, their main issue is with the idea of David Hume that people only submit to the government if they have consented or agreed to do so (Caldera n.p). Hume attacked Locke's idea that there can be no moral duty if individuals are coerced into it. According to Hume, people do not consent to obey the government just by existing within its boundaries. They are only compelled to follow the laws by the circumstances at hand. From Hume's perspective, the duty to obey the government and live by the laws comes from the need for convenience. Hume's perspective is more relevant in the contemporary world than Locke's. Individuals have an obligation to allegiance out of the general interests of society. People only follow the law because it is a necessity created by society.

The ideas brought by Karl Marx showed that he had little belief in the inherent good of the government as described by the proponents of the social contract tradition. At the time of Karl Marx, governments that were initially considered democratic had become dominated by a certain group of people, which he referred to as the ruling class. This class held on to both economic and political power and used each of them to protect to protect the other. Marx felt that the government did not qualify as an entity that can bring about change and protect the interests of the people. He felt that the government has completely taken away the will of the people, thus failing to meet their aspirations as described by Locke.

Major critics of the social contract tradition saw the government as a failed project. Both the proponents and critics of the social contract tradition indicate that they wish for fairness in society, which should be enforced by the government. Marx's ideas are founded on the government. This means that without Locke, Marx would have lacked a basis for his arguments. The proponents of social contract tradition appreciated that there was a need for individuals to retain their rights to property. Marx was against this idea and insisted that means of production be jointly owned by members of society. However, both felt that members of society had natural rights, but Marx was against the capitalist sense because he felt that it gave more power to a certain section of society while undermining the rest of the people.

Michael Sandel is one of the key American scholarly figures who defended the idea of communitarianism. According to Sandel, individuals cannot regard themselves as independent. Individuals are inseparable from their identities that are tied to communities, families, and nationalities (Sandel 54). Despite this inseparability, Sandel believes that the government should not influence the religious and moral views of its people. Sandel believes that liberalism entails the government being neutral towards the people as they pursue their ends. Sandel's argument and criticism of earlier philosophers are not very clear because he calls for separation between the people and the government. To him, the formation of government should not take away any freedoms from the people. This argument is not very valid because it is clear in the contemporary society that people give up their inherent rights such as the right to defend oneself to the government.

Normative statement

In Crito, one of Socrates early Platonic dialogue, Socrates argues that the norms, customs, and laws of society are what have made the existence of all the people possible. Therefore, though individuals may not necessarily be part of the social contract tradition, they have an obligation to respect the existing laws. In the Republic, one of Plato's dialogues, the social contract theory is represented as an explanation for the nature of justice. In this conversation, Plato believes that some people want to freely commit injustices against others in the absence of reprisal while do not want to commit injustices (Donaldson and Dunfee 259). What unites all people in society is the fact that they do not want to fall victim to unjust treatment. People become party to the contracts to avoid the extremes of injustice. In this regard, people support the government and collective.

Locke's arguments motivated many subsequent revolutions, such as the one launched by the founders of the United States. However, despite the creation of these democracies, some groups of people struggle for entitlement and civic rights. Rawls bases his argument on the assumption that all members of society are equally rational and can agree in the absence of laws. This assumption is not true as people have varying capacities and personalities.

The most compelling argument in this regard is the one drawn from Plato's Republic. One cannot assume that all people intend to do good unto others. However, the assumption that all people wish good upon themselves is more valid. People become party to laws and covenants that are only convenient to them. The ultimate convenience for any person is the promotion of their ability to avoid falling victim to injustices by other people. The existence of law enforcement and criminal justice departments shows that not all people have the intentions of always doing good for others. The best justification for why people obey the government and relevant laws is the fear of reprisal. Therefore, the social contract is neither strengthened by agreement nor utility but rather the fear of what will become of an individual if others became perpetrators of injustice.

Works Cited

Caldera, Eva Orlebeke. “Cognitive Enhancement and Theories of Justice: Contemplating the Malleability of Nature and Self.” Journal of Evolution & Technology 18.1 (2008).

Donaldson, Thomas, and Dunfee, Thomas W. “Toward a unified conception of business ethics: Integrative social contracts theory.” Academy of management review 19.2 (1994): 252-284.

Gamst, Frederick C. “Foundations of social theory.” Anthropology of Work Review 12.3 (1991): 19-25.

Sandel, Michael J. Liberalism and the Limits of Justice. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Deadline is approaching?

Wait no more. Let us write you an essay from scratch

Receive Paper In 3 Hours
Calculate the Price
275 words
First order 15%
Total Price:
$38.07 $38.07
Calculating ellipsis
Hire an expert
This discount is valid only for orders of new customer and with the total more than 25$
This sample could have been used by your fellow student... Get your own unique essay on any topic and submit it by the deadline.

Find Out the Cost of Your Paper

Get Price