Social Contract

Nancy Orozco
Dr. Corner
Focused Inquiry 111
During the Scientific Revolution, Europeans discarded traditional beliefs and
began using reason to explain the world around them. While the scientific revolution
focused mainly on explaining the physical world another great innovation resulted from
it; The Enlightenment Age.
The Enlightenment Age, unlike the Scientific Revolution, focused on ideas and
theories regarding and explaining the powers of government. Many enlightened thinkers
contributed to these ideas, thinkers such as John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu, Voltaire,
Thomas Hobbes, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Locke believed that men were born with
unalienable natural rights (life, liberty, property), Montesquieu believed in divided power
amongst the government (3 branches) to limit and check its power (checks and balances),
and Voltaire was an advocate for freedom of speech and religious tolerance. Also, during
this age, enlightened minds were curious as to why individuals would voluntarily give up
their natural freedom to be governed by a higher power. Hobbes concluded that in the
“state of nature” (no government) man was confined to his natural impulse of cruelty,
selfishness, and greediness. Hobbes goes on to explain the “social contract”, in which we
willingly give up most of our freedoms in exchange for the safety in a society. Locke
agreed with the “social contract” but unlike Hobbes, Locke believed the man was
generally good-natured. Rousseau also agreed to the social contract but argued against
monarchs, unlike Hobbes who was in favor of them. The “social contract” may not be a
physical document but it is responsible for the structure of society and it is responsible
for the historical shift in the way we live today.
The “social contract” was introduced as a theory to explain the relationship
between the people and their government.
In Leviathan, Hobbes explains a world
without government, a condition that he refers to as the “state of nature”. He explains that
in this state of nature the world would be a constant warfare and that life would be
“solitary, poor nasty, brutish, and short”, therefore individuals willingly entered this
contract to gain safety and establish a civil society. Hobbes goes on to speak about the
perfect society, believing it could only be achieved by the extremity of limited freedom;
an absolute monarchy.
Unlike Hobbes, Locke believed in democratic rule and that man was naturally
good. He also believed that the “state of nature” was neither good nor bad but rather
chaotic; Men do have to give it up to secure civil advantages. Locke also believed that the
government was responsible to secure man’s natural rights and ensure representation
against oppression.
Rousseau’s point of view mimics todays’ view on anarchy at a lesser extreme. He
saw men in the “state of nature” as being free and equal; “noble savages”. Rousseau
argued that even though the social contract allowed for the safety of a society, it put too
many limits on man’s freedom; “Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains”.
Rousseau argued that government representation was not enough; he favored a direct
democracy in which citizens were active and one where the government aligned with the
people’s views.
Although, the three men differed in their ideas of the “state of nature”, all three of
them agreed to the necessity for having the “social contract”. The Social contract is such
an important concept and theory because it explains the origin of government. Together,
Hobbes’, Locke’s, and Rousseau’s ideas provide a structure in which humans follow
rules and allow them selves to be governed by a higher power.