Social contract attempts to explain the formation as well as maintenance of societies or states as a result of implied contract between individuals and groups. Social contract is an intellectual tool aimed at explaining necessary relationships between individual and their government (Christman 2002, p26).
According to Christman (2002, p.28), “arguments related to social contract claimed that individuals are united to political process by mutual consent, agreement to abide by general rules and acceptance of duties to protect oneself and one another from violence or any other type of harm.” Social contract theory played crucial role in enhancing an idea that, political mandate must be derived upon the government consent therefore, it is mainly associated with political and moral theory as it is depicted by Thomas Hobbes.
John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau who came after Hobbes are also proponents of social contract theory which has enormously influenced political and moral theory throughout the modern west political history.
Social contract theories started from human natures desire to learn what happens on an individual when absented from political governance (Christman 2002, p.48).
Christman (2002, p.28) further argued that, “this motivated the social contract theorist to look for ways on how they can demonstrate in different modes, how a rational individual would wish to give up his/her freedom to obtain political order benefits.” The paper addresses the manner in which social contract impacted western political theory. Social contract ascertains that political order and law are not natural but human creation (Christman 2002, p.50).
According to Hobbes (2002, p.26), “political order and social contract creates a way toward an end by benefiting only the involved individuals.” Several social contract theorists argued that, failings associated with law and political order can only be changed by citizens through election or other means like violence. Social contract changed the state of nature.
Thomas Hobbes (2002, p.26), argued that an individuals’ life in the state of nature was short, brutish, poor, solitary and nasty, whereby, there was prevention of society due to self interest and absence of rights and contract.
In Social contract, people gave up their rights with the expectation that others would do the same for them. Hobbes (2002, p.26) wrote that, “lt it ended to an establishment of state which a sovereign entity is creating laws which regulated interaction socially.” The state system which resulted from individual ceding their rights was without leadership (Christman 2002, p88).
States acted in competition with one another just the way individuals acted in state of nature as they had self interest and no rights. This made them to compete with one another. States were in conflict because there was no sovereign state. Different activists gave different terms as far as social contract is concerned.
Social contract was developed in early western political thought. It was seen as an intellectual expression to European political thoughts where by kings, vassal and lords, were considered in formation of political, legal and military affairs (Rousseau 1987, p16).
Social contract started by discussing kings, lords, nobles, princess and bishops duties though much later, the contract was centered on the rights an individual would look after to be protected by the state. Some authors presented social contract as something which was historically in existence as debated on the collective bargain terms (Rousseau 1987, p30). Hence, it was employed as a device of framing what was good in developing the just society or state.
From the radical reformation period until mid eighteenth century, social contract idea dominated political thinking, which is evidence that political theories were derived from social contract theories. Political theorists, when framing their theory, put into account the social contract. Social contract persisted being in use in United States of America, where by, social contract was argued to be succession rights in the southern before the emergency of civil war (Kelly & Boucher 1994, p.87).
It was thought that Social contract died after it was ridiculed by Bentham and Hume, though it has been in existence until twentieth century as an argument of rights of the state. Social contract also appeared as a means for better understanding of the public policy which existed in the works of John Rawls, an American political philosopher.
Social contract has been used to support several western positions. It has been used as a means for executing the king as it was in 17th century in England when it was used by the leaders of the Commonwealth (McClelland 1996, p.135).
Social contract could also be used as a justification for good governance. In addition, it was termed as a form of political revolution and lastly, as a way of treating each individual the same regardless of their race, origin or color (Cristo 2003, p38).
Social contract developed a framework for the western political philosophers to follow. Most political philosophers used the social contract theory in framing their theory and in elaborating their political theory concept.
Social contracts have had an obligation of ensuring political authority based on individual rational and self interest consent (Cristo 2003, p.48).
Social contract attempts to evaluate and show the purpose and value of the organized government by comparing and contrasting the civil society and the state of nature. It has played a role of identifying the useful government to the western communities and the best state of governance to hold. Social contract states clearly circumstances under which the state government is very crucial, through this has assisted in developing essential duties and rights of the citizens (McClelland 1996, p.145).
Social contract theory justifies the sovereign power as well as trying to protect an individual from too powerful sovereign oppression (Christman 2002, p.36). Social contract has played a role in enhancing the constitution. McClelland (1996, p.145) wrote that, “It formed unwritten rules for the society that was used for governance leading to formation of government constitution.”
A social contract theory has played major role in enhancing political democracy in western political theory. According to Dunn (1993, p28), Westerners have been in a position to exercise their democracy as citizens with rights to make their own decision when voting. Individuals have framed rights and self interest as they make their own congruent decisions.
Social contract enhanced the history of freedom. Each individual was entrusted with own rights which no other person could deprive, unless by law which binds the citizens (Kelly & Boucher 1994, p.209). As opposed to state of nature, social contract brought about development of states which enhanced citizen’s democracy.
Social contract facilitated rationale to the state citizens as they had better understanding of political theories by capturing the social contract concepts. It also led to the establishment of the constitution in the state (Cristo 2003, p98). Social contract theories framed how the states constitution could be structured depending on the sovereign powers interest.
Dunn (1994, p.85), argued that each state creates its own constitution which could not interfere with other states to enhance better living in the society. The constitution could rule on the leader’s obligation and how they would administer their tasks to the lead.
Social contract created political theory by capturing the concept that individual obedience is not necessary when making a congruent decision; hence it is necessary for the citizens to make decisions based on the individuals’ choice but not through political influence (Rouseau 1987, p19). Though obedience goes hand in hand with state governance, not all political decisions require being obedience (McClelland 1996, p163).
Other people obey the law because they are forced due to fear of punishment but not because they are obliged to. Each individual has his or her own right. One may decide to vote or not to without any one questioning them. This has been enhanced through eradication of the dictatorship regimes because each citizen through social contracts had better understanding and capturing of what their rights are, hence, their rights should be respected.
Western political theorists have predominantly been portraying the exchange and interdependence between their constitution and government through social contract model (McClelland 1996, p182). Social contract moulds the western political theories, through contract of association, whereby, individuals sacrifice their liberty for the sake of others to join the community.
Another association exists as an agreement between the society and the government in impacting the political theories (Jones 2002, p89). There are three aims of government whether republic or democratic, that the government should minimize the resource necessary for maintaining order, tax revenue maximization and ensuring tight state defense.
If the citizens derive from the government maximum benefits that is proportional to what government requires from them, the government acquires strength and legitimacy (Jones 2002, p.145). Consequently, government strength is derived from proper management of the social contract as evidenced in Rousseau’s social contract which is one of the major theories that molded the western political thoughts (Rousseau 1987, p29).
Social contracts played a major role in determining gender participation in politics. Women were looked down upon as they were regarded as people who needed not to participate in politics. Social contract is sometimes violated, where the motives of social contract generation are frustrated with government and political parties failing to neutralize the discomfort.
Western countries have fully benefitted politically from social contract. Social contract has enhanced formation of political parties, democracy, obedience of the law, proper governance and even law formation (Rousseau 1987, p.26).
Social contract has also impacted political theories as they were framed based on social contract theories. Thus, social contracts have had a congruent impact to the western political theory (Jones 2002, p.165).
Though social contract has played a major role in moral and political theory, it has experienced criticism whereby, feminists and philosophers who are conscious to race consider it as an incomplete symbol to moral and political theory as they see it as a way of camouflaging, hence, the contract is seen as discriminative in nature.
Especially when social contract discriminates against women politically, terming them as unworthy and unable to make crucial political decisions. Therefore, social contract has played major role in shaping western political theory.
Christman, J., 2002. Social and Political Philosophy: a Contemporary Introduction. London: Routledge.
Christo, B., 2003. Rousseau and the Social Contract. New York, NY: Routledge.
Dunn, J., 1993. Western Political Theory in the Face of the Futuru. London: Cambridge University press.
Jones, T., 2002. Modern Political Thinkers and ideas: a Historical Introduction. London: Routledge.
Kelly, J., & Boucher, D., 1994. The Social Contract from Hobbes to Rawls. New York, NY: Routeledge Publisher.
McClelland, S., 1996. A History of Western Political Thought. London: Routledge.
Rousseau, J., 1987. On the Social Contract. Indiana: Hackett Publishing Co.