Social contract theory (SCT) is arguably the most influential theory for moral and political philosophy. Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau are perhaps the most dominant political philosophers responsible for shaping the modern political theory of Europe and North America; nevertheless, SCT is not a newly developed concept. Examples of SCT are found throughout history since the nature of man has commanded a political climate. Socrates surrendering to his death sentence instead of accepting an opportunity to escape is one historical example from the many.
The objective of the social contract is to deviate the problems of society and the illegitimacy of established regimes. Curiously, it was the belief of Rousseau that a good political order could be defined on the basis of understanding the true nature of man, and the task for bringing clarity on the matter belonged to the philosopher, (p. 559). Rousseau’s state of nature differs from Hobbes in relation to violence and aggression at its origin. For Rousseau, the species of first humans are not naturally hostile toward his own kind and was only seeking the bare necessities. Personally, I would lean towards Hobbe’s beliefe, that the core of every man in the state of nature is war. Unfortunately, Rousseau’s utopian state of nature became corrupt as people multiplied and established private properties for themselves. This inclined people to compare themselves with each other raising people’s pride, envy, shame, and the desire to have what some did not have the means to acquire. The realization of security to protect property for those who had it from those who did not was established; eventually forming the origins of government with a false facade of protection for all, but covertly established for the rich majority. This was Rousseau’s concept of the illegitimate civilization.
For Rousseau, the freedom of man’s will is a principle. The philosopher must think of a way to institute a moral political order for all to submit to without seemingly surrendering the individual will. Consider this paradox. Man is naturally free, but man naturally seeks self-interest, man is not naturally moral, nature alone can never establish a moral order without the submission of the will to an extent; therefore, “since nature does not provide the basis for the agreement, it must be a convention,” (p.567). From this line of reasoning follows the SCT of Rousseau; a social contract where all surrender their will equally to form a general will (contract) known as the state. There is no conflict or compromise of man’s free will between individuals and state because all have agreed to establish an absolute law.
By way of reflection, it is interesting to notice that men cannot rule themselves apart from establishing a government, state, or some form of absolute law through some form of social contract. The reasons for this has been noted by the man’s state of nature. The fact that humans must surrender their will to something is ill-fated and unavoidable. For those that believe in God, they may argue it may be better to surrender the will to God or a theocracy; a rule under God. For those that do not believe in God, the only remedy is a social contract theory established by men. The irony is that either establishment; a nation under God or not, they are all established by man, and anything established by man eventually deteriorates as a sand castle washed away by the tide, only to establish another sand castle. Perhaps the only constant establishment we have built is an infinite regress of insubstantiality.
Strauss, Leo., Cropsey, Joseph. History of Political Philosophy. Chicago. The University of
Chicago Press. 1987. Print.