The Transition from State of Nature to Civil Society

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Research Paper
Politics

Fall 2012

The Theory of the Social Contract
The transition from State of Nature to civil society

The study of the relationship between states and citizens is one of the fundamental concerns of political science. States want a maximum of authority and citizens want a maximum of liberty. But let me ask you a question: Would you likely to submit yourself easily to any kind of authority? Most people would say no. Abusing of authority can make you hateful. Thereby, some sort of compromise has to be made between a state and its citizens. A reasonable power should be made available to the state, and a reasonable liberty should be made available to citizens. A state and its citizens are not opposed to each other; they are made to live together. Philosophers such as Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau gave free reign to their passion: the analysis of the human nature. They analyzed human social organization and nature of man/woman in society by comparing two major notions: the state of nature and civil society. The state of nature is a term used in contract social theories to describe the hypothetical condition that preceded civil society and government. Social contract theory implies that people give up sovereignty to a government in order to maintain social order through the role of Law. People do not only obey the laws because they are afraid of punishment, but also because it is in every individual’s interest to obey them. Did these political philosophers share the same approach to power? Did they share the same intentions by legitimating the authority of governments over citizens? The difficulty in social contract theories is the transition from state of nature to civil society. This transition represents the true essence of the relationship between governments and citizens. How individuals are going to accept this use of power over them? How the transition from state of nature to civil society would be then possible? A transition is by definition a movement from one state, or position to another. Transitions involve changes, but let me ask

you a question again: Do you find change difficult? The answer would be most probably yes. Change is unknown; we cannot easily discern the outcomes. Change is challenging and uncertain. As Machiavelli once said,” to govern is to make to believe”. The aim of this paper will be to analyze the different mechanisms that Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau have created to ‘making people believe’. We are going to analyze the different transitions from state of nature to civil society for Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. What represents the State of Nature for Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau? How the transition from State of Nature to civil society is represented for these different political philosophers? What legitimates the authority of governments over citizens? What is the purpose of creating laws?

All these questions will be answered in this paper within three different parts. The first part will be about Hobbes and its mechanism, the second one will be about Locke, and finally the last one will be about Rousseau.

Hobbes’s transition from State of Nature to civil society is very difficult to understand. Hobbes analyzed human behaviors to find the ultimate solution to convince people to accept the authority of governments over them. The ability of analyzing is a very powerful tool towards manipulating people. Hobbes paints a bleak picture of the State of Nature. He describes it as being a state in which:” No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Leviathan, Part I, Chapter 13). Men struggle against each other to save

their lives and possessions. The State of Nature is described as being chaotic, and consumed by fear. In his theory of social contract, Hobbes seems to voluntarily create a feeling of confusion. Indeed, he links chaos with...
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