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By AceeCharles Apr 25, 2014 1343 Words
POLI 364 10375475 DISCUSS THE SOCIAL CONTRACT OF THOMAS HOBBES AND J.J ROUSSEAU, BRINGING OUT THEIR DIFFERENCES AND SIMILARITIES. The Social Contract is one of the single most important declarations of the natural rights of man in the history of Western political philosophy. A social contract is an implied agreement between the governed and the government. It introduced in new and powerful ways the notion of the “consent of the governed” and the inalienable sovereignty of the people, as opposed to the sovereignty of the state or its ruler(s). The concept is based on the theoretical idea that governments or rulers are legitimate if they have the consent of the governed. Therefore, a social contract is the agreement whereby a government is granted authority by its people to govern them. Social contract theory has been a dominant political theory in the modern history of the West, which was first explained thoroughly by Thomas Hobbes and further explained and modified by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It has been acknowledged repeatedly as a foundational text in the development of the modern principles of human rights that underlie contemporary conceptions of democracy. Social contract theory present in Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes, relies on two assumptions. First, all humans are self-interested and only act in accordance with the motivation to better their own situations, which would lead to a state of perpetual war. Second, humans are rational actors who are capable of discerning which decisions will serve their best interests. These assumptions lead to the realization that humans acting rationally in their own best interests will want to submit to a governing authority to achieve peace and live in a civil society. Hobbes lays out two explicit components of a social contract. First, humans must collectively agree to form an organized society where they relinquish the anarchy, or lack of order, that was present in a natural state. Secondly, they must agree to exist under common laws and create a government which acts as a mechanism of enforcement for the contract and its laws. In his justification for a social contract in ‘Two Treatises of Government’, Locke views man as having morality. Humans are in an unorganized state and free to do what they please, but morality stops them from Hobbes’s perpetual state of war. War occurs because men try to steal from or enslave one another. Because there is no civil authority in place, man must defend his life, thereby beginning war which will most likely continue. In order to avoid this inevitable disintegration, man must consent to forming a society and consent to be governed. Locke also conveys that the governed have the right to rebel against rulers when they become tyrannical. Tyrannical rulers create a state of war with their people, which forces men to defend themselves and begin to create a new government. Locke’s ideas have been used to justify the French and American Revolutions. Similarly, his ideas also aided in shaping the constitutions of many countries. In his work ‘The Social Contract’, Jean-Jacques Rousseau outlines a contract based on popular sovereignty. Rousseau’s account of the social contract contrasts with the individualistic concepts delivered by Hobbes. According to Rousseau, if a person decides to choose his interests over the collective interests, he must be forced to choose what is best for society as a whole. He was concerned about how this change came about. In trying to unravel the causes of the change, Rousseau took account of diverse factors. The first that he noticed is force. Force, for Rousseau, means compulsion; and compulsion means making a person or people do things against his/her or their will. This, he argues, is unnatural; and if a person or people voluntarily obey such force, one cannot complain; while if they resist such force, it is better still; and, to regain their freedom is infinitely better still. In this essay, I will seek to identify the similarities of each philosopher’s view on social contract as well as the differences between them.

A key similarity between Hobbes and Rousseau is that they believe that there should be at least some sort of social contract of a supreme power such as a government in order to govern the rights of man. Of course it is obvious that the men are linked together by their ideas of a social contract because they have built upon each other. What is significant about this similarity is that, although not all 2 men have similar views on how the government is formed, they all have similar ideas on the underlying concept of why government should be formed and a social contract established. This is essentially to protect and preserve the rights of man in some way which somehow preserves man’s existence. Hobbes’ and Rousseau’s views differ from each other in. On one hand, Hobbes regards natural state of man as brutal, nasty and miserable in which everyone is free to act as they wish and may pose a risk to others’ existence and survival. Man is also always in the fear of being killed in a painful way because everyone is an enemy to each other. That is why, he says that “the passions that incline men to peace are: fear of death; desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living; and a hope by their industry to obtain them”. Everyone can go after his own instincts and claim rights on others’ property for self-protection, reputation or glory. In such a state, one cannot expect peace and order; therefore, there must be a political institution that would guarantee these aspects. On the other hand, Rousseau considers human nature good, yet it is to be corrupted by society due to some reasons. Also, he says that in his natural state man is solitary, but not brutal to others. In this state, he is like an animal, searching for the ways of satisfying himself physically for survival. For that reason, man is not an enemy to his fellow men, but there is a sort of cooperation and collaboration for surviving together. It is actually related to four features of human nature such as lack of rationality, lack of morality, physical freedom and no coercive impact of society. In other words, they are dependent on each other in order to struggle with natural conditions in their environment. However, for Rousseau, with the formation of political societies, greediness and inequalities arise, which is not part of man’s natural state. As he points out, “it will be understood how much less difference from man to man must be in the state of nature than in society, and how much natural inequality must increase in the human species through the inequality of social institutions”. This statement reveals Rousseau’s overall point of view about the rising inequality in society after the formation of political and social institutions. Another compelling argument between the two views is why a monarch might make a better sovereign than a council or a representative body. This lies again in the fact that as an individual the monarch is endowed with all of the same natural tendencies as other men; he wishes for glory, fame, riches, and reputation. In a monarchy, the health and prosperity of the kingdom affect the perception people have of its king. Thus, the monarch would be naturally inclined to maintain a healthy and reputable kingdom in order to stoke the fires of his own ego. Inversely, a monarch whose kingdom lay in ruin would suffer the title of a 'failed ruler'. So although a monarch is not directly accountable to the commonwealth over which he presides, he is nonetheless bound by the eternal state of nature, which permeates his actions as a man. In contrast, when many people share power, the advent of corruption is much more likely. A body or council has no ego; therefore, its members are more likely to be unscrupulous as their individual reputations are not necessarily marred by the bad name of the body to which they belong.

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