Assess the social contract theory of the nature and purpose of the state

Topics: Social contract, Political philosophy, State of nature Pages: 5 (1989 words) Published: October 16, 2014

Social contract theory is a theory first talked about by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke and then other philosophers such as Rousseau, Paine, and Hume; it is a theory suggesting that without state there is the state of nature, which is essentially the state of anarchy and consent is made by individuals to create a state as a ‘necessary evil’ as Tomas Paine describes the state. There are two points of disagreement in relation to the state. One is the nature of the state- whether it should be coercive or not, whether it is necessary; the other is the state's purpose - whether the state should just provide negative freedoms, or whether it should offer some king of welfare.

On the one hand the state is a necessary evil. According to Hobbes the state of nature is the state of licence, where everyone can kill anyone and it is terrible so the state is necessary. Hobbes describes this state as 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short'. Hobbes said that individuals consent to give their rights and licence up to the state in order to get stability because the state will be their ‘night watchman’, as Ferdinand Lassalle referred to the minimal liberal bourgeois state in one of his speeches (although Hobbes did not believe that the state should necessarily be reduced to this form, he accepted that the state can be coercive and dominant). Hobbes claims that in the state of nature most effort would be spent by individuals in protecting themselves and their rights, according to this reasoning a good type of defence is offence, e.g. kill or be killed, making individuals in the state of nature more prone to violence. Since according to Hobbes in the state of nature people are preoccupied with protecting themselves and also since there are no guarantees of protection of property and rights, there would be no point in progress and hence no progress. For example industrial progress would't be happening because why build a factory if it can be taken away or destroyed the next day. So existence of the state and social contract is the only condition at which social and economic progress can take place. Hence social contract is made in order to create stability and let individuals and society develop safely and for Hobbes any state produced will be better than the state of nature of chaos and licence. According to Hobbes the state is a 'necessary evil' as Thomas Paine described it and it is coercive as it takes away rights and licence, becoming the single source of legitimate violence and coercion. It is also necessary to point out that Hobbes considered the social contract to be binding as any state is better than its absence, whereas trying to replace one state with another would cause a civil war which is the same as absence of state - the natural state.

On the other hand, there is a disagreement between supporters of social contract theory on whether all forms of state are necessary and are better than the state of nature. Many later social contract theorists would believe that the contract is non-binding and that the state can be dispersed by the people. The first Social Contract theorist to talk about that was John Locke. He argued that the natural state is not the state of licence, that there is the law of nature, which is established by god and is based on reason. But according to Locke within the natural state there is the problem that anyone can be the judge, meaning a range of problems, such as the fact that the judge is likely to not be impartial or enforcement of this law can be difficult and even dangerous to the enforcer. Therefore, Locke argues, a state should be set up. However, according to Locke not any state is better than the natural state, only the one, which is not tyrannical, where the judge is fair and impartial, where legislative is separated form the executive (Locke included the judiciary in the executive, Montesquieu was one of the first to propose a 3-way separation of powers). Locke believed that if...
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