John Locke's Social Contract Theory

Topics: United States Declaration of Independence, Political philosophy, John Locke Pages: 6 (1786 words) Published: January 17, 2012
John Locke’s Social Contract Theory
Jon Bartholf
CJA530: Ethics in Justice and Security
October 10, 2011
Cristina Payne

The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, incorporates many of the views and ideas of John Locke, an English philosopher, and his writings of the Social Contract theory. Within the theory, Locke states that society should be afforded certain unalienable rights (life, liberty, and happiness) that give authority and control to the people and not the government. Additionally, Locke states that God created everyone equally and as such, they are entitled to the same amount of property as everyone else. His ideas would later shape the United States from a group of a few territories into a nation.

John Locke’s Social Contract Theory
Thomas Jefferson wrote, “…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” (Jefferson, 1776, para. 1) when he created the Declaration of Independence. His words formed the foundation of the United States and give meaning to the word “freedom,” but to be “free” means to be unrestricted by anything physical, emotional, sociological, ethical, and physiological. Laws and societal norms placed upon humanity challenge the meaning of the word as the government has the authority and power to create and abolish laws that dictate what society can and cannot do. However, it is through the enactment of the Declaration of Independence, a document whose words were based on the theories of John Locke, which the people, not the government, are given ultimate control. In this article, the reader will learn about John Locke’s contribution to the Social Contract theory. Moreover, this article will also show how his thoughts and attitudes led to the development of the Declaration of Independence and how those views are consistent with the criminal justice system. Social Contract Theory: What It Is

The Social Contract theory is a collection of theories written by many authors (Thomas Hobbs, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, etc.) that debates how the structure of a society is formed. This structure takes into account the State of Nature, a place “…wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another” (Locke, 1963, p. 309), and the rights of the people against the government. Although Locke’s ideas are responsible for the establishment of the Declaration of Independence, the views of Hobbs and Rousseau are also important in understanding the mentality of society throughout history.

Thomas Hobbs and His View
Hobbs view mainly dealt with the King (along with his supporters, the Monarchists) against the Parliament (more notably Oliver Cromwell). The King wanted the traditional authority of his title, which was given to him (or her) by God, whereas the Parliament wanted a shared power between the King and themselves (Parliament). Hobbes rejected both of their views and instead believed that authority should not be given to one person, but instead should be vested in society where individuals are equal to each other. Additionally, Hobbes states that the power given to the Monarch (he called Sovereign) must be turned over to society if society is to survive (Friend, 2004).

A second part of Hobbes’ contract theory is that of the State of Nature. In it, Hobbes describes a place where the fear of losing one’s life to someone else is constant. This place always exists, so no normal or sane person would want to stay there. Instead, they would choose to create a society that institutes common laws and therefore escape the State of Nature. John Locke and His View

Contrary to the theories of Hobbs and Rousseau, Locke believed many things. First, people were allowed certain unchallengeable rights; mainly “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (Jefferson, 1776, para. 1). This meant that the government...

References: Friend, C. (2004). Social Contract Theory. Retrieved from
Jefferson, T. (1776). The Declaration of Independence. Retrieved from
Locke, J. (1963). Two Treaties of Government. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Miller, L. S. & Hess, K. M. (2008). Community Policing: Partnerships for Problem Solving (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thompson Wadsworth.
The Library of Congress (2011). Primary Documents in American History. Retrieved from
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