A society that exists within the framework of anarchy is simply not a society that can be maintained. In other words, order needs to be maintained and this order derives from a central, governmental authority. This does not mean, however, that the government must be dictatorial, authoritarian or totalitarian. In addition to providing stability, the government must also provide (or create the basis for) liberty. This liberty can be imparted by the direct participation of the government or by the government staying out of the way of its populace.
The promise that society makes to its population where it provides order combined with freedom and protection is commonly referred to as the Social Contract. (This refers to the fact that the government has a contract/agreement with its population to take care of them and maintain an orderly society) Much has been written on the subject of the Social Contract, but none have provided more intelligent analysis and philosophical debate than Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau.
Each were philosophers from who drew their inspiration from the Age of Enlightenment and shared many similarities in terms of their philosophical approach to the Social Contract while also maintaining a number or pronounced differences in their theories. It will be the purpose of this essay to examine these similarities and differences in order to gain a better understanding of the role of the Social Contract in society. For Hobbes, the Social Contract provides the epicenter of a society and society ‘saves’ people from nature or the natural order. In other words, in nature, there exists the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest.
The strong will prey upon the weak and, The Social Contracts of Locke, Rousseau and Hobbes – Page 2 additionally, will respond with overwhelming force to anything that threatens their existence or survival. So, for Hobbes, society (and the social contract that creates the purpose of society) essentially provides a system of law and order designed to protect people from the basic, animalistic nature. Without such protection or order, society devolves into anarchy which is not society, but rather the absence of society. There are some similarities between Hobbes’ theory and those theories of Rousseau and Locke.
Both Rousseau and Locke do agree that it is the purpose of society to provide a sense of order and lawfulness. The purpose of the social contract for these two philosophers – and Rousseau in particular – is that it serves to protect the population of a society from abuse. Rules and laws are set in place for the protection of the population and, additionally, regulations on the ruling class are set in place to as to obstruct the development of a tyrannical, authoritarian ruler. Since the rulers are beholden to the people, the true power in society is in the hands of the population.
This is similar to Hobbes’ view that the “survival of the fittest” concept found in nature must be obstructed, circumvented and outright repressed. Granted, Hobbes considers such repression the natural order of things whereas Locke and Rousseau see such an abuse as an aberration of human nature; but, it remains an aberration that expands into a credible and more common threat in the absence of a social contract instituted sense of societal order. Hobbes was also known for his belief that the Social Contract was permitted by people so as t maintain their self preservation.
In other words, they abandon the cruelty of The Social Contracts of Locke, Rousseau and Hobbes Part 3 nature’s survival of the fittest and essentially completely remove themselves from the brutal chaos of nature. Rousseau, however, felt that this concept of natural order was somewhat archaic. Part of the reason for this was the fact that such ‘survival’ concepts centered mainly on the individual’s pursuits. For Rousseau, Hobbes’ concept may provide a safety net for the population, but it also maintains for too much individualism. For Rousseau, true security came from collectivism.
In other words, members of societies group together for the betterment of the common good with significant help from the state. (This is additionally further removed from Hobbes’ concept of the Social Contract as Hobbes was mainly concerned with individual liberty as opposed to a collective mentality) Ultimately, this leads to the question: “Which philosophical point of view provides the best method of maintaining a free and open society? ” To answer such a question is difficult because each theorist is simply putting forth a theory of the proper model of society.
Each philosopher’s theories have their positives and negatives and the merit or lack thereof will change as a society’s goals and demographics change. Society and people are, of course, never stagnant. Life, by its very nature is a state of flux. As such, different components and aspects of each philosopher’s theories have been amalgamated into what is known as modern democracy. As such, the Social Contract has proven successful through the test of time, albeit no one version of the Social Contract holds truth at the exclusion of another version.