Seminar Discussion Guide
Social Contract Theory – Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)
Fr. Leviathan (1651) (note: see the cover illustration on PC p.424)
Nature has made men so equal that there is no real natural advantage one over another (441)
When two men desire the same thing, they become enemies (441)
“During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that
condition which is called war, and such a war as is of every man against every man” (442)
There is no flourishing of culture… [they live in] “continual fear and danger of violent death,
and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (442)
The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have no place (443)
Reason suggests convenient articles of peace (443)
From the desire for peace, men are willing to give up the absolute liberty in state of war (444)
Absolute rights are transferred to another power in return for safety (444)
The mutual transferring of right is what men call a “contract” (445)
John Locke (1632-1704) – Second Treatise of Civil Government (1690)
State of nature = equality, liberty, and (mostly) compassion (395-6)
People own their labor. Mixing labor with nature = property (397)
Cultivating the (commons) land makes it property (398)
So, freedom is natural, as is property and we have a right to preserve both (399)
A commonwealth is formed to protect life, liberty and property (400)
Each person turns over executive power to the group, forming political or civil society (401)
Monarchy is not a “civil government” by this definition (401)
Men agree to enter into such an arrangement or government (401)
Decisions are made by majority rule (402)
Legislative power forms laws to protect life, liberty, and property (403)
The system is justified by the consent of the people (404)
The power of government is “limited to the public good of society” (404)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) – The Social Contract (1762)
“Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains” (430)
Force does not make right (431)
Social contracts allow the preservation of natural freedom within the rule of a system (432)
We concede individual freedom o the “general will” (433)
The sovereign is formed of the individuals who compose it (434)
“Whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This
means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free” (435)
(justice instead of instinct, reason instead of inclinations freedom)
Natural liberty is traded for civil liberty and moral liberty (436)
The general will is based on the common good (436)
He general will tends toward principles of equality and “public advantage” (437)
It is not always reflected in majority opinion (437) since…
Individual will is based on private interest (so is partial); The general will is based on public
Sovereignty is based on the social contract and that on the principle of the general good (440)
Special interest (w/money) easily corrupt the system (441)
Everyone should be involved in matters of government (441)
Social Contract Theory: A political/legal system based on the idea of an implicit contract.
Contracts create obligations between consenting individuals.
Is social contract theory a sort of political “science”?
Recent social contract theory – John Rawls “A Theory of Justice”
Consider the relation between Locke’s view of property and modern Libertarianism.
Do the assumptions about human nature impact the viability of each theory?
What is the “State of Nature” for each? Who is right about human nature?
How do John Locke’s ideas influence Thomas Jefferson?
In each system, what should be done with those who break the contract?
Do we (as Hobbes suggests) trade rights for safety?
What is the difference between majority will (in a democracy) and the “general will”?
Could the social contract (in any of the 3 forms) really work?
Liberalism focuses on the rights of the individual. How are they justified?
What are “natural rights”? (vs. constitutional or legal rights). Do they exist?
State of Nature Motivation Sovereign
Hobbes war safety absolute monarch
Locke cooperation property protection democracy (min gov.)
Rousseau peace fraternity, equality, liberty general will