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Social Contract Theories of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke - Essay Example

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Social Contract Theories of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke

Thus, in a social contract to which they voluntarily consented, they created the state for the purpose of promoting and preserving their natural rights to life, liberty and property.
It was John Locke who painted a picture of liberty of citizens and authority of government in tones which were far moderate than that of Thomas Hobbes. Men in a state of nature could make use of their perfect freedom for their own good, since they were reasonable men. To John Locke, men did not abuse their Liberty. They did not threaten the lives of their neighbors. He wrote:
Though this is a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of license. The state of nature of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone; and reason, which is that law that teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent; no one has a right to harm another in his life, health, liberty of possessions. 1
Locke's social contract favored men quitting the state of nature to form themselves into a civil society. In this society men instituted the state where a social contract or covenant was formulated between citizens and government, a trustee which they could dismiss if it did not maintain the freedom and equality that men originally knew and enjoyed. In other words, when government no longer served the citizens' interests and welfare, it might be resisted or overthrown.
Why, because government had violated its obligations under the social contract to the extent that it had broken it. What were these obligations The government as trustee had to protect and preserve people's rights, especially natural rights as explained above. Otherwise, the contractual agreement which was the basis of government's existence would be without substance and meaning.
Locke asserted that men should retain their natural rights in civil society and that political powers or sovereignty should not be assigned to the monarch, but to the people's representatives in parliament who should be supreme. In Locke's view, the legislative power could never be arbitrary, since under the doctrine of popular sovereignty, the people had the supreme power to change, through peaceful election or revolution, their representatives in the parliament whenever such representatives acted contrary to the trust reposed in them.
Locke's social contract puts in perspective the parliamentary democracy of limited government that many states have today, which stresses the protection and promotion of individual rights to life, liberty and property.
Locke's reason for favoring a civil government to impose upon man some restrictions of government authority was that men after all were not impartial judges of their friends' shortcomings. He admitted that human frailties could lead to abuse of power. 2
Popular sovereignty is supreme authority of the state which resides in the people. This authority means that the people are the ultimate source of power and so they possess coercive power to control government through which they allow themselves to be governed. It was said that sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.
This view is embodied in Locke's theory of popular sovereignty in which the citizens have the vested right and power to choose their representat ...Show more
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Summary

The social contract or social compact theory became popular during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This theory explained that the state was formed by means of social contract of men who lived in a state of nature. What the "state of nature" meant was that men lived together without any super-body to establish peace and order and settle conflicts…
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