Social Contract - History

Social Contract - History


Social Contract Theory

Social contract theory is a political philosophy that questions the origins of society, and the legitimacy of governmental control over individual people. It is an argument that all men have an obligation to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Seventeenth century philosopher Thomas Hobbs made the point that, if people aren’t willing to set aside some of their own wants, in favor of the good of all, society can only exist in chaos. To explore this concept, consider the following social contract theory definition.


Historical Context for On The Social Contract

The Discourse on Inequality's conception of natural man – as uncorrupted by social institutions and systems of artificial distinction – sits in the background of Rousseau's later work, On the Social Contract. Like Plato and Machiavelli before him, Rousseau refused to separate concerns of politics and ethics from those of education. And so, while Rousseau's Discourse treats human nature, his follow-up works Emile and On the Social Contract (both published in 1762) explore the sort of education and political order best suited to this nature.

Mass Shootings of Nantes, 1793. (Wikimedia Commons) Although he died 11 years before the French Revolution, Rousseau’s works have often been blamed for its excesses.

The locus of democratic political authority is at the center of On the Social Contract, in which Rousseau advances a notoriously difficult concept: the "general will." As he explains it, the general will is expressly not what one might expect to emerge from democratic deliberation and voting, i.e., either the sum of all individual preferences or a majority consensus. Rather, the general will is something like the common good, or the general welfare, but without reference to individuals' particular, selfish interests. This presents a dilemma: How can a real-world democratic polity of the kind Rousseau describes legitimately resolve conflicts between self and society? Much of On the Social Contract is devoted to this question, though Rousseau's answer has failed to satisfy many critics, both in his own time and in ours.

In light of Rousseau's radical critiques not only of existing social and political institutions, but of fellow thinkers advocating reason-based alternatives, scholars have long debated whether Rousseau is an Enlightenment or anti-Enlightenment philosopher. It is perhaps most accurate to characterize his thought as straddling the Enlightenment and Romantic movements. Written in an age utterly enamored with the idea that all human problems are amenable to reason, Rousseau's works emphasize unforeseen problems that can arise when would-be reformers and revolutionaries disregard human nature and the power of affect. Rousseau would argue, for instance, that reason engenders egocentrism and alienates individuals from one another. And in the Social Contract, he argues that we must therefore recast our understanding of democratic politics.

Like the era and the author himself, Rousseau's work defies neat classification. The changes that the 18th Century unleashed were both calamitous for those living at the time and foundational for the modern world we know today. From the Enclosure movement in England and the War of Austrian Succession, to the age of Enlightened Monarchs, the context of Rousseau's life and times finds its way both onto the page and between the lines of his works. Napoleon is reported to have said of Rousseau, "It would have been better for the peace of France if this man had never existed." Alas, he was neither the first nor the last to grapple with the provocative ironies and ambiguities of Rousseau's thought.

Written by Seth David Halvorson, Department of Philosophy, Columbia University.


The Social Contract Summary

Rousseau begins The Social Contract with the notable phrase "Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains." Because these chains are not found in the state of nature, they must be constructions of convention. Rousseau thus seeks the basis for a legitimate, political authority in which people must give up their natural liberty. He sets two conditions for a lawful polity and creates several clauses to ensure that they are carried out. First, there must be no relationships of particular dependence in the state, and second, by obeying the laws, an individual only obeys himself.

Rousseau's solution to the problem of legitimate authority is the "social contract," an agreement by which the people band together for their mutual preservation. This act of association creates a collective body called the "sovereign." The sovereign is the supreme authority in the state, and has its own life and will. The sovereign's interest, or the "general will," always promotes the common good. This is in contrast to the private will of each citizen, which strives only for personal benefit.

The law expresses the general will, and must only make regulations that affect the entire populace. The goal of legislation is to protect liberty and equality and to promote the common good. However, the people may not always know how to pursue the common good and may need the help of a legislator to guide them in lawmaking. The legislator prevents private interests from influencing legislation and aids the populace in weighing short-term benefits against long-term costs.

Although the sovereign exercises legislative authority, the state also needs executive power to implement the general will. There are three main types of government: democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy. The type is chosen based on several factors, including population and climate. Smaller governments have more force than larger ones, and the population becomes more unruly as it grows. Rousseau thus argues that in general, there should be an inverse relationship between the size of government and the size of the population. Thus, large states should have a monarchy, intermediate states should have an aristocracy, and small states should have a democracy.

Rousseau asserts that the establishment of government is not, as philosophers such as Hobbes and Grotius have argued, a contract. The sovereign employs the government as a representative of the people in charge of carrying out the general will. The sovereign thus can alter the form of government and replace its leaders as it chooses.

As the natural tendency of every government is to usurp sovereignty and to invalidate the social contract, the government's interests are always in conflict with those of the sovereign. The best means of restraining the executive is holding periodic assemblies. Although this may seem difficult, Rousseau cites Ancient Rome to show that this can be achieved even in large states. When the people convene, they must decide whether they approve of the current form of government and their leaders.

Periodic assemblies can prolong the life of a state, but eventually every state will fall because of the usurpations of government. However, all citizens must fulfill their civic duties while the state exists. They cannot employ representatives to articulate the general will because sovereignty cannot be transferred. They also cannot use money to avoid their responsibilities, because this corrupts the state and destroys civil liberty.

When voting, each person must assess whether a law is in accordance with the general will - not whether it supports his private interests. Thus, he has an obligation to follow even those laws to which he does not give his consent. In a healthy state, people share common sentiment and show unanimity in the assemblies. In a declining state, people place their private interests above the common good and try to manipulate the legislative process.

Although the sovereign must allow for the religious freedoms of its members, it can impose a set of values that are necessary to being a "good" citizen. This system of beliefs, which Rousseau calls "civil religion," consists of belief in a God and the afterlife, universal justice, and respect for the sanctity of the social contract. The state has the power to banish from the state anyone who opposes the tenets of civil religion.


The Past and Future of America's Social Contract

In the 20th century, the United States moved from an economy based on high wages and reliable benefits to a system of low wages and cheap consumer prices, to the detriment of workers. What's next?

The problem of low pay has dominated headlines this year thanks to striking fast food workers, tone-deaf employers, and a spate of successful campaigns to raise state and local minimum wages.

Behind the news cycle, however, there’s a deeper issue than what Walmart or McDonald’s pay their workers today. Americans are once again wrestling with what they fundamentally want from the social contract—the basic bargain most of us can expect from the economy throughout our lives.

A generation ago, the country’s social contract was premised on higher wages and reliable benefits, provided chiefly by employers. In recent decades, we’ve moved to a system where low wages are supposed to be made bearable by low consumer prices and a hodgepodge of government assistance programs. But as dissatisfaction with this arrangement has grown, it is time to look back at how we got here and imagine what the next stage of the social contract might be.

The story of the modern social contract can be divided into two parts, with the first beginning in the aftermath of the Great Depression. The New Deal era of the 1930s through the 1970s was largely defined by high and rising wages, which were pushed up by strong unions, limited global competition, low energy and commodity prices, and more stringent regulations on businesses. At the same time, the ability to automate and innovate in the dominant manufacturing sector made it possible to offer workers high pay while keeping prices on consumer goods low.

But the social contract didn’t just encompass paychecks. During the mid-century boom, many employers—led by industrial giants like General Motors and General Electric—acted as “welfare capitalists” that were also primarily responsible for providing benefits like a pension to workers and their families. Part of the motivation was cultural: Before the notion of shareholder capitalism took root in the 1980s, companies viewed it as part of their mission to act in the interests of all of their stakeholders, including workers and their communities, rather than in the interests of investors alone. However, companies also favored the arrangement because providing benefits to workers directly gave them some leverage against labor unions. Ultimately, the welfare-capitalist social contract became the norm.

Starting in the 1980s, however, the social contract underwent a profound change. Deregulation of industry, increasing global competition, and the increasing cost and volatility of raw materials all led companies to move away from the New Deal era consensus. In its place grew what we term the “low-wage social contract” that has dominated through the current day.

After the New Deal, a Worse Deal

The low-wage social contract seeks to balance poor private sector pay with cheap consumer goods, low taxes, and government subsidies that boost after-tax incomes. What does this mean in practice? Cheap imports from countries like China are one big part of it, as are policies like the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit that allow Washington to supplement low-income workers’ pay through the tax code.

Proponents of the low-wage social contract on both the left and the right have argued that the combination of inexpensive goods and low taxes should give consumers more spending power than they would have in a high-wage, high-price economy. In a famous paper entitled “Wal-Mart: A Progressive Success Story,” Jason Furman, now Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, argued that the low-wage model actually made low-income consumers better off overall.

For many, though, the bargain has clearly failed. It is true that tax credits and cheap goods have boosted the standard of living for otherwise impoverished workers. Yet, according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which takes into account wage subsidies and additional costs like taxes and medical costs, almost 10 percent of the total working population still lives in poverty. This includes roughly 5 million Americans who work full-time, year-round.

A key reason for this is that the low-wage social contract does not do much to help families in the areas they need most. Clothing, food, and other items found at Wal-Mart might be cheap for low-wage workers. But other necessary services—health care, daycare, eldercare, and college—have simultaneously become less affordable and more important as most mothers work outside of the home and the wage premium for college remains high. In 1960, the average family spent about $12,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars on childcare, education, and healthcare over the course of 17 years raising a child. Four decades later, the average family spends almost $63,000 per child. Medical out-of-pocket expenses now push more people below the poverty line than tax credits can lift above it.

The low-wage social contract has also contributed to a lack of aggregate demand. Because workers are also consumers, and because low-income households spend more of their money than do wealthier households, the low wage system limits the power of workers to help the economy grow by purchasing goods and services.

The Next Social Contract

That’s how we got here—but what might lie ahead?

While the “low wage” social contract may not be much of a bargain for many workers, there’s no pretending we can go back to the New Deal-era system of old. The combination of conditions that allowed for high wages, high profits, and low prices no longer exists in a service-based economy with more unstable employment and in which the declining number of manufacturing jobs are more subject to global competition. And while the welfare capitalist model did benefit many in the middle class, it often excluded African-American workers and was reliant on a family model based on a sole male breadwinner. The next social contract needs to adapt to these new economic conditions and further the huge strides we have made toward equality for women and minorities in the workforce.

What, then, would a better social contract look like?

First, we could accept the basic shape of the low-wage economy while softening its edges by asking government to do even more. With higher taxes on the wealthy, Washington could use the tax code to provide poor and middle-class families more generous means-tested subsidies to pay for childcare, education, and healthcare. Since the Clinton era, much of the Democratic Party has embraced this version of the social contract. It is essentially the model behind Obamacare.

The downside, besides the challenge of raising taxes, is that subsidies don’t guarantee affordability. They can even encourage industries to raise their prices see, for example, the proliferation of cheap student loans, which have not made college much more affordable. What's more, means-tested programs for the poor often lack the political support needed to keep them strong.

Another possibility, which would please many progressives, would be to nudge the economy toward a social democratic model such as that of Scandinavia. This social contract would entail high wages, a high cost of living, and a universal welfare state paid for with high, relatively flat taxes.

But transplanting the Nordic model as a whole to the U.S. would be difficult in the face of fierce resistance to higher levels of spending. It would also be hard to import a system of benefits paid for by broad and flat taxes, like payroll taxes and consumption taxes, on a country like the U.S. with much greater inequality.

In our own work at the New America Foundation, we have outlined a third idea we call the “middle-income social contract.” It assumes that many service industries won't be able to offer their workers middle-income salaries, which means that, in addition to raising wages somewhat, the government will have to take a more active role in making essential services like education, child care and health care more affordable. The best way to do this is to provide these programs directly, such as through universal Pre-K, single-payer health insurance, or subsidies to the states for taking care of the elderly. Policymakers can begin to build a middle-income social contract by raising the federal minimum wage closer to a true living wage and expanding public early education, both of which are widely popular proposals.

The current low-wage social contract between American workers, employers, and the government has been a raw deal for most Americans. Just as the New Deal contract shifted to the low wage model, we need to shift once again to a system more suited to the current economy and needs of workers and citizens. The options for the next social contract are many—we just have to choose the right one.


Social Contract Theory: Meaning, Origin and Development

After reading this article you will learn about Social Contract Theory:- 1. Definition and Meaning of Social Contract Theory 2. Origin and Development of Social Contract Theory 3. Contributors 4. Modern Version.

Definition and Meaning of Social Contract Theory:

In social science and particularly in political science the concept of social contract is very well known and popular though many question (and quite reasonably) its historicity. Still today many renowned political scientists want to base social contract theory as the starting point of their theories.

For example John Rawls believes that social contract can be taken as the major focus of his theory of justice. This is the social contract theory.

An authentic definition of social contract has been given by Michael Lessnoff in his introductory part of Social Contract.

“A social contract theory can be defined as one which grounds the legitimacy of political authority and the obligations of rulers and subjects on a premised contract or contracts relating to these matters”.

There is another definition— “A contract between persons in a pre-political or pre- social condition specifying the terms upon which they are prepared to enter society or submit to political authority.”

Social contract can be defined as an instrument or mechanism with the help of which people enter into a new society. Or, it is a medium of transition from one stage to another and more specifically from the state of nature to civil society or political society. This transition is guided by certain conditions or terms and the social contract embodies those terms and conditions.

We have already noted that social contract is an instrument—which provides certain terms and conditions. Some people claim that they are not legally bound to carry out the directions of higher authority or the authority may say that it not legally bound to do such and such duties. In that situation social contract theory may be used as a weapon.

The authority has already promised to perform such and such duties or, again, the contracting individuals are bound to obey certain rules as laid down in the contract. We can thus say that it is a document which contains certain conditions that bound both the rulers and the ruled.

We, therefore, find that social contract contains some terms and conditions which bind both the ruler and the ruled. But this is not all. These conditions are legitimate. This is because at the time of finalization of the contract both the parties promised to obey the terms and conditions and they did it assembling in an open place.

In other words, pure democratic methods were used to finalize the contract. Naturally nobody can violate the terms and conditions of the contract. Social contract theory is also defined as a foundation of political authority.

What does it mean? The authority or the ruler or the government performs certain functions and the general public may raise the legitimacy or the utility of those functions. As again the ruled may refuse to cooperate with the authority or the government in respect of cooperating with the ruler.

All these questions are easily solved by invoking the terms and conditions of the social contract. Naturally the social contract may be regarded as a source of political authority. Government will claim that it has been authorized by the contract to do this. Or the general public may claim that their functions are supported by the terms laid down in the contract.

Contract is the vital or most important source of consent. In the Middle Ages or even before that it was generally believed that all men are equal and naturally one cannot impose his will or decision upon other. If one wishes to perform certain duties with others then he must seek their consent or opinion.

Since it is not possible to seek opinion on every issue there shall exist a general agreement or contract which will provide the guidelines. This general contract rules out the scope of repeated agreement.

One general agreement will be the guiding star for all future actions. Therefore social contract can be defined as the holder of a general consent. A social contract is a legal document. It has been signed and finalized by both or all the parties.

Since everybody gave consent it was not possible to deny or refuse to give consent. But the question of consent is never unilateral it is always bilateral or multilateral.

That all the parties to the contract are legally bound to act in accordance with the terms of the contract. Naturally the two most important aspects of the contract are consent and legality or, in other words, legitimacy.

Hence we can say that the social contract is a legal document based on the consent of all parties who were present at the time of finalization of the terms and conditions of the contract and a society or political organization that was created by this legal contract is also a legal political organization.

Thus one legal document comes to be the potential source of many other legal aspects. Some may raise the question on the importance or authenticity of contract as the source of the foundation of political society. This question or objection is very old.

Still many ‘believe that behind its foundation there is some sort of contract. Today almost all the states have written constitutions and these may be treated as contracts. Hence a social contract is a legal document which is based on consent and it is legal.

Origin and Development of Social Contract Theory:

From the study of history we come to know that the social contract is quite old. In the Mahabharata (Shanti Parva) there is a clear reference to social contract and this Mahabharata was written several thousand years from today.

In the days of the Mahabharata in some places there was anarchy which in those days meant rule of the jungle or idiomatically it was used that the small fishes were indiscriminately attacked and devoured by big ones.

To bring an end to this anarchy an agreement was reached and all were parties to this agreement. This is a form of social contract.

Several scholars have asserted that the origin of the social contract can be traced to the eleventh century. Manegold of Lautenbach, after studying many things, arrived at the conclusion that there was a contract between the ruler and the people or ruled. That is, the contract was entered into between only two parties.

The historians have cited several instances of earliest forms of social contract and one such form is in the writing of an Alsatian monk. In the contract it was said that in a society there shall be a ruler who may be called king.

The king or kingship is just a title of office. Anyone who holds that office may be called a king. A contract was reached between the ruler and the people and simultaneously the terms of the contract were decided.

The ruler or who might be called the king will administer in accordance with the terms laid down in the contract. He cannot be a tyrant by violating the terms agreed upon by both parties.

It was also stated in the contract “he govern and rule according to right reason, give to each one his own, protect the good, destroy the wicked, and administer justice to everyman.” Hence it is quite clear that it is the primary duty of the ruler to protect his subjects from all sorts of odd situations and any type of attack.

For this purpose the contract was made and the post of ruler or king was created. “But if he violates the contract under which he was elected, disturbing and confounding that which he was established to set in order, then people is justly and reasonably released from its obligations to obey him”.

This is the most realistic version of social contract theory so far as origin is concerned. There is no trace of God, religion and divinity. The ruler will rule following right and any sort of aberration will be associated with the obligations of the people to the ruler.

If we go through the numerous political, social and other aspects of Middle Ages, especially fourteenth century, we shall come across the existence of embryonic form of social contract.

Manegold in his idea of contract talked about a ruler, obligations of the subject to the ruler and prevalence of right reason. But in the fourteenth century Engelbert thought that there was some type of contract and the society was ruled in accordance with the terms of the contract. But the concept propagated (or elaborated) by Engelbert we find a new idea which is political authority.

In other words, the contract was made by different parties (Engelbert thought so) to establish a Political authority. Not only this in Engelbert’s version the state or political authority originated from this contract.

“All kingdoms and participates originated when men following nature and reason chose a ruler and bound themselves to obedience in a “contract of subjection” (pact ism subjecsonis), made in order to be ruled, protected and preserved” If we carefully study Engelbert’s version of social contract we shall find that he imagined of two stages of society—one is pre-political or pre-social and the other is political which came into existence after the social contract.

An interesting aspect of Engelbert’s contract theory is he was the “first to enunciate an idea destined for a long career— what would later be called the original contract”. This implies that subsequently people formed another contract. But the original contract was the source of political organisation and political authority.

The concept of social contract received further encouragement in the sixteenth century. Mario Salamonio, a Roman jurist, focused his attention on social contract. But he viewed the entire idea from religious point of view.

Originally there was no political organisation as it is today. Perhaps Salamonio was thinking about state of nature. But he stressed that God had created all men and women equal and His intention was that all would enjoy equal privileges. But subsequently people strongly felt the necessity of establishing a kingdom or political organisation for the general betterment of people. Salamonio thought that this could be done by means of contract. Salamonio was a Roman Jurist and naturally he viewed everything in the background of Roman law.

In Roman law political organisation was generally called civilis societas which means a society of partnership. “Thus for Salamonio political or civil society is a partnership among individual citizens created by contract among them… The terms of the contract are the laws of the state, without which no state can exist and which are binding on all its members including the prince or the ruler”.

In the hands of Salamonio the idea of contract received a better treatment and it assumed an incomplete modern form.

Contributors of Social Contract Theory:

Reformation, Vindiciae, Huguenot:

From history we come to know that Reformation movement was chiefly a move­ment against maladministration and irreligious functions of church. But during the long course of movement it released certain basic concepts of politics and social contract theory is one of them.

The Calvinists (of Reformation) in the 1550s believed that there existed an unwritten covenant or contract in all societies and it was the duty of both ruler and the ruled to obey the terms and conditions of these covenants.

“Luther and Calvin both stressed the idea of a covenant between God and the people”. But the king and higher officials were entrusted with the responsibility of carrying out the order of God and act in accordance with the terms of the covenant. But if there was any large scale disorder and transgression and also the violation of the basic rules of the covenant, people must have the right to protest the violation or transgression.

Calvin’s idea of covenant related to the Ten Command­ments of the New Testament. Skinner says “Since Calvin believed that in each case the essence of the covenant consisted of an agreement to obey the Ten Command­ments, he went on to teach that it must be possible at any time for a group of godly men formally to reaffirm their contractual relationship with God” From this it appears that the contract or covenant theory played a very important part in the Reformation movement”.

The vindiciae contra tyrannos was published in 1579. It was a small but very powerful pamphlet which propagated the antimonarchism in the second half of the sixteenth century.

The English translation of the pamphlet is a Defence of liberty against Tyrants. This small book contains many explosive ideas whose central idea is that the king had no absolute power. But its most remarkable contribution (for the present purpose) is it contains the central idea of social contract theory.

We can remember the opinion of Sabine:

“In its main outline the theory of vindiciae took the form of twofold covenant or contract. There is first a contract to which God is one party and king and people jointly the other party…. Secondly there is a contract in which people appear as one party and the king as the other. This is specifically the political contract by which a people becomes a state, the king is bound by this agreement to rule well and justly”. The vindiciae is an explicit assertion of the famous social contract theory.

Lessnoff makes the following observation about the contribution of vindiciae to the social contract theory. He says: “The vindiciae is interesting both for what is old in it and for what is new. Junius Brutus reiterated the existence of a contract mutually obligatory between the king and his subjects who require the people to obey faithfully and the king to govern lawfully”. The vindiciae wants to assert that the king had no scope to act or govern the state whimsically, he is bound by the conditions of the contract.

If the prince violates the faith or any part of the contract people will have right to withdraw obligations. In the sixteenth century the vindicial made a remarkable contribution to the antimonarchical movement and in order to strengthen the agitation the covenant theory was strongly emphasized. From vindiciae we obtain a few important threads of modern political theory and social contract theory is by far the most important of them.

The St. Bartholomew Massacre of 1572 opened the floodgate of several political and non-political issues. In this inhuman massacre more than two thousand Huguenots of Paris were brutally murdered.

The Huguenots belonged to different religious faith and that was their “Unpardonable sin.” The Huguenots and their spokespersons tirelessly propagated that every religious faith had the right to hold and propagate that faith peacefully.

They further said that it was the duty of the king (or queen as might be) to protect every religious faith from the wrath and displeasure of an opposite faith. It is the constitutional duty of the authority. It is a type of contract. The authority will protect every religious sect and, in exchange of that, the sect will release obligation to the authority.

The Huguenot writers particularly Hotman said that the ruler even the heredi­tary ruler, had no right to deny its responsibility towards people. Its right to rule depends upon the tacit consent of the general public. Political authority is derived from “immemorial practices inherent in the community….the consent of the people, expressed in such practices, is the rightful basis of political power, and the Crown itself derives its authority from its legal position as an agent of the community”.

The Huguenot writers wanted to emphasis that the king had no arbitrary authority, he must share his powers with the people of the society and, if he does this, people will show their obligation. This is the basic principle of contract theory and it is unfortunate that the French Government did not follow this basic principle.

The Huguenot writers were at pain to note that the French government showed no respect to the immemorial practices and its respon­sibility to protect citizens.

Other Contributors:

Althusius was the important contributor to the social contract theory. The contract theory, according to Sabine, figured in his analysis in two ways. He believed that there was a relationship between the ruler and the ruled or subject people.

He calls it the political role of the ruler. Again, in the view of Althusius, there exists a sociological role of the ruler. Sabine calls the first role as the political one and it is related to the contract of the government.

The sociological role implies there is a tacit agreement between the government and the people as well as among the people themselves. A large number of people reside in a society and, according to Althusius, they are bound by contract and by virtue of it they form a community. Long ago Aristotle spoke of this type of community.

Sabine says that Althusius thought of several contracts that existed in society and all the people were bound by the terms of the contract.

“The most important aspect of Althusius’s theory was that he made sovereignty reside necessarily in the people as a corporate body.” People as a body create law and the authority rules according to that law. Naturally the authority had hardly any opportunity to go against the law of the people.

It is a type of popular sovereignty and the foundation is the contract. We think that Althusius’s political theory is based on social contract and Sabine is right when he says that Althusius’s political ideas are based on one idea or concept which is political and social relationships are guided by a single view and it is principle of consent or contract. The contract binds both the rulers and the ruled.

Samuel Pufendorf (1632-1694) was a seventeenth century jurist who supported the social contract as the basis of state or political society. From his writings we come to know that he thought of a double contract.

There was a first contract which founded a state or political community. But to him a mere foundation of a political community was not all. It must be well-administered and serve the purposes of the members and, for that purpose, a second contract was necessary which would make provision for a ruler.

“On the whole, to join a multitude, or many men, into one compound person, to which one general act may be ascribed.” In ancient Indian literature there are traces of contract as the basis of state.

Ram Sharan Sharma in his noted work Aspects of Political Ideas and Institutions in Ancient India makes the following observation:

“The first faint traces of the contract theory of the origin of the state are to be found in two Brahmanas, which refer to the origin of kingship through election among the gods on account of the compelling necessity of carrying on successful war against the asuras. Although the contract theory of the origin of the state is anticipated by early brahmanical literature, the first clear and developed exposition of this theory is found in the Buddhist canonical text Digha Nikaya, where the story of creation reminds us of the ideal state of Rousseau followed by the state of nature as depicted by Hobbes”.

We thus see that in both West and East social contract was thought as a basis of state creation. But the difference is in the West the theory was very popular and widely conceived. In the East it was sporadically used.

Modern Version of the Social Contract Theory:

The revival of social contract theory in recent decades—specifically from the seventies of the last century—is astounding. Some people began to interpret it as the origin of utilitarianism because in their opinion people began to feel that well-organized and well-ordered state is far better than anarchical state that is the state of nature.

Many critics challenge the very historicity of social contract as the source or origin of state. But still they regard that in the process of evolution of state its importance is undeniable. It is believed that there existed at certain period of time anarchical situation and, in order to get rid of it, people laid the foundation of modern political organisation.

The most remarkable version of social contract theory has been provided by John Rawls in his “A Theory of Justice”.

“More recently, social contract theory has been explicitly and self-consciously revived by the leading political philosopher of our day, John Rawls. Largely thanks to Rawls, social contract theory is now again a major focus of systematic and original political thought”.

Lessnoff says that the social contract is even more current. He cites an example. The British Labour Party in an election manifesto talked of social contract in different form. The manifesto said that in order to save the nation from the crisis a type of social contract was needed.

It meant contract or agreement among different groups or parties. The purpose of the contract was to reach agreement which would save the nation from a number of economic crises. In every aspect of our social, political and economic life there is immense importance of social contract.

Agreement is to be reached to find out ways of how to come out of various crises. The contract may not be in Hobbesian or Lockean way or formula, but contract is found.

John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice was first published in 1971 and its revised edition in 1999. He says – “My aim is to present a conception of Justice which generalizes and carries to a higher level of abstraction the familiar theory of social contract as found, say in Locke, Rousseau and Kant”.

Rawls has not used the social contract in its original form or the entire concept. But he adopts only some relevant portions for the analysis of justice as fairness. John Rawls is the pro-pounder of the Justice Theory and he has said that certain aspects of social contract may serve his purpose.

“The guiding idea is that the principles of justice for the basic structure of society are the objects of the original agreement”. Rawls has assumed that the architects of the contract were “free and rational” persons.

They started their activities from an original position and in that position all were equal. That is the starting point. After that they began to decide principles and formulate policies for further steps and actions.

The main purpose is that all the future actions must be taken in a manner so that none will be in a disadvantageous position. That is, no one will suffer injustice. Rawls wants to say that at the initial position people will decide certain principles which may be called fundamental principles and these will “regulate all further agreements.”

Rawls is sure that in this way justice can be established in society. To use his language “This way of regarding the principles of justice I shall call justice as fairness”. Even Dr. Amartya Sen supports the approach (justice through social contract).

He says in his The Idea of Justice “Even though the social contract approach to justice initiated by Hobbes combines transcendentalism with institutionalism, it is worth noting that the two features need not necessarily be combined”.

Rawls further observes In justice as fairness the original position of equality corresponds to the state of nature in the traditional theory of the social contract. This original position is not thought as an actual historical state of affairs. It is understood as a purely hypothetical situation characterized so as to lead to certain conception of justice”.

Rawls also refers to state of nature on another ground and it is “veil of ignorance.”

He says that the state of nature can be regarded as embodiment of “veil of ignorance” because the residents of state of nature had no clear idea of contract, civil society, government administration etc.

Naturally, it was quite easy for the architects of contract to start from a position. One very powerful plus point is when the builders of the contract started from state of nature there did not arise any question of advantage or disadvantage.

“The Rawlsian contract is a hypothetical contract, but with a difference…. Rawls’s innovation has been to adapt contract theory to the problem of conflicting interests. To resolve conflicting interests in a way that adequately protects the interests of all is to ensure justice. Hence Rawls’s contract theory is a theory of justice”.

Robert Nozick in his Anarchy State and Utopia has whole­heartedly supported Rawls idea of justice based on contract. But he has advanced a step. Nozick feels that for the proper realization of justice at first what is required is institutionalization of society and, to achieve this end, a scheme like contract is essential.

All these clearly reveal that a theory which was first imagined several centuries ago has found its revival and this revival is quite interesting.


What Was John Locke's Theory on Social Contract?

John Locke's social contract theories differed in one key aspect from others. Locke felt that mankind's natural state was of freedom and individuals entered into a contract with other people to ensure that freedom.

The Basis of Early Social Contract Theories The concept of a social contract started with the Greek philosopher Socrates. Socrates believed that the tenets of modern society were based on the laws created to govern that society. Those who chose to stay within such a society, after they were old enough, should follow the laws of that society, or else expect to suffer the consequences for breaking those laws. This, in turn, helped perpetuate a lawful society where its citizens were bound by the law but could expect certain benefits for observing those laws.

John Hobbes is another philosopher, who lived in 15th-century England during the English Civil War. It was Hobbes's belief that although all members of a society were created equal, people within that society must subject themselves to the monarchy in order for that society to survive. Hobbes believed in the hypothetical state of nature, which states that individuals operate in a state of self-interest, which can quickly lead to death for many individuals as others took what they wanted with no regard to the rights of others. To avoid this, individuals sought to create a civil society to avoid this state. The civil society demanded that the individual subject themselves to rule by one person, or a group of people, who they invested with the power to enforce the laws of society, thus ensuring that society continued to exist.

Where Locke's Social Contract Theory Differed Like Hobbes before him, Locke believed in rule by the monarchy as a means to establish and enforce social order. Where he differed was in his view of the state of nature. According to Locke, the state of nature while prepolitical, was not premoral. Locke further believed that the Law of Nature, which governs nature and its morality, commanded that members of society did no harm to others in regard to their life, liberty, health or possessions. In Locke's view, the state of nature was, in fact, a state of liberty, where all members of society had the right to pursue their own interests. By subjecting themselves to a social contract with the rulers they appointed in a lawful society, individuals ensured that they retained the freedoms that they so cherish.


America’s Social Contract Is Broken

So little has changed. Nearly 30 years have passed since the Los Angeles riots, and yet we find ourselves in a near-identical situation: a black man brutalized by police the incident caught on camera, extinguishing any doubt that a horrendous crime has been committed then an eruption of violence, fueled not only by the crime itself but by a long history of racial discrimination. Observers in both cases split into two camps: those who sympathize with rioters who have been terrorized by police and abandoned by their government and those who are calling them criminals and demanding that peace be restored. Even the attorney general who oversaw the Justice Department’s response to the Los Angeles riots occupies that office today.

There are differences between then and now, between Los Angeles in 1992 and Minneapolis in 2020—the greatest being that the Minneapolis riots, which have since spawned anti-police protests in cities across the country, occurred amid a deadly pandemic. This cannot be mere coincidence. People are frustrated, trapped in their homes, eager to bust out. “They’re in a different space and a different place,” Keith Ellison, Minnesota’s attorney general, told The New York Times. “They’re restless.” African Americans have had a particularly tough time of it. As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor wrote for the Times, “The coronavirus has scythed its way through black communities, highlighting and accelerating the ingrained social inequities that have made African Americans the most vulnerable to the disease.” To douse salt in the wound, black people are far more likely to be arrested for supposed infractions of pandemic safety protocols.

But there is a sense that the protests are tapping into a more ambient anger. There is a sense, too, that the appropriate precedent for the coronavirus pandemic isn’t, say, the “Hong Kong flu” of 1968 (which killed some 100,000 people in the United States) but the utter collapse of society that occurred in convulsions like the Los Angeles riots. The spasms of violence we saw in Minnesota and elsewhere, this collective scream of rage, is what happens when the social contract between citizens and their government is so thoroughly, irredeemably broken.

There are other, telling differences between the 1992 riots and the ones we see today. In Los Angeles, the riots began after the officers who brutally beat Rodney King were acquitted by a jury. It’s almost quaint the way people expected that justice might actually be served, that genuine change might come for America’s pathologically violent police forces. In Minneapolis, though the officers were quickly fired and George Floyd’s killer was charged with murder, the protesters didn’t bother to wait for a trial, because what would a trial do? What have all the other trials, as well as all the other videos of blatant police brutality, done? They certainly didn’t save the life of George Floyd. We have learned, as William Gaddis once wrote, that “you get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.”

In 1992, George H.W. Bush was president, presiding over a Republican Party that had not yet divested itself of all decency and common sense. While Bush condemned the rioters in Nixonian law-and-order fashion, insisting that their actions were “not about civil rights” and that the authorities would use “whatever force necessary” to bring them to heel, he expressed shock and sorrow that King’s assailants were not found guilty. He also vowed to address the “underlying” issues that had amassed in Los Angeles like so much dry tinder. “We know there is police brutality,” then–Attorney General William Barr said. “It’s reprehensible.”

It could be argued that Donald Trump has, in his vulgar way, performed a similar two-step, describing Floyd’s death as “sad and tragic,” while attacking the protesters as an anarchic mob. But in the perfectly cursory tone of his condolences, and in the glee with which he has advocated a crackdown on the protests, he has really made no concessions to the awful reality under which African Americans in Minneapolis and elsewhere live. He has called the protesters “THUGS” and, echoing the arch-segregationist George Wallace, threatened that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” He has blamed the chaos on “Liberal Governors and Mayors,” who, he says, must get “MUCH tougher” on crowds. Current Attorney General William Barr, meanwhile, has delegitimized the protests by claiming that they have been “planned, organized, and driven by anarchic and far-left extremist groups using antifa-like tactics.”

These people obviously do not care about what is going on in this country. It has become a commonplace to describe America as a failed state, but I’m not sure that term quite captures what is happening here, this strange combination of decadence and suffering. It is not just that the federal government is doing almost nothing to address the pandemic, relying instead on the bluntest of measures—an economy-destroying lockdown—and praying schools and businesses will reopen in time for the election in November. It is not just that the pandemic has exposed every institution in American life, including the once-esteemed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. military, as being hopelessly incompetent. It is the wanton greed and corruption on display: the insider trading by U.S. senators (and their subsequent exoneration by Barr’s Justice Department) the wealthy hospitals with venture capital funds that are pocketing aid from Congress while poorer hospitals struggle (did you even know that hospitals had venture capital funds? I didn’t) the large chains gobbling up small business loans from a program that is too poorly designed and inadequately funded to help many actual small businesses. Meanwhile, the unemployment insurance programs of many states are so sclerotic from decades of official contempt for those who have been left behind by the market system that people who have lost their jobs have to go through insane hoops just to get a modest amount of assistance.

So much wealth, so many resources, and yet so little help. It is every person, every family, for themselves. As my colleague Osita Nwanevu has written, “We do not have a country.” There may be solidarity among discrete groups there may be common feeling between like-minded people who, to name one example, agree to wear masks or shelter in place for the benefit of everyone. But it is not enough, not for a pandemic. It is difficult to describe the feeling of helplessness this engenders—its vastness, the crushing weight of it. Even if we know, on an intellectual level, that government is broken, that our society’s privileges extend only to a lucky few, that no one is going to save us, it is another thing entirely to feel it as soon as you wake up in the morning. The surreal drift of the quarantine era, its never-endingness, is the essence of our political situation.

But others have always lived with this feeling, and they sense it most acutely in their interactions with the most conspicuous representatives of the state: the police. The police, at long last, have shed the adulatory glow they enjoyed in the years after September 11. (It is hard to believe now, but The Strokes even dropped their song “New York City Cops” from their 2001 album, Is This It, because it contained the laughably innocuous line that “they ain’t too smart.”) In urban areas throughout the country, the police have proven themselves to be corrupt and violent, impervious to reform, and hostile toward both the citizens they are supposed to protect and the politicians who dare to criticize them. They are, naturally, an important constituency for Donald Trump. But it must be said that Democratic politicians are as much to blame for this rotten state of affairs as anyone, as well as voters who are willing to accept the regular unnecessary deaths of minorities as long as it keeps their cities “safe.”

And what have the cops done for us in this time of crisis? It is the nurses and doctors and EMTs who have been at the front lines of the pandemic and who are celebrated every night at 7 p.m. with hoots and applause and banging pans. In New York, when the cops are not defying the open streets program in order to fill up on bagels, they are arresting mostly African Americans for flouting lockdown guidelines. When I drive through the eerily empty spaces of Manhattan, I see the police idling in groups, often maskless, while the homeless eddy about the streets. I see them patrolling Prospect Park, scolding people through their Robocop megaphone, rolling past the graffiti that says, “Cops Are the Pandemic.” And now they are beating up protesters. Yet while this city faces austerity cuts to deal with the cost of the pandemic, including to health care of all things, the police department will no doubt be spared the brunt of the damage.

When I watch President Bush’s 1992 address to the nation about the Los Angeles riots, what strikes me is his unshakeable confidence, his optimism. The violence would pass so, too, would the hatred it unleashed, in America’s long but steady march toward progress. “None of this is what we wish to think of as America,” he said. “It’s as if we were looking in a mirror that distorted our better selves and turned us ugly. We cannot let that happen.” He also said, “In a civilized society there can be no excuse—no excuse—for the murder, arson, theft, and vandalism that have terrorized the law-abiding citizens of Los Angeles.” I agree, but the sorry fact is that we do not live in a civilized society. What I admire about the protesters is that they still have enough belief in this country to demand one.


The contract

  1. These conditions were really intolerable and thus men longed for peace and security of life and property.
  2. To escape from the misery and horror they entered into a contract among themselves to form a civil society.
  3. By mutual covenant they agreed to surrender their natural rights into the hands of a common superior and obey his commands.
  4. The person or assembly of persons to whom they surrendered their natural rights became Sovereign and the individual, who agreed to submit to the authority of the Sovereign became his subject.
  5. The Sovereign was not a party to the contract. The authority of the Sovereign was final and irrevocable.

What is the American Social Contract?

Why is the American Social Contract everything? It is the totality of the spoken and unspoken, written and unwritten foundational concepts that underlie the relationships and responsibilities of citizen to citizen and government to citizen. It includes rights, duties, benefits, and laws. The Constitution is the essential legal document of this social contract.

Why is the American Social Contract in collapse? We owe our fellow citizens decent, respectful, and lawful treatment regardless of skin color or national background. The laws are meant to be applied equally regardless of position, career, fame, wealth, or lack of any of those. Public service is certainly a worthy path that often results in fame for good or ill however, when it results in wealth and fortune the people are necessarily and reasonably concerned. Security for our persons, our territory and our people, and friends and interests abroad is guaranteed in the social contract much of our tax burden supports the government in these efforts. When the laws that secure our territory are not enforced when our fellow citizens are at risk at home and abroad when criminals and fanatics make war upon us and the government does not respond effectively in word and deed the people are necessarily and reasonably concerned. When those planning and implementing economic policy consider the needs of those outside this social contract as more influential than the needs of those within it the people are necessarily and reasonably concerned. When national law and sovereignty is thought expendable and bendable by those elected government representatives who are empowered by their constituents to uphold and secure both -- the people are necessarily and reasonably concerned.

What is the purpose of the American Social Contract? The promises and obligations that exist between fellow citizens and their government are the foundations of the rule of law, economic stability, opportunity and prosperity, national safety, and a functioning and welcoming civil society built upon the cornerstone of the Constitution. Citizenship is an agreement to uphold these concepts and the statutes that support them. What does it mean to be a "good citizen?" Perhaps it is easier to understand the good citizen by defining its inversion the bad citizen is one who does not support the Social Contract and actively undermines it. How can the good citizen be rewarded in his/her citizenship when the Social Contract is in collapse? Secure it, foster it, defend it, uphold it - spread its obligations and benefits across the land from ocean to ocean.

We live in a time of historical reassessment national figures large and small are under a microscope of new analyses and reviews. We are vigorous and unforgiving and honest in our criticism of them, as we look back at their world through our modern eyes. We are vigorous and often harsh with each other now. Our friendships snap over politics and political positions. Ours is an open political culture -- we are not supposed to agree on every issue and in every matter. Thomas Jefferson told us in his first Inaugural Address, &ldquoLet us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things.&rdquo

How can the American Social Contract be rescued and sustained? All Americans love their country. We all know that our Constitutional freedoms are special and superb we all know that we are lucky. All Americans are united in their desire that our just laws be applied fairly and with justice and failed laws rescinded. All Americans understand that our country is under grave threat from without and sometimes from within. Ours is not a &ldquodirect democracy,&rdquo that is we generally do not make law by a plurality of popular votes, though there are exceptions to this general rule. The desire for our American Social Contract to be enforced, to flourish, and to be defended is an almost universal one across all political divides during this extraordinary election. It is the duty of our elected officials to support and sustain this essential social contract.

What is to be done? The laws must be applied with equal vigor to the high and the low citizens must support the civil society and the Constitution by their forbearance and patience. The same vigor applied to reassessments of the past must also be applied to reviews and analyses of our present and potential leaders, our international partners and friends, our assumptions about the state of the world and how it is structured, our businesses and their managers, our colleagues, our friends and ourselves. The greatest challenge before us is to see problems, and face them head on, dedicated, and with courage, toward solutions.

Our American Social Contract is the foundational agreement between our government and ourselves, and between each one of us and our fellow citizens. It is the most important set of beliefs and concepts that together lead to beneficial change and to sustaining our way of life. Our American Social Contract is the foundation of our past, and our future, it is everything. Our American Social Contract is in collapse &ndash let us build it back up more solid, more stable, more respected, more revered than before.

What is the American Social Contract? Everything.

What has it been in recent memory? Collapsing.

What is it meant to be? Fundamental.

Why is the American Social Contract everything? It is the totality of the spoken and unspoken, written and unwritten foundational concepts that underlie the relationships and responsibilities of citizen to citizen and government to citizen. It includes rights, duties, benefits, and laws. The Constitution is the essential legal document of this social contract.

Why is the American Social Contract in collapse? We owe our fellow citizens decent, respectful, and lawful treatment regardless of skin color or national background. The laws are meant to be applied equally regardless of position, career, fame, wealth, or lack of any of those. Public service is certainly a worthy path that often results in fame for good or ill however, when it results in wealth and fortune the people are necessarily and reasonably concerned. Security for our persons, our territory and our people, and friends and interests abroad is guaranteed in the social contract much of our tax burden supports the government in these efforts. When the laws that secure our territory are not enforced when our fellow citizens are at risk at home and abroad when criminals and fanatics make war upon us and the government does not respond effectively in word and deed the people are necessarily and reasonably concerned. When those planning and implementing economic policy consider the needs of those outside this social contract as more influential than the needs of those within it the people are necessarily and reasonably concerned. When national law and sovereignty is thought expendable and bendable by those elected government representatives who are empowered by their constituents to uphold and secure both -- the people are necessarily and reasonably concerned.

What is the purpose of the American Social Contract? The promises and obligations that exist between fellow citizens and their government are the foundations of the rule of law, economic stability, opportunity and prosperity, national safety, and a functioning and welcoming civil society built upon the cornerstone of the Constitution. Citizenship is an agreement to uphold these concepts and the statutes that support them. What does it mean to be a "good citizen?" Perhaps it is easier to understand the good citizen by defining its inversion the bad citizen is one who does not support the Social Contract and actively undermines it. How can the good citizen be rewarded in his/her citizenship when the Social Contract is in collapse? Secure it, foster it, defend it, uphold it - spread its obligations and benefits across the land from ocean to ocean.

We live in a time of historical reassessment national figures large and small are under a microscope of new analyses and reviews. We are vigorous and unforgiving and honest in our criticism of them, as we look back at their world through our modern eyes. We are vigorous and often harsh with each other now. Our friendships snap over politics and political positions. Ours is an open political culture -- we are not supposed to agree on every issue and in every matter. Thomas Jefferson told us in his first Inaugural Address, &ldquoLet us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things.&rdquo

How can the American Social Contract be rescued and sustained? All Americans love their country. We all know that our Constitutional freedoms are special and superb we all know that we are lucky. All Americans are united in their desire that our just laws be applied fairly and with justice and failed laws rescinded. All Americans understand that our country is under grave threat from without and sometimes from within. Ours is not a &ldquodirect democracy,&rdquo that is we generally do not make law by a plurality of popular votes, though there are exceptions to this general rule. The desire for our American Social Contract to be enforced, to flourish, and to be defended is an almost universal one across all political divides during this extraordinary election. It is the duty of our elected officials to support and sustain this essential social contract.

What is to be done? The laws must be applied with equal vigor to the high and the low citizens must support the civil society and the Constitution by their forbearance and patience. The same vigor applied to reassessments of the past must also be applied to reviews and analyses of our present and potential leaders, our international partners and friends, our assumptions about the state of the world and how it is structured, our businesses and their managers, our colleagues, our friends and ourselves. The greatest challenge before us is to see problems, and face them head on, dedicated, and with courage, toward solutions.

Our American Social Contract is the foundational agreement between our government and ourselves, and between each one of us and our fellow citizens. It is the most important set of beliefs and concepts that together lead to beneficial change and to sustaining our way of life. Our American Social Contract is the foundation of our past, and our future, it is everything. Our American Social Contract is in collapse &ndash let us build it back up more solid, more stable, more respected, more revered than before.


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