What is Social Contract Theory of Government

Tue, 01/15/2013 - 04:19 -- Umar Farooq

The social contract theory of government or theory of social contract is very old. It has discussed by Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. But they rejected it. It remained forgotten for a very long time. It was revived in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. During these times the people had become politically conscious and they started questioning the authority of the rulers. This theory had many supporters but three of them became very famous and they present their own theories which are:

  1. Hobbes Theory of State
  2. Locke Theory of State and
  3. Rousseau Theory of state

What is Social Contract Theory of Government

According to theory of social contract there are three stages through which human society passed and took the shape of the state. These are the three stages:

  1. A state of nature
  2. The social contract
  3. The civil society or the State

In the beginning there was no state. People lived under certain rules not made by them. These were called Laws of Nature. There was no government. People were free to do whatever they like. This was called the State or Nature. According to some writers the State of Nature was pre-social. While others say that it was pre-political (i.e. before the state). However, all agree that people lived under conditions, which were not controlled by human beings.

In the state of nature people had some problems. These could not be solved by them. According to some writers life in the state of nature was happy and prosperous. According to others it was a miserable life. Whether happy or miserable, the people were compelled to say good bye to the state of nature. So they made an agreement or a contract and in this way they came Out of their difficulties. As a result of this contract the civil society or the state came into existence. Laws of nature were replaced by men made laws, people not only enjoyed rights, but they also have to perform certain duties.

Social Contract Theory Criticism

Following the points of criticism of social contract theory of government

1. Unhistorical

History does not prove any proof in support of this theory. Besides, history also shows that at no stage people have lived in the state of nature without any social relations. Instead history tells us that men have always lived in a society and they had relation with one another.

2. Sociologically Unscientific

The theory of social contract is sociologically unscientific. Sociology is the science of society. It tells us that we have always lived in society. In the past, it was the family and tribe that were important. Every man's position in society was determined by his birth. It was only society which made progress and people became politically conscious that is individuals became important.

3. Illogical and Unacceptable

This theory says that soon after the contract the state was created. Such a sudden change in human history is not possible. The question is how people who do not know anything about laws are and contracts can suddenly become so civilized to create a civil society and become conscious of their rights and duties? There is no doubt that people became politically conscious but this process spreads over many centuries. It is not sudden.

4. Self-Contradictory

This theory is self-contradictory. This theory says that men make a contract and created the state. This means that the people become politically conscious and that they already had the idea of the state but the theory says that the people in the state of nature were not conscious, how can they enter into a contract? Besides, contract pre-supposes the existence of a system of laws. But this theory says that there were no laws. This is one of the biggest weaknesses of this theory.

5. Contract Theory of Government Based on Wrong Assumption

According to this social contract theory of government the state is based on the contract. It is like a joint-stock company. But this is wrong. The state is a compulsory and a permanent association. Whether somebody like or does not like. He has to be the citizen of one or the other state. If he gives up the citizenship of one state, he has to acquire the citizenship of another state. We do not find or really find a stateless person. So the state is not a private company, which would come to an end when its shareholders withdraw themselves.