What isThomas Hobbes Social Contract Theory

Tue, 01/15/2013 - 04:52 -- Umar Farooq

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was an Englishman. He lived at time when England was in the grip of civil war. There was complete confusion and anarchy. These conditions influenced the thinking of Thomas Hobbes and in this way he developed his theory of Social Contract.

What is Hobbes Social Contract Theory

According to Hobbes social contract theory, the ruler powers are absolute because these are inalienable and indivisible. Besides the laws of the sovereign are commands. The ruler is the sole judge of what is right and what is wrong. The people have only one right and this is to obey him.

Thomas Hobbes theory of social contract begins the state of nature. According to him it was pre-social. He explains the state of nature by analyzing human nature. According to him man by nature is selfish, egoistic and self-seeking. Whatever man does, it is only for the satisfaction of his desires. On many occasions man does not even hesitate in harming others for his own gains. So in the state of nature there was a competition. Man did not trust others. This distrust gave rise to hatred, which led to war. So in the state of nature there was a war of all against one and one against all.

As a result of this in the state of nature there was no distinguish between right or wrong, just or unjust, became the rule of life and also might was, right. Man's life in the state of nature was solitary, poor, nasty brutish and short.

Such state of affairs could not be borne by people for a very long time. They wanted peace, and for this purpose the people made a contract. How people have surrendered all their rights unconditionally to one man or to the assembly of men who became sovereign and the people became his subjects. The ruler is not party to the contract, which, therefore, is not binding on him. It is binding on the people because they are party to it.

Criticism on Hobbes Social Contract Theory

Following are the important limitations and criticism on Hobbes social contract theory

Incorrect assumption of Hobbes

According to Hobbes it was fear of death and extinction, which compelled men to make a contract and create the state. But this is not correct because people being selfish in the state of nature could not and would not trust each other. Contract is an act of trust. How would such people trust one another?

Incorrect Analysis of Human Nature

His analysis of human' nature is also incorrect. Man is not always selfish. He is also social. He has the feeling of sympathy, love and co-operation. Suppose if we agree that man by nature is selfish, we are compelled to think law. Such selfish people can become civilized suddenly by making a contract?

Defective Assessment

The Contract according to Hobbes is not binding on the sovereign. This he did it deliberately because he wanted the ruler to be absolute and not dependent on the will of the people. But such a contract does not appeal to human reason in general and the reason of the people in the state of nature who were selfish and cunning.

Hobbes theory of social contract is Unacceptable Theory

Thomas Hobbes Social Contract Theory tells us that the state granted rights to the people so that these are dependent on the will of the ruler. Besides, his explanation of law is also not clear. Laws are not commands of the sovereign but they are will of the people.