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Compare ‘Social Contract Theory’ related thoughts of Thomas Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau.


Make a comparative study of various social contract theories.

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Comparison of thoughts of Social Contract Theory of Thomas Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. All the three scholars Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau have propagated Social Contract Theory of origin of the state in their own way and as such, distinction is found in their analysis.

The comparison of their thoughts can be done under the following heads: 

1. Comparison on the basis of portrayal of human nature:

(i) Hobbes: 

According to Hobbes, human nature was cruel, selfish, violent and inspired by fear and greed of power. He was dominated by wild tendencies. He was quarrelsome by nature. Hobbes terms a human as the mine of vices.

(1) Locke: 

According to Locke, human nature was good, merciful, cooperative, charitable and full of liberal emotions. Locke makes a positive description of human behaviour. He regards an individual to be rational and peaceful.

(2) Rousseau:

According to Rousseau, in the beginning, human nature was, in fact, decent. He was a noble savage, but in due course, he developed mentality of “that is yours and this is mine.” Rousseau calls a human naive and sinless, but also calls him impulsive and wild. It is quite clear that Hobbes calls a human selfish, lonely, quarrelsome, but Locke and Rousseau call him summarily decent.

2. Distinction on the basis of portrayal of natural state: 

(1) Hobbes:

According to Hobbes, the natural state was full of undeclared war and unpredictability. There was a presence of violence and lack of morality. In this state, the powerful persons used to oppress the weaker ones.

(2) Locke:

Locke says that the natural state was quite contrary to what has been decided by Hobbes. All the people used to spend their lives in accordance with the natural laws. The state was full of morality, rationality and social cohesion.

(3) Rousseau:

Rousseau also describes the natural state as being full of bliss and happiness. This state was without conflict. Human needs were limited. He had no fear nor worry. In this way, it is quite clear that the thoughts of Hobbes about the natural state were quite to different from those of Locke and Rousseau.

3. Comparison in relation to causes of the contract:

  • Hobbes:

In order to end the anarchy born out of continuous struggle in the natural state, and also for the safety of life, the people got compelled to enter into the contract.

  • Locke: 

In order to explain the natural laws in the natural state, enforce them and also to wipe out the lack of governance for delivery of justice, the contract was made.

  • Rousseau:

In order to wipe out the conflict arising out of the rise of personal property in the natural state, for the safety of life and also for re – creating the ideal shape to the society, the social contract was inked.

4. Distinction on the basis of form of the contract:

  • Hobbes:

According to Hobbes, the people went for the contract only for the formation of the state. In this, a person dedicates all his right to the ruler, except the rights of self defense.

  • Locke: 

According to Locke, the contracts were of two types – by the first contract, state or society was formed, and by the second contract, the state was established.

  • Rousseau: 

According to Rousseau, ‘General Will’ was formed by the contract.

5. Distinction on the basis of sovereignty:

  • Hobbes:

Hobbes supports autocratic monarchy. In Hobbes’s contract, king is not a party to the contract, but he is the result of the contract. As such, revolution cannot be dared against the king or the sovereign.

  • Locke:

Locke supports limited monarchy. In Locke’s second contract, sovereign (government) is a party to the contract and it is bound with the conditions of the contract. In case, it does not comply with the conditions, the society can expel it.

  • Rousseau:

Rousseau supports democracy and asks for ‘public welfare will’ to be sovereign, which he terms ‘General Will’. This ‘General Will’ resides in the people.

6. Comparison on the basis of power transfer: 

Hobbes goes for complete transfer of governance of an individual. Locke proposes a limited transfer of power of the governance of the person, whereas Rousseau prefers to change the form of governance of an individual.

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