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Social contract

Social contract

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The social contract is an intellectual device intended to explain the appropriate relationship between individual
Individual
An individual is a person or any specific object or thing in a collection. Individuality is the state or quality of being an individual; a person separate from other persons and possessing his or her own needs, goals, and desires. Being self expressive...

s and their government
Government
Government refers to the legislators, administrators, and arbitrators in the administrative bureaucracy who control a state at a given time, and to the system of government by which they are organized...

s. Social contract arguments assert that individuals unite into political
Politics
Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs, including behavior within civil governments, but also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the...

 societies
Society
A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations...

 by a process of mutual consent, agreeing to abide by common rules and accept corresponding duties to protect themselves and one another from violence
Violence
Violence is the use of physical force to apply a state to others contrary to their wishes. violence, while often a stand-alone issue, is often the culmination of other kinds of conflict, e.g...

 and other kinds of harm.

Social contract theory
Theory
The English word theory was derived from a technical term in Ancient Greek philosophy. The word theoria, , meant "a looking at, viewing, beholding", and referring to contemplation or speculation, as opposed to action...

 played an important historical role in the emergence of the idea that political authority must be derived from the consent of the governed
Consent of the governed
"Consent of the governed" is a phrase synonymous with a political theory wherein a government's legitimacy and moral right to use state power is only justified and legal when derived from the people or society over which that political power is exercised...

. The starting point for most social contract theories is a heuristic
Heuristic
Heuristic refers to experience-based techniques for problem solving, learning, and discovery. Heuristic methods are used to speed up the process of finding a satisfactory solution, where an exhaustive search is impractical...

 examination of the human condition absent from any political order, usually termed the “state of nature
State of nature
State of nature is a term in political philosophy used in social contract theories to describe the hypothetical condition that preceded governments...

”. In this condition, individuals' actions are bound only by their personal power and conscience
Conscience
Conscience is an aptitude, faculty, intuition or judgment of the intellect that distinguishes right from wrong. Moral judgement may derive from values or norms...

. From this shared starting point, social contract theorists seek to demonstrate, in different ways, why a rational individual would voluntarily give up his or her natural freedom to obtain the benefits of political order.

Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury , in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy...

 (1651), John Locke
John Locke
John Locke FRS , widely known as the Father of Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social...

 (1689), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of 18th-century Romanticism. His political philosophy influenced the French Revolution as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological and educational thought.His novel Émile: or, On Education is a treatise...

 (1762) are the most famous social contract thinkers. Each drew quite different conclusions about the nature of political authority. Hobbes advocated absolute monarchy
Absolute monarchy
Absolute monarchy is a monarchical form of government in which the monarch exercises ultimate governing authority as head of state and head of government, his or her power not being limited by a constitution or by the law. An absolute monarch thus wields unrestricted political power over the...

, Locke advocated natural rights
Natural rights
Natural and legal rights are two types of rights theoretically distinct according to philosophers and political scientists. Natural rights are rights not contingent upon the laws, customs, or beliefs of any particular culture or government, and therefore universal and inalienable...

, and Rousseau advocated collective sovereignty in the name of "the general will". The Lockean concept of the social contract was invoked in the United States Declaration of Independence
United States Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. John Adams put forth a...

, and social contract notions have recently been invoked, in a quite different sense, by thinkers such as John Rawls
John Rawls
John Bordley Rawls was an American philosopher and a leading figure in moral and political philosophy. He held the James Bryant Conant University Professorship at Harvard University....

.

Although developed for understanding human societies, sociobiologists have found the notion illuminating for understanding societies of other social species and even interspecies symbiotic relationships.

Overview


According to Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury , in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy...

, human life would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" in the absence of political order and law. In its absence, we would live in a state of nature
State of nature
State of nature is a term in political philosophy used in social contract theories to describe the hypothetical condition that preceded governments...

, where each person has unlimited natural freedoms, including the "right to all things" and thus the freedom to plunder, rape, and murder; there would be an endless "war of all against all" (bellum omnium contra omnes
Bellum omnium contra omnes
Bellum omnium contra omnes, a Latin phrase meaning "the war of all against all," is the description that Thomas Hobbes gives to human existence in the state of nature thought experiment that he conducts in De Cive and Leviathan ....

). To avoid this, free men establish political community
Community
The term community has two distinct meanings:*a group of interacting people, possibly living in close proximity, and often refers to a group that shares some common values, and is attributed with social cohesion within a shared geographical location, generally in social units larger than a household...

 i.e. civil society
Civil society
Civil society is composed of the totality of many voluntary social relationships, civic and social organizations, and institutions that form the basis of a functioning society, as distinct from the force-backed structures of a state , the commercial institutions of the market, and private criminal...

 through a social contract in which each gains security in return for subjecting himself absolutely to an absolute Sovereign, preferably (for Hobbes) a monarch. Though the Sovereign's edicts may well be arbitrary and tyrannical, Hobbes saw the only alternative as the terrifying anarchy of the state of nature.

Alternatively, some, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of 18th-century Romanticism. His political philosophy influenced the French Revolution as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological and educational thought.His novel Émile: or, On Education is a treatise...

, have argued that we gain civil rights in return for accepting the obligation to respect and defend the rights of others, giving up some freedoms to do so; this alternative formulation of the duty arising from the social contract is often identified with arguments about military service.

The central assertion of social contract approaches is that law and political order are not natural, but are instead human creations. The social contract and the political order it creates are simply the means towards an end — the benefit of the individuals involved — and (according to some philosophers such as Rousseau), legitimate only to the extent that they meet the general interest ("general will
General will
The general will , made famous by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, is a concept in political philosophy referring to the desire or interest of a people as a whole. As used by Rousseau, the "general will" is identical to the rule of law, and to Spinoza's mens una.The notion of the general will is wholly...

" in Rousseau). For many social contract theorists, this implies that failings discovered in laws or political structures can be changed by the citizens through elections or other means, including, if necessary, violence.

Classical thought


Plato's dialog Crito
Crito
Crito is a short but important dialogue by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. It is a conversation between Socrates and his wealthy friend Crito regarding justice , injustice , and the appropriate response to injustice. Socrates thinks that injustice may not be answered with injustice, and...

  expresses a Greek version of social contract theory. In this dialogue, Socrates refuses to escape from jail to avoid being put to death. He argues that since he has willingly remained in Athens all of his life despite opportunities to go elsewhere, he has accepted the social contract i.e. the burden of the local laws, and he cannot violate these laws even when he has been unjustly convicted.

Epicurus
Epicurus
Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher and the founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism.Only a few fragments and letters remain of Epicurus's 300 written works...

 seems to have had a strong sense of social contract, with justice and law being rooted in mutual agreement and advantage, as evidenced by these lines, among others, from his Principal Doctrines (see also Epicurean ethics);

Renaissance developments


Quentin Skinner
Quentin Skinner
Quentin Robert Duthie Skinner is the Barber Beaumont Professor of the Humanities at Queen Mary, University of London.-Biography:...

 has argued that several critical modern innovations in contract theory are found in the writings from French Calvinists and Huguenots, whose work in turn was invoked by writers in the Low Countries
Low Countries
The Low Countries are the historical lands around the low-lying delta of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse rivers, including the modern countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of northern France and western Germany....

 who objected to their subjection to Spain and, later still, by Catholics in England. Among these, Francisco Suárez
Francisco Suárez
Francisco Suárez was a Spanish Jesuit priest, philosopher and theologian, one of the leading figures of the School of Salamanca movement, and generally regarded among the greatest scholastics after Thomas Aquinas....

 (1548–1617), from the School of Salamanca
School of Salamanca
The School of Salamanca is the renaissance of thought in diverse intellectual areas by Spanish and Portuguese theologians, rooted in the intellectual and pedagogical work of Francisco de Vitoria...

, might be considered as an early theorist of the social contract, theorizing natural law
Natural law
Natural law, or the law of nature , is any system of law which is purportedly determined by nature, and thus universal. Classically, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature and deduce binding rules of moral behavior. Natural law is contrasted with the positive law Natural...

 in an attempt to limit the divine right
Divine Right of Kings
The divine right of kings or divine-right theory of kingship is a political and religious doctrine of royal and political legitimacy. It asserts that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving his right to rule directly from the will of God...

 of absolute monarchy
Absolute monarchy
Absolute monarchy is a monarchical form of government in which the monarch exercises ultimate governing authority as head of state and head of government, his or her power not being limited by a constitution or by the law. An absolute monarch thus wields unrestricted political power over the...

. All of these groups were led to articulate notions of popular sovereignty
Sovereignty
Sovereignty is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory. It can be found in a power to rule and make law that rests on a political fact for which no purely legal explanation can be provided...

 by means of a social covenant or contract: all of these arguments began with proto-“state of nature” arguments, to the effect that the basis of politics is that everyone is by nature free of subjection to any government.

However, these arguments relied on a corporatist theory found in Roman Law, according to which "a populus" can exist as a distinct legal entity. Therefore these arguments held that a group of people can join a government because it has the capacity to exercise a single will and make decisions with a single voice in the absence of sovereign authority — a notion rejected by Hobbes and later contract theorists.

Hugo Grotius (1625)


In the early 17th century, Grotius (1583–1645) introduced the modern idea of natural rights of individuals. Grotius postulates that each individual has natural rights that enable self-preservation and employs this idea as a basis for moral consensus in the face of religious diversity and the rise of natural science. He seeks to find a parsimonious basis for a moral beginning for society, a kind of natural law that everyone could accept. He goes so far as to say in his On the Law of War and Peace that even if we were to concede what we cannot concede without the utmost wickedness, that there is no God, these laws would still hold. The idea was considered incendiary since it suggested that power can ultimately go back to the individuals if the political society that they have set up forfeits the purpose for which it was originally established, which is to preserve themselves. In other words, the individual people, are sovereign. Grotius says that the people are sui juris (under their own jurisdiction). People have rights as human beings but there is a delineation of those rights because of what is possible for everyone to accept morally; everyone has to accept that people as individuals are entitled to try to preserve themselves. We should, therefore, avoid doing harm to or interfere with one another. Any breach of these rights should be punished.

Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan (1651)



The first modern philosopher to articulate a detailed contract theory was Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury , in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy...

 (1588–1679). According to Hobbes, the lives of individuals in the state of nature
State of nature
State of nature is a term in political philosophy used in social contract theories to describe the hypothetical condition that preceded governments...

 were "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short", a state in which self-interest and the absence of rights and contracts prevented the 'social', or society. Life was 'anarchic' (without leadership/ the concept of sovereignty). Individuals in the state of nature were apolitical and asocial. This state of nature is followed by the social contract.

The social contract was an 'occurrence' during which individuals came together and ceded some of their individual rights
Natural rights
Natural and legal rights are two types of rights theoretically distinct according to philosophers and political scientists. Natural rights are rights not contingent upon the laws, customs, or beliefs of any particular culture or government, and therefore universal and inalienable...

 so that others would cede theirs (e.g. person A gives up his/her right to kill person B if person B does the same). This resulted in the establishment of society, and by extension, the state, a sovereign entity (like the individuals, now under its rule, used to be) which was to protect these new rights which were now to regulate societal interactions. Society was thus no longer anarchic.

But the state system, which grew out of the social contract, was anarchic (without leadership). Just as the individuals in the state of nature had been sovereigns and thus guided by self-interest and the absence of rights, so states now acted in their self-interest in competition with each other. Just like the state of nature, states were thus bound to be in conflict because there was no sovereign over and above the state (i.e. more powerful) capable of imposing social-contract laws. Indeed, Hobbes' work helped to serve as a basis for the realism theories of international relations, advanced by E.H. Carr and Hans Morgenthau
Hans Morgenthau
Hans Joachim Morgenthau was one of the leading twentieth-century figures in the study of international politics...

.

John Locke's Second Treatise of Government (1689)


John Locke
John Locke
John Locke FRS , widely known as the Father of Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social...

's conception of the social contract differed from Hobbes' in several fundamental ways, retaining only the central notion that persons in a state of nature would willingly come together to form a state. Locke believed that individuals in a state of nature would be bound morally, by The Law of Nature, not to harm each other in their lives or possession, but without government to defend them against those seeking to injure or enslave them, people would have no security in their rights and would live in fear. Locke argued that individuals would agree to form a state that would provide a "neutral judge", acting to protect the lives, liberty, and property of those who lived within it. While Hobbes argued for near-absolute authority, Locke argued for inviolate freedom under law in his Second Treatise of Government. Locke argued that government's legitimacy comes from the citizens' delegation to the government of their right of self-defense (of "self-preservation"). The government thus acts as an impartial, objective agent of that self-defence, rather than each man acting as his own judge, jury, and executioner—the condition in the state of nature. In this view, government derives its "just powers from the consent [i.e, delegation] of the governed," in the language of the Declaration. For Jefferson, as for many of the American Founding Fathers, Locke was the most important and most esteemed author on political philosophy.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Du contract social (1762)


Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of 18th-century Romanticism. His political philosophy influenced the French Revolution as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological and educational thought.His novel Émile: or, On Education is a treatise...

 (1712–1778), in his influential 1762 treatise The Social Contract, outlined a different version of social contract theory, based on unlimited popular sovereignty
Popular sovereignty
Popular sovereignty or the sovereignty of the people is the political principle that the legitimacy of the state is created and sustained by the will or consent of its people, who are the source of all political power. It is closely associated with Republicanism and the social contract...

. Although Rousseau wrote that the British were perhaps at the time the freest people on earth, he did not approve of their representative government. Rousseau believed that liberty was possible only where there was direct rule by the people as a whole in lawmaking, where popular sovereignty was indivisible and inalienable
InAlienable
InAlienable is a 2008 science fiction horror film written and produced by Walter Koenig, and directed by Robert Dyke.-Plot:Dr. Eric Norris remains wracked with guilt after a terrible tragedy that cost him his family, and when he learns that an alien parasite is not only growing inside him but...

. But he also maintained that the people often did not know their "real will," and that a proper society would not occur until a great leader ("the Legislator") arose to change the values and customs of the people, likely through the strategic use of religion.

Rousseau's political theory differs in important ways from that of Locke and Hobbes. Rousseau's collectivism is most evident in his development of the "luminous conception" (which he credited to Diderot) of the general will
General will
The general will , made famous by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, is a concept in political philosophy referring to the desire or interest of a people as a whole. As used by Rousseau, the "general will" is identical to the rule of law, and to Spinoza's mens una.The notion of the general will is wholly...

. Rousseau argues a citizen cannot pursue his true interest by being an egoist
Ethical egoism
Ethical egoism is the normative ethical position that moral agents ought to do what is in their own self-interest. It differs from psychological egoism, which claims that people can only act in their self-interest. Ethical egoism also differs from rational egoism, which holds merely that it is...

 but must instead subordinate himself to the law created by the citizenry acting as a collective.
Rousseau's striking phrase that man must "be forced to be free" should be understood this way: since the indivisible and inalienable popular sovereignty decides what is good for the whole, then if an individual lapses back into his ordinary egoism and disobeys the leadership, he will be forced to listen to what they decided as a member of the collectivity (i.e. as citizens). Thus, the law, inasmuch as it is created by the people acting as a body, is not a limitation of individual freedom, but its expression. Thus, enforcement of law, including criminal law
Criminal law
Criminal law, is the body of law that relates to crime. It might be defined as the body of rules that defines conduct that is not allowed because it is held to threaten, harm or endanger the safety and welfare of people, and that sets out the punishment to be imposed on people who do not obey...

, is not a restriction on individual liberty, as the individual, as a citizen, explicitly agreed to be constrained if, as a private individual, he did not respect his own will as formulated in the general will. Because laws represent the restraints of civil freedom, they represent the leap made from humans in the state of nature into civil society. In this sense, the law is a civilizing force, and therefore Rousseau believed that the laws that govern a people helped to mold their character.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's individualist social contract (1851)


While Rousseau's social contract is based on popular sovereignty
Popular sovereignty
Popular sovereignty or the sovereignty of the people is the political principle that the legitimacy of the state is created and sustained by the will or consent of its people, who are the source of all political power. It is closely associated with Republicanism and the social contract...

 and not on individual sovereignty, there are other theories espoused by individualists, libertarians and anarchists
Anarchism
Anarchism is generally defined as the political philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, or alternatively as opposing authority in the conduct of human relations...

, which do not involve agreeing to anything more than negative rights and creates only a limited state, if any.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was a French politician, mutualist philosopher and socialist. He was a member of the French Parliament, and he was the first person to call himself an "anarchist". He is considered among the most influential theorists and organisers of anarchism...

 (1809–1865) advocated a conception of social contract which didn't involve an individual surrendering sovereignty to others. According to him, the social contract was not between individuals and the state, but rather between individuals themselves refraining from coercing or governing each other, each one maintaining complete sovereignty upon oneself:

John Rawls' Theory of Justice (1971)


John Rawls
John Rawls
John Bordley Rawls was an American philosopher and a leading figure in moral and political philosophy. He held the James Bryant Conant University Professorship at Harvard University....

 (1921–2002) proposed a contractarian approach that has a decidedly Kantian flavour, in A Theory of Justice
A Theory of Justice
A Theory of Justice is a book of political philosophy and ethics by John Rawls. It was originally published in 1971 and revised in both 1975 and 1999. In A Theory of Justice, Rawls attempts to solve the problem of distributive justice by utilising a variant of the familiar device of the social...

(1971), whereby rational people in a hypothetical "original position
Original position
The original position is a hypothetical situation developed by American philosopher John Rawls as a thought experiment to replace the imagery of a savage state of nature of prior political philosophers like Thomas Hobbes. In it, the parties select principles that will determine the basic structure...

", setting aside their individual preferences and capacities under a "veil of ignorance", would agree to certain general principles of justice and legal organization. This idea is also used as a game-theoretical
Game theory
Game theory is a mathematical method for analyzing calculated circumstances, such as in games, where a person’s success is based upon the choices of others...

 formalization of the notion of fairness.

David Gauthier's Morals By Agreement (1986)


David Gauthier
David Gauthier
David Gauthier is a Canadian-American philosopher best known for his neo-Hobbesian social contract theory of morality, as laid out in his book Morals by Agreement.-Biography:...

 "neo-Hobbesian" theory argues that cooperation between two independent and self interested parties is indeed possible; especially when it comes to understanding morality and politics. Gauthier notably points out the advantages of cooperation between two parties when it comes to the challenge of the prisoner's dilemma
Prisoner's dilemma
The prisoner’s dilemma is a canonical example of a game, analyzed in game theory that shows why two individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interest to do so. It was originally framed by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher working at RAND in 1950. Albert W...

. He proposes that if both parties were to stick by the original agreed-upon arrangement and morals outlined by the contract that they both would experience an optimal result. In his model for the social contract, trust, rationality and self interest are all factors that keep each party honest and dissuade them from breaking the rules.

Philip Pettit's Republicanism (1997)


Philip Pettit
Philip Pettit
Philip Noel Pettit is an Irish philosopher and political theorist. He is Laurence Rockefeller University Professor of Politics and Human Values at Princeton University...

 (b. 1945) has argued, in Republicanism
Republicanism
Republicanism is the ideology of governing a nation as a republic, where the head of state is appointed by means other than heredity, often elections. The exact meaning of republicanism varies depending on the cultural and historical context...

: A Theory of Freedom and Government
(1997), that the theory of social contract, classically based on the consent of the governed
Consent of the governed
"Consent of the governed" is a phrase synonymous with a political theory wherein a government's legitimacy and moral right to use state power is only justified and legal when derived from the people or society over which that political power is exercised...

, should be modified. Instead of arguing for explicit consent, which can always be manufactured
Manufacturing Consent
Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media , by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, is an analysis of the news media as business...

, Pettit argues that the absence of an effective rebellion against the contract is the only legitimacy of it.

Consent of the governed


An early critic of social contract theory was Rousseau's friend, the philosopher David Hume
David Hume
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment...

, who in 1742 published an essay "Of Civil Liberty", in whose second part, entitled, "Of the Original Contract ", he stressed that the concept of a "social contract" was a convenient fiction:

Hume argued that consent of the governed
Consent of the governed
"Consent of the governed" is a phrase synonymous with a political theory wherein a government's legitimacy and moral right to use state power is only justified and legal when derived from the people or society over which that political power is exercised...

 was the ideal foundation on which a government could rest, but that it had not actually occurred this way in general.

Natural law and constitutionalism


Legal scholar Randy Barnett
Randy Barnett
Randy E. Barnett is a lawyer, a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center, where he teaches constitutional law and contracts, and a legal theorist in the United States...

 has argued that, while presence in the territory of a society may be necessary for consent, it is not consent to any rules the society might make regardless of their content. A second condition of consent is that the rules be consistent with underlying principles of justice and the protection of natural and social rights, and have procedures for effective protection of those rights (or liberties). This has also been discussed by O.A. Brownson, who argued that, in a sense, three "constitutions" are involved: first the constitution of nature that includes all of what the Founders called "natural law
Natural law
Natural law, or the law of nature , is any system of law which is purportedly determined by nature, and thus universal. Classically, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature and deduce binding rules of moral behavior. Natural law is contrasted with the positive law Natural...

"; second the constitution of society, an unwritten and commonly understood set of rules for the society formed by a social contract before it establishes a government; by which it does establish the third, a constitution of government. To consent, a necessary condition is that the rules be constitutional
Constitution
A constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed. These rules together make up, i.e. constitute, what the entity is...

in that sense.

Tacit consent


The theory of an implicit social contract holds that by remaining in the territory controlled by some society, which usually has a government, people give consent to join that society and be governed by its government, if any. This consent is what gives legitimacy to such government.

However, other writers have argued that consent to join the society is not necessarily consent to its government. For that, the government must be according to a constitution of government that is consistent with the superior unwritten constitutions of nature and society.

Voluntarism


According to the will theory of contract, a contract is not presumed valid unless all parties agree to it voluntarily, either tacitly or explicitly, without coercion. Lysander Spooner
Lysander Spooner
Lysander Spooner was an American individualist anarchist, political philosopher, Deist, abolitionist, supporter of the labor movement, legal theorist, and entrepreneur of the nineteenth century. He is also known for competing with the U.S...

, a 19th century lawyer and staunch supporter of a right of contract between individuals, in his essay No Treason
No Treason
No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority is an 1867 essay by American individualist anarchist, political philosopher and legal theorist Lysander Spooner...

, argues that a supposed social contract cannot be used to justify governmental actions such as taxation, because government will initiate force against anyone who does not wish to enter into such a contract. As a result, he maintains that such an agreement is not voluntary and therefore cannot be considered a legitimate contract at all.

Modern Anglo-American law, like European civil law, is based on a will theory of contract, according to which all terms of a contract are binding on the parties because they chose those terms for themselves. This was less true when Hobbes wrote Leviathan; then, more importance was attached to consideration, meaning a mutual exchange of benefits necessary to the formation of a valid contract, and most contracts had implicit terms that arose from the nature of the contractual relationship rather than from the choices made by the parties. Accordingly, it has been argued that social contract theory is more consistent with the contract law of the time of Hobbes and Locke than with the contract law of our time, and that features in the social contract which seem anomalous to us, such as the belief that we are bound by a contract formulated by our distant ancestors, would not have seemed as strange to Hobbes' contemporaries as they do to us.

See also


  • Classical republicanism
    Classical republicanism
    Classical republicanism is a form of republicanism developed in the Renaissance inspired by the governmental forms and writings of classical antiquity. The earliest examples of the school were classical writers such as Aristotle, Polybius, and Cicero...

  • Contract
    Contract
    A contract is an agreement entered into by two parties or more with the intention of creating a legal obligation, which may have elements in writing. Contracts can be made orally. The remedy for breach of contract can be "damages" or compensation of money. In equity, the remedy can be specific...

  • Epicurean ethics
  • Federalism
    Federalism
    Federalism is a political concept in which a group of members are bound together by covenant with a governing representative head. The term "federalism" is also used to describe a system of the government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and...

  • Mandate (politics)
    Mandate (politics)
    In politics, a mandate is the authority granted by a constituency to act as its representative.The concept of a government having a legitimate mandate to govern via the fair winning of a democratic election is a central idea of democracy...

  • Mayflower Compact
    Mayflower Compact
    The Mayflower Compact was the first governing document of Plymouth Colony. It was written by the colonists, later together known to history as the Pilgrims, who crossed the Atlantic aboard the Mayflower...

  • Monarchomachs
    Monarchomachs
    The Monarchomachs were originally French Huguenot theorists who opposed absolute monarchy at the end of the 16th century, known in particular for having theoretically justified tyrannicide...

  • Right of rebellion
  • School of Salamanca
    School of Salamanca
    The School of Salamanca is the renaissance of thought in diverse intellectual areas by Spanish and Portuguese theologians, rooted in the intellectual and pedagogical work of Francisco de Vitoria...

  • Social capital
    Social capital
    Social capital is a sociological concept, which refers to connections within and between social networks. The concept of social capital highlights the value of social relations and the role of cooperation and confidence to get collective or economic results. The term social capital is frequently...

  • Social cohesion
    Social cohesion
    Social cohesion is a term used in social policy, sociology and political science to describe the bonds or "glue" that bring people together in society, particularly in the context of cultural diversity. Social cohesion is a multi-faceted notion covering many different kinds of social phenomena...

  • Social disintegration
    Social disintegration
    Social disintegration is the tendency for society to decline or disintegrate over time, perhaps due to the lapse or breakdown of traditional social support systems. In this context, "society" refers to the social order which maintains a society, rather than the political order that defines its...

  • Social Justice in the Liberal State
    Social Justice in the Liberal State
    Social Justice in the Liberal State is a book written by Bruce A. Ackerman, recipient of the French Order of Merit, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale, and the author of fifteen books that have had a broad influence in political philosophy, constitutional law, and public policy...

  • Social solidarity
  • Societal collapse
    Societal collapse
    Societal collapse broadly includes both quite abrupt societal failures typified by collapses , as well as more extended gradual declines of superpowers...

  • Consent theory
    Consent Theory
    Consent theory is a term for the idea in social philosophy that individuals primarily make decisions as free agents entering into consensual relationships with other free agents, and that this becomes the basis for political governance. An early elaborator of this idea was John Locke, from whom the...


Further reading


External links