What is the Social Contract?June 27, 2021
According to Locke, people also live in families and communities in the state of nature. Although they are independent of each other, it is not easy for them to protect their rights and freedoms in factual life, because although they have obligations to obey the common moral law, it does not result that everyone actually obeys this law. Therefore, it is necessary to create an organized society in order to protect rights and freedoms effectively.
This is through a social contract, meaning that there must be a written law to define the natural law and settle the conflicts. In the state of nature, it may not always be possible for people to defend themselves and punish injustices. Therefore, they are quickly pushed towards an organized society. So the main purpose of people establishing states and putting themselves under government is the protection of their property. But since people are naturally free, equal and independent, no one can be subordinated to the political power of another without their own consent. The only reason one can free oneself from his natural freedom and assume the bonds of the civic society is to come to terms with other people and have the right to live in comfort, security and peace among them and to enjoy the means of property. What men, then, give up when they come together to form a political society is their legislative and executive powers, as they belong to them in the state of nature.
“Because it authorizes the society, or rather a certain legislative power, to make the kind of laws necessary for the common good, and leaves the power to enact these laws and to impose penalties when they are violated” (Copleston, 1991: 186). In this way, he limits his freedom in the state of nature. But people give up this power in order to enjoy their freedom in an even more secure environment. Because no man makes a contract thinking that his situation will get worse.
According to Locke, people should make a contract to transfer the rights and powers they have to transfer to the majority of the society. The contract must be one that requires the individual to submit to the will of the majority: either he must persuade all the individuals individually, which is not possible in most cases, or the will of the majority must prevail. Locke thought that the right of the majority to represent the community was self-evident. According to him, absolute monarchy is incompatible with civic society and cannot be a form of citizen government. Unlike Hobbes, Locke’s explanations arise from the idea of two successive contracts. First of all, they connect their individual wills to the will of the society in order to get out of the state of nature and pass into the citizen society, and leave the power of administration to the will of the majority because of the impossibility of the society as a whole.
The government established in this way has to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of the civil society and work in every way for the welfare of the society. If the government cannot fulfill its primary duties, it is overthrown by the society and replaced by a new one. In this majority rule, the supreme sovereign power is the legislature. It falls to the executive power to implement the laws enacted, and the judiciary to settle the disputes. If the legislative power is changed, the government is deemed to have been changed. As can be seen, in Locke’s model of government, the highest sovereign power is not the will of the absolute monarch, as in Hobbes, but the power of the law.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook