Social Contract Theory

Brian Mcgehee's image for:
"Social Contract Theory"
Image by: 

I have often found myself curious about the world and how we work as a whole. So, when I heard about Social Contract theory, it caught my attention. Social Contract Theory is the belief that in order to maintain peace, each civilization must establish a government. Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes was my introduction into the theory.

In this selection, Hobbes argues that there is a mutual relationship between protection and obedience. He believes that the final cause of men is ultimately their preservation. In other words, they want their name or heritage to live on.  At one point in time, the only law that existed in this world was simply the law of honor. But ultimately, this became a poison for humankind, as families began to build up their dominions simply to protect what is theirs. All cities and kingdoms in this age, which are essentially large families, had to build up their dominion out of fear of danger or invasion. They would try to subdue their attackers by using open force, and hidden arts.

To help protect the people, a respected and feared Commonwealth must be established. A Commonwealth that is so feared, that people will naturally follow the law, whether for or against it. It can also carry out punishment to violators of the law. It is unnatural for us to choose what is fair without a hierarchy. Hobbes wrote that a Commonwealth (or government) is when a group of men agree and covenant everyone with everyone. That man or men is authorized to act on the behalf of the covenanted and to make choices on their behalf to help the covenanted to live peacefully and be protected against all other men.

To compare this view, I selected the writings of Beowulf. In the story, Grendel had taken over the great King Hrothgar’s Mead hall every night for years. People feared him and would not even go close to the hall at night, in fear of being killed. No one challenged him, especially without a sword. Grendel had become the hierarchy of government of the Mead hall. Then Beowulf had come to the aid of Hrothgar and killed the mighty Grendel with his bare hands. Beowulf was King Hrothgar’s weapon to regain the hierarchy of the mead hall. This exemplifies Hobbes’ view that a government only has its power through the fear and respect of the governed.

Hobbes’ view has only been reiterated throughout history and even into today. Issues over control have taken over many Middle Eastern countries. In National Geographic’s The Science of Evil documentary, National Geographic went to the Democratic Republic of Congo and followed humanitarian Aya Schneerson of the U.N. World Food Program as she distributed food through a small community. As they traveled, the area was so war-torn that bodies lay in the streets and the film crew had to be escorted by a convoy of armed U.N. peace keepers.  Ordinary people have had to take up arms just to protect themselves. It is impossible for this area of the world to have peace until the people have decided to unite under, fear, and respect a single government entity.

It is in our nature as a society to be greedy. Each person does things whether or not they realize it that benefits only them. That is why a government is necessary to maintain peace. But, like I just stated, greed is in our vary nature. Though it is a scary thought, sometimes the government that people respect and fear, is a government that does not have their best interests at heart.

More about this author: Brian Mcgehee

From Around the Web