Locke’s Social Contract: A Convincing Justification for the Political Order
This essay examines Locke’s social contract between people and sovereign and how Locke embraces the people’s right of revolution, and assigns the sovereign reciprocal responsibilities to his subjects that Hobbes does not do.
To substantiate the social contract as a valid justification for the political order, I will primarily examine Locke’s social contract between people and sovereign, rather than Hobbes’ social contract among the people, because Locke’s theory is generally superior and more contemporarily relevant. I will first examine the pre-political state of persons, which is the state of nature, and demonstrate that rational individuals are compelled to enter society by agreeing to the social contract. Secondly, I will discuss the principal advantage of the social contract, which is that the government is legitimized by the consent of the people. Thirdly, I will discuss the principal advantage peculiar to Locke’s formulation of the social contract, which is that the sovereign is held accountable for his actions. To more thoroughly examine the validity of the social contract in justifying a political order, I will discuss a possible objection to the use of the social contract, namely, that the social contract cannot oblige any but those who originally formed such a contract.
“After the English Civil War, justifying political authority became a particularly pressing concern. After all, the nation fought a bloody war to determine whether its supreme authority would be King Charles I, who claimed rule by divine right, or the Parliament. Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan was published in 1651, shortly after the Rump Parliament voted to execute the often-intractable Charles I in 1649. The chaos of the Civil War, regicide, and the establishment of Cromwell’s Protectorate surely led Hobbes to favor a sovereign with absolute power. In contrast, Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, published in 1690, was greeted by a starkly different English political culture. The 1688 Glorious Revolution, a bloodless coup in which the last Catholic monarch, James II, was finally deposed, allowed for the acceptance of the English Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights finally guaranteed the supremacy of Parliament and the political and civil rights of the people. Granted the historical fact of the Glorious Revolution, Locke embraces the people’s right of revolution, and assigns the sovereign reciprocal responsibilities to his subjects that Hobbes does not do. Although Hobbes and Locke ultimately design markedly different states, each justifies the political order with a social contract. The social contract does, indeed, provide a convincing justification for the political order.”