25 Aug 2022


Social Contract Theories of Hobbles and Rousseau

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The social contract theory is based on the context that in the beginning, human beings coexisted in a system that was nature-driven. The society was at least less oppressive, and policy-oriented legal regimes were unnecessary. However, the complex nature of the changes that the traditional societies experienced over time demanded policy-directional approaches to facilitate the development of successful democracies. Accordingly, the changes were met with the establishment of two forms of agreements; unions and subjection. The unionist framework encourages life and property protection through the systematic coexistence of people within a society. Respect is fundamental for peace and harmony to thrive. Subjection requires people to surrender freedoms and rights to a collective authority, and in return, their lives and property are protected to a certain extent. This form of agreement is overseen by an enforcement mechanism to ensure that the common laws are executed as perceived. Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are some of the widely recognized legal theorists and political philosophers associated with the social contract theory. The essay analyzes their social contract theories and how the principles contribute to the contemporary seat belt law. 

The social contract theory by Thomas Hobbles was first introduced in a 1651 philosophical masterpiece referred to as Leviathan (Shaapera, 2015). Hobbles lived during a period that was dominated by the British Civil War. He witnessed the conflict between the monarchists and the parliamentarians who preferred different forms of authority. The former preferred to be governed in the traditional monarchy style while the later advocated for delegation of more powers to the parliament. Hobbles views sought to compromise the opinion of the two factions. Hobbles articulated “social contract” as a phenomenon that neutralized man’s nature-driven lifestyle (Bërdufi & Dushi, 2015). Selfishness, individualism, chaos, self-centeredness, and fear had taken over man’s life. Inherent to human nature is reason, self-preservation and strong desire for efficiency. Therefore, a strong desire for protection and order prompted the establishment of a social contract. Voluntary submission to political authority guaranteed the protection of life and property. Sovereign institutions were established, and the subjects surrendered their rights to them for a peaceful and prosperous life. 

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a famous French Philosopher, articulated social contract as a wrong idea rather than a historical fact (Bërdufi & Dushi, 2015). Before social contract men lived in the “state of nature” (Shaapera, 2015). During the initial stages of this life, all people were equal and in a state of happiness. However, over time, life condition deteriorated in response to the increasing population. The state of modern civilization that had been witnessed (establishment of public groups, inventions, increased leisure time, discoveries) led to contempt, inequality, envy, greed and jealousy. Consequently, the social contract was established to form a political authority that would reinstate the rights and equality in the society. Rousseau brought in the aspect of “general will” by emphasizing that a popular representative authority can facilitate equality and freedom than all the other forms of legal systems (Shaapera, 2015). For Rousseau, the sovereign body is the community, and the government is answerable to the community members. Conclusively, Rousseau discourages blind loyalty and encourages commitment to the collective will. 

Notable points of contrast are witnessed in the social contract theories of Hobbles and Rousseau. Hobbles advocates for absolutism but on the contrary Rousseau advocates for communal power. Hobbles believes that people have an ethical duty of preventing war by obeying the government without questioning. Rousseau advocates for legal systems that respect the will, rights, and liberty of the people. In fact, he insists that it is the role of the state to preserve people’s rights. Otherwise, withdrawal of support and rebellion are necessary. Hobbles argue that the government is the sovereign, but Rousseau believes that power resides in the hands of the people. People are not slaves to the government, but rather they hold popular sovereignty that guarantees them justice. The theory of Hobbles advocates for complete obedience while Rousseau discourages blind obedience. 

It is necessary for the government to impose the seat belts law to protect citizens from likely consequences of ignorance. Rousseau and Hobbles argue that the government exists to protect and preserve the natural rights of the citizens. The U.S government represents the majority. According to Rousseau, it is the people that set the laws and regulations, and political authorities are a representative of the people’s will. The seat belts law exists on the assumption that it is accepted by the majority. Based on Rousseau views, citizens should cooperate voluntarily with the law because they have allowed its conception and execution. He argues that popular sovereignty provides the citizens with the privilege to enjoy unbiased laws that serve the interests of the masses. 

Lastly, Hobbles believes that people are obligated to surrender their rights to the political authority for peaceful life. Therefore, citizens have an ethical obligation to comply with the seat belt law for continued order. The U.S government is obligated to impose laws on individual citizens because it represents the majority of the population. Individuals can challenge the laws if there are perceived as unfavorable for the majority. Ignoring government obligations is unethical because it only implies that individual citizens do not care whether the obligations are conceived in good faith or not. Citizens should follow up on the actions of government to ensure that their interest is well met. Additionally, it is fundamental for the individual citizen to protect their rights from violation by the government. 


Bërdufi, N., & Dushi, D. (2015). Social Contract and the Governments Legitimacy.  Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences 6 (6 S1), 392. 

Shaapera, S. A. (2015). Evaluating the social contract theoretical ideas of Jean Jacques Rousseau: An analytical perspective on the state and relevance to contemporary society.  African Journal of Political Science and International Relations 9 (2), 36-41. 

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