Political Philosophy And Role Of Government, State Of Nature vs. Natural Rights. Thomas Hobbes Leviathan and John Locke’s Social Contract Theory.

Penguin Polar bear

What is common between Penguins and Polar Bears? The first thing which comes to my mind is that both start with the letter “P”. Putting more thought to answer the question Penguins and Polar Bears are the undisputed kings of their habitat. Penguins roam unchallenged in the vast swathes of the Antarctic and Polar Bear is the King Supreme of the Arctic of course not discounting their ability to adapt to the extreme cold of their habitat. Penguins live in large groups whereas Polar Bears are confirmed Solitary Creatures. Polar Bears roam the icy landscape of Arctic all alone and its survival is just about food sleep and procreation. Yes they do procreate but maintain their solitary status intact. At times in fight for survival male polar bears might get into fights with other male Polar bears. It’s nice to live like a Polar Bear as they have no rules of a society to adhere to. Do Humans have such a choice yes if a man decides to live in a solitary Island all by himself? But Humans live in complex societies where they are documented right from the day one they enter the world. Birth Certificate? It’s because Human society has evolved over the ages where humans have conceded some of their natural rights to the “STATE” in exchange for some guaranteed rights. That’s Social Contract theory for dummies in a nutshell. Looks like I almost ended the topic even before starting it.

Not really. What is Social Contract theory. In moral and political philosophy, the social contract or political contract is a theory or model, originating during the Age of Enlightenment that typically addresses the questions of the origin of society and the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual. Though the Social Contract theory was cemented around seventeenth century the discussion of the role of the state in an individual’s life has been going on since the inception of Human Civilization. Not sure of the historical time line but the first documented discussions on the role of the state, nature of justice and the nature of government in the western world were recorded in Plato’s Republic and Socrates book Crito. Socrates argued that adult citizens have a choice to stay under the laws of the society or leave. Plato, in The Republic, argued that just behavior is in a person’s own best self-interest since persons cannot practice injustice with no fear of punishment. These discussions laid some ground work for the rule of the law and types of governments and similar concepts were explored in the works of Indian political philosophy in Chanakya’s Arthashastra and Manus Manusmriti. Before taking this discussion forward I have to introduce the term State of Nature.

The state of nature is a concept in moral and political philosophy used in religion, social contract theories and international law to denote the hypothetical conditions of what the lives of people might have been like before societies came into existence. There must have been a time before organized societies existed, and this presumption raises questions such as: “What was life like before civil society?”; “How did government first emerge from such a starting position?,” and; “What are the hypothetical reasons for entering a state of society by establishing a Nation-state?”.

In such a State of Nature there would have been unlimited freedom and everyone would have been free to do what they wish and put their interest in front of everything else. But what is the guarantee in such a type of state individual’s rights would be respected? No doubt there is unlimited freedom but someone else could use the unlimited freedom to harm you in their best interests. So would you rather live in a society with unlimited freedom but no protection for your individual rights or make a trade off and surrender some of your rights to the government in guarantee an orderly and peaceful life? This tradeoff lies at the root of the Social Contract theory.


Many great Political Philosophers have contributed to the development of the Social Contract Theory and Thomas Hobbes and John Locke are the two great English thinkers who have argued for a social Contract in their books Leviathan and the Two Treatises of Government respectively though they differed on the nature of the government and people’s role in expressing dissent. The quotes below form these two famous thinkers give an insight to the making of the social contract.

“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal? In such condition there is no place for industry… no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” ― Thomas Hobbes

IF man in the state of nature be so free, as has been said; if he be absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest, and subject to no body, why will he part with his freedom? Why will he give up this empire, and subject himself to the dominion and control of any other power? To which it is obvious to answer, that though in the state of nature he hath such a right, yet the enjoyment of it is very uncertain, and constantly exposed to the invasion of others: for all being kings as much as he, every man his equal, and the greater part no strict observers of equity and justice, the enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe, very unsecure. This makes him willing to quit a condition, which, however free, is full of fears and continual dangers: and it is not without reason, that he seeks out, and is willing to join in society with others, who are already united, or have a mind to unite, for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name, property – John Locke

Thomas Hobbes though favoring for a Social Contract argued for an absolute Monarchy and argued for accepting Monarchies wrongdoings in the interest of maintain the social contract. John Locke also a strong proponent of Social Contract Theory favored people right to express dissent at the government and his political philosophy was the one which was the harbinger for the modern democratic nations. Thomas Jefferson when he drafted his Declaration of Independence honored of John Locke’s Political Philosophy when he famously drafted those words
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

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RS is a deep thinker. His hobby is to analyze and reanalyze. Out of a passion to analyze he started this blog

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