Explain the social contract theory regarding the origin of society.

Man is a social animal and society is the starting point of all social investigations. The relationship between individual and society or the nature of the society is the most intricate question which has not been successfully answered so far. A number of theories have been put forward to explain the origin of society. Some of the important theories like Divine Theory make society the creation of God.

Social contract theory:

In addition to these theories, social contract theory was advanced in 17th and 18th centuries by the eminent philosophers. This social contract theory throws light on the origin of the society. According to this theory all men are born free and equal. The classical representatives of this theory are Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and J. J. Rousseau.

According to this theory men lived in a 'state of nature'. Society came into existence because of an agreement or contract among themselves in order to achieve certain ends. However, the supporters differ from one another and give their individual views.

Thomas Hobbes:

Thomas Hobbes, an English thinker, was of the opinion that society came into being as a means for the protection of men against the consequences of their own nature. Hobbes elaborates social contract theory in his book "The Leviathan" which was published in 1651. Hobbes in the book mentions that man in the state of nature was not social and could not tolerate the happiness of others. In his own word the life of man in the state of nature was poor, solitary, nasty, brutish and short.

Since the conditions of society were intolerable and men longed for peace, the people entered into a kind of social contract to ensure security and certainty of life and property. Thus, in order to protect themselves against the evil, they made a contract among them and formed a society.

John Locke:

John Locke, another English political philosopher and a social thinker explained social contract theory in his book "Two Treaties on Civil Govt." In this book he mentioned man in a state of nature as sociable, good, sympathetic and peace-loving. He also viewed that the state of nature was a state of "peace, goodwill, mutual assistance and preservation". The only thing that there was no recognised law and justice, by which peaceful life was often upset by corruption and viciousness of degenerated men. Thus, men were driven into a mutual contract for their personal as well as collective benefits. Locke called it social contract, which put an end to the state of nature and substituted it by civil society.

Jean Jacques Rousseau:

J. J. Rousseau, the French writer of the 18th century, in his famous book "The Social Contract" published in 1762 wrote that the "man in the state of nature was a novel savage who lived a life of primitive simplicity and plyllic happiness". He also mentioned that man in the state of nature was independent, healthy, self-sufficient, fearless and good. Rousseau argued that man in the state of nature did not know what was right and what was wrong and enjoyed a pure, innocent life.

But these conditions did not last long. In course of time population grew, ownership of private property came into being. Men began to think in terms of 'mines' and 'thines'. Therefore, they searched /or a way to protect themselves and the solution was the creation of a civil society by way of contract.

Criticism:

Social contract theory has been widely criticised by Maclver and many other sociologists.

(1) The state of nature described by Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau is in fact a myth. It has no historical basis.

(2) Secondly, the theory is far away from the facts. Nothing like the state of nature did ever exist. It is quite unhistorical to support.

(3) Thirdly, the advocates of the theory held that the early individuals entered into the contract for their safety. But, previously the unit of society was not the individual but the family. Each man was born into his family.

(4) Finally, there can be no rights without a consciousness of common interests on the part of members of a society and common consciousness was conspicuous by its absence in the state of nature.