It is the most important theory on the origin and nature of the state. According to this theory, the state came into existence as the result of a contract between the people and the sovereign at a particular period in human history.
The theory divides human history into two parts— period prior to the establishment of the state termed as ‘state of nature’ and period following the establishment of the state termed as ‘civil society.
In the ‘state of nature’ there was no society, no government, no political authority and no law to regulate the relations of the people among themselves.
There is no unanimity of opinion among the different exponents of the theory of social contract regarding the life of people in the ‘state of nature,’ why they decided to establish a Government, who were the parties to the contract and what the terms of the Contract were.
According to some, the state of nature was too miserable to endure, some ascribe certain inconveniences in it, whereas others regard it as the happiest in the life of human race.
Whatever the conditions of life of the people in the ‘state of nature’ might have been, a stage came in the life of human race, when the ‘state of nature’ was exchanged with civil society and people began to lead a regulated life under a political authority.
The primitive man lost his natural liberty but gained security of life and property and the enjoyment of social security.
The theory is a very old one. We find a reference of this idea in Plato’s Writings. It can also be traced in the writings of Kautilya the famous author of Arthashastra .
Kautilya writes as expounded by Appadorai that couple suffering from anarchy as illustrated by the proverbial tendency a large fish swallowing small ones, first elected Manu to be their king; and allotted 1/6 of the grains grown and 1/10 of their merchandise as sovereign dues.
Supported by this payment, kings took upon themselves the responsibility of maintaining the safety and security of their subjects.” Even the Old Testament refers to contract as basis of Civil Society in the following words: ‘So all the elders of Israel came to the King in Herbon; and King David made a convenant with them in Herbon before the Lord and they appointed David King over Israel.
” The idea of contract is inherent in Roman Law which is based on the conception that the people are the source of all legal authority. The emperor according to Roman Law can make laws because he is authorized by the people to do so.
The idea of a government of contract was largely employed by the defenders of popular liberties in the middle ages to resist the claims of the rulers to an absolute domination over their subjects. Thus Manegold in the 11th century developed the idea that a king could be deposed when he had violated the agreement according to which he was chosen.
By his oath at his coronation, a king was supposed to have made a pact with the People to defend them against any external attack and promote a virtuous life in the society. An important recognition of the theory was the declaration of the Parliament in England in 1688 that James II “having endeavored to subvert the constitution by breaking the original contract between King and the people,” had rendered the throne vacant.
We find the contract theory applied in practice by the Pilgrim Fathers on board the May Flower ship in 1620. They were leaving England to settle in America. They entered into a contract to establish a government of their own as soon as they reached America in the following terms.
“We do solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and of one another combine ourselves together into civil body politic.” Reference to this theory are also found in the writings of Althusius, Blackstone, Kant, Fichte and Burke. However, it is in the modern period that Hobbs, Locke and Rousseau expounded it as an explanation of origin and nature of ‘State.”
All the three philosophers divide their thesis into two parts, viz., (a) description of the life of people in the ‘state of origin’ and (b) Social Contract.
Hobbes lived in England during the Stuart period when the controversy between the King and the Parliament took a serious turn and Parliament was struggling for its authority while the kings were fighting for the preservation of their absolute rule. The demand of the people was to reduce absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy with the power of the purse with the Parliament.
Hobbes defended the absolute monarchy through this theory of social contract. He wrote his book Leviathan to justify it in 1665. It is believed that he wrote this theory to support the absolute powers of the Stuart kings. He has supported the absolute powers of King on account of conviction and not for money.
State of Nature:
Hobbes starts his thesis with a description of the life of people in the hypothetical ‘state of nature.’ He takes a gloomy view of human nature.
According to him, human beings are selfish, quarrelsome and aggressive. Man is not dominated by reason but is always swayed by his own passions and appetites. He follows, his own interests without due consideration for others. Such a conflict of interests made the ‘state of nature’ a state of perpetual warfare. It was a continuous struggle of all against all.
There was a constant fear and danger of violent death and man’s life was brutish, nasty, poor, short and solitary. There were no laws to restrain the actions of men. Law of plough prevailed: ‘Kill whom you can and take what you can’. There were neither laws nor customs to regulate human affairs.
Competition, diffidence and love of glory were three diseases which had eaten into the very life of the people. People were fed up with his wretched life and wanted to come out of these miserable conditions. People decided to leave the state of nature on account of fear and for protection of life and property.
According to Hobbes man had certain natural rights especially the right of self preservation. He agreed to surrender all his rights except the right of self- preservation.
It is presumed that primitive people met together and entered into an agreement by which they established an authority to which they irrevocably and unconditionally surrendered all their rights. Every man said to every other, “I authorize and give up my right of governing myself to this man or to this assembly of men, on the condition that thou also give up thy right to him and authorize his actions in the like manner.
Thus every man entered into contract with every other person and created the “Sovereign”, an absolute body, receiving all the powers and rights of people which they surrendered through contract without imposing any limitations or restraints, whatsoever. A state is thus created.
Analysis of Hobbes’ Social Contract:
1. Sovereign is not a party to the agreement:
It is a unilateral agreement and the sovereign is not a party to it. Being no party to it, the ruler is above it. However tyrannically he may rule, he cannot be accused of violating its terms.
As the sovereign is not a party to the contract so the terms of contract cannot be enforced against him.
2. Absolute authority of the Sovereign:
As the individuals surrender all their rights unconditionally to the sovereign; the sovereign is absolute. His powers are unlimited, indivisible and inalienable.
3. Irrevocable agreement:
It is a permanent agreement, i.e. the contract is irrevocable. The terms of contract arc thus applicable also to the generations to come.
4. No rights against the Sovereign:
The people surrender all their rights which they enjoyed in the ‘state of nature’ except the right of self- preservation. This means that the sovereign is to stand guarantee for security of life of the people.
The sovereign or the ‘Leviathan* is the single ultimate supreme authority. There is no right of resistance except in case of self-defence.
5. Sovereign personifies the will of all:
The sovereign personifies the will of all or lie is the singular representative of the will of all.
6. Every word of the Sovereign is law:
Whatever the sovereign commands is law. People have no rights. They must obey these laws as commands of the sovereign.
7. Absolutism is a must:
For people there is no choice except between absolute monarchy and complete anarchy. They should accept the absolute power of the King or they should decide to get back to the state of nature.
1. Wrong view of human nature:
Hobbes takes an erroneous view of human nature. In his opinion, human beings arc essentially selfish and self-seeking. It is only a one sided view.
Man has as much goodness in him as is the evil or even more of goodness than evil. Hobbes completely ignores the influence of environment and circumstances on the growth of human personality, lie had advanced a fallacious psychological argument.
Man is governed as much by generosity, philanthropy, fellow-feeling and sympathy for others as by his own interests. If man is eternally bad, how could he be good in civil society or even good enough to think of entering into a contract? How could it be that all lions decided to become lambs and allowed one to remain a lion.
2. Individual is not the unit of Society:
Hobbes does not realize that the unit of primitive society is not an individual but the family or the tribe. His description of people in the state of nature clearly shows that human beings lived in the State of Nature as separate individuals and they were engaged in a grim struggle of fighting against one another.
The fact of history is that men even in the most primitive society lived a social life in the form of families and tribes. They were never leading solitary life.
3. Hobbes obliterates the distinction between State and Government:
Hobbes does not distinguish between the state and the government. In his opinion, a successful revolution will overturn the state and will throw the people back into the ‘state of nature’. He places the alternatives of anarchy to political authority before the people.
The fact of the matter is that with the overthrow of government, State does not become extinct. Governments come and go, State continues. For Hobbes there is no difference between State and government.
4. Unilateral agreement is wrong in the strict legal sense:
In the contract as envisaged by Hobbes, the sovereign is not a party. So it does not impose obligations on him. A legal contract is one in which the parties to the contract assume both rights and obligations.
A unilateral agreement of this nature is wrong in the legal sense.
Hobbes’ argument is illogical. According to him man is irrational in the state of nature; but how can he become rational enough to enter into contract and surrender all rights and powers overnight ?
Hobbes ignored history completely. The historical researches made so far do not show that there was ever a period of “state of nature” Man was always living in one community or the other may that be a family or a tribe or a clan. Man is a social animal. He can never live a solitary life.
The philosophy of Hobbes was not welcomed by any group of political thought. Although he expounded this theory to defend the absolute powers of the Stuart kings and establishment of strong government, yet it was not even liked by the Stuart kings who did not agree with his theory because Hobbes did not accept the sovereign to be representative of God had made him a creation of the contract.
The Stuarts were clinging to the theory of divine right of kings.The people of his time did not accept his theory on account of the fact that he supported die absolute powers of the king.
The theory of Hobbes did not stand the test of time. Locke wrote 40 years after Hobbes to contradict his theory.
Hobbes worshiped the setting sun and supported a dying cause. Absolutism died much before Hobbes expected.
He further ignores completely the idea of popular sovereignty that was being accepted in his days and for which the people and Parliament in England were fighting against the king. He justified absolute monarchy which was a losing cause.