Social Agreement Enlightenment

According to Rousseau, the powerful rich stole the land that belonged to all and deceived the ordinary people to accept them as sovereigns. Rousseau concluded that the social contract was not a consensual agreement, as Hobbes, Locke and Montesquieu had believed, but a scam against the people committed by the rich. Ownership plays an essential role in Locke`s argument for the civilian government and the contract that founded it. According to Locke, private property is created when a person mixes his work with the raw materials of nature. For example, if you grow a piece of land in the wild and turn it into a piece of farmland that produces food, you have the right to own that piece of land and the food it produces. (This led Locke to conclude that America was not really one of the natives who lived there because he felt they did not use the basic material of nature. In other words, they did not raise it, so they had no legitimate right to do so, and therefore others could legitimately acquire it.) Given the implications of natural law, there are limits to the amount of property one can possess: one should not take more of nature than one may need, thus leaving others without enough for oneself. Since the nature of all humanity is given by God to live together, one cannot take more than one`s just share. Property is the linchpin of Locke`s argument in favor of the social contract and the civil government, because it is the protection of their property, including their property in their own bodies, that men seek when they decide to abandon the state of nature. For Hobbes, the need for absolute authority, in the form of a sovereign, arose from the absolute brutality of the state of nature.

The state of nature was totally unbearable, and rational people would be willing to submit even to absolute authority to escape it. For John Locke, 1632-1704, the state of nature is a completely different kind of place, and his argument about the social contract and the nature of men`s relationship to authority is therefore quite different. While Locke Hobbes uses the methodical device of the state of nature, like virtually all theorists of the social contract, he uses it at a completely different end. Locke`s arguments for the social contract and the right of citizens to revolt against their king had a huge influence on the democratic revolutions that followed, especially on Thomas Jefferson and the founders of the United States. According to the contract will theory, a contract is not considered valid unless all parties consent voluntarily or expressly, without coercion. In his essay No Treason, Lysander Spooner, a 19th-century lawyer and a staunch defender of the law of contracts between individuals, argued that an alleged social contract could not be used to justify state acts such as taxation, because the government would take measures of violence against anyone who does not want to enter into such a contract. Therefore, such an agreement is not voluntary and therefore cannot be considered a legitimate contract at all. The most fundamental alliance, the social pact, is the agreement to bring together and form a people, a community by definition larger and different from a simple aggregation of individual interests and wills. This act, in which individuals become people, is “the true foundation of society.” By collectively renouncing the individual rights and freedoms that one has in the state of nature and by transferring these rights to the collective body, one forms, as it were, a new “person”. The sovereign is therefore formed when free and equal people come together and agree to recreate themselves as a single organ, which boils down to the common interest of all.

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