Saturday, April 28, 2007



Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean Jacque Rousseau had all discussed about the social contract and made major contributions to the development of Democracy. However, all three of them have different opinions about the structure of social contract. In this writing, I will discussed about the social contract under Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau views and try to point out that which one of them would fit best with today modern democracy.

Thomas Hobbes
I will start first by discussing Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) view on social contract. Hobbes had a pessimistic idea about human nature. He believed that people were selfish and violent. The state of nature that he described was not peaceful. There would always be continual conflicts. He believed that people were trapped by their own greed, hence they are not free. However, Hobbes described human as a rational being. They won’t live on in chaos and unrest fighting. They would find a way out of it and be free. They would come together and created peace and order out of this mess and they eventually did by creating a social contract. In Hobbes view, he pointed out that people were free only when they surrender their natural right to a leader which Hobbes suggested to be a king. He was trying to justify the restoration of Charles II. Only by giving up their natural right would order be found in the social contract. The king sole duty was to keep order and peace by making laws and enforced the laws. Since the king made the laws, Hobbes argued that he was not bound by it. This is hardly at all fit with modern democracy which clearly stated that everyone is equal before the laws. Though he made the king to be above the laws but he did not believe in theory of the divine right of the kings. He accepted that power of the king came from the people not god, but since the people are selfish and violent; therefore the king should have absolute power over the people to keep order.
The social contract that Hobbes described did not at all fit with today modern democracy. One crucial point that discredited him from democracy was his argument that the leader of the country should be above the law. This will be rejected by the every democracy society nowadays. Democracy prefers the “Rule of Law” which bound everyone to the laws of the state. Everyone is equal before the law. Hobbes somehow, at first glance, seemed not in line with democracy and seemed to favor dictatorship. However, his intention was actually good toward the mass for he reasoned that only absolute power in a hand of a king would freedom and liberty truly granted to the people. He did not give power to the king because he thought that the king deserved to have that power (divine right of kings) but he believed that by only doing so will the society and the people within that society be at peace and life would be much better than the state of nature. He was seeking for an end that very much acceptable in democracy but he chose a mean that was not popular at all in today modern democracy. Hobbes was too pessimistic to trust people enough to give them the right to make decision regarding the welfare of the society. Why? From my point of view, in his time most people were not educated enough. Besides being selfish and besides being violent, he saw the mass as a low intellectual class and can not be trusted with important decisions. Therefore, he believed that the only possible solution to a peaceful social contract was to grant absolute power to a king, who Hobbes thought was wiser and knew what was best for the people, and asked him to keep order. However, I believed that Hobbes would not argue this way if he was to live in today democracy society. In today modern democracy, people are better educated and able to make important decisions for themselves and for the society as a whole. We still need laws and enforcement but not necessary an absolute power. I believe Hobbes would also agree with this since his best interest also lay with the people not with absolute power in the hand of kings. I conclude that Hobbes did not deny democracy because he wanted a king but simply because he thought that people can’t be trusted to make decisions. Therefore, Hobbes social contract would not fit well with today modern democracy.
However, from my personal point of view, there are things that I can draw from Hobbes social contract to apply in today society. After reading Hobbes, I believe that the degree of democracy or liberty or freedom in making decisions regarding the welfare of the society that one state should grants to its people depend on the degree of selfishness or greed of those people, holding the degree of education among the mass remain constant. A negative correlation exist between the two things. The state will grant less and less freedom in making decisions to its people if the people are more and more selfish/greed, vice versa. But this negative correlation does not hold if the degree of education among the mass was to change also. Therefore, the level of education of the mass and the nature of selfishness of the mass determine the degree of liberty that the state should grant to its people. Understand the two variables enable the state to actually know how much power should be centralized, not for the sake of the state but for the sake of the people best interest. This is what I can draw from Hobbes social contract. But the tricky part for this to work is that the people and the state must have the same exact view on two variables. Disagreement between the state and its people on the two variables will lead to power struggle.

John Locke
The second social contract philosopher that I will turn to discuss now is John Locke. Unlike Hobbes, Locke’s view about human nature was optimistic. He believed that human being are good and rational. In the state of nature, human were peaceful according to Locke. However, he did not deny that there was never any conflict. Since human beings are rational then they would see the necessary of an arbitrary agent in solving dispute. Thus, a government was born. Unlike Hobbes, Locke did not believe that the government should have absolute power over the people. He believed that the government was born out of people therefore it should serve the people and be under the people influenced. This is shared with today modern democracy society. Another crucial point that Locke brought up and fit the mind of the today people living in a democracy state is the individual freedom. To Locke, freedom meant no restraint of government on the individual and its primary function was to increase the individual rights and freedom. Government must be a passive arbitrator. It should allow the people to pursue their own interest and it only stepped in when there was a dispute.
Locke also went on about private property. He believed in private property however he mentioned that no individual can accumulate so much wealth that other were prevented from accumulated the necessities of life. Locke saw property as a means to an end, not as an end in itself. Locke argued that private property is an important key to improved the human race. Locke’s main interest was the individual and he was hoping to free the people as much as possible and allowed them to perfect their character. Private property, Locke argued, was important for the life it made possible not as an absolute value in itself. The second essence of private property is the identity that it provided to the people. Therefore, property creates identity for the people. This is still very much true in today society especially in a democratic one. Discrimination, inequality, and such things exist only in society that private property is allowed, hence democracy. If we turn to look at a communist society, such things did not exist. Why? Because there was no private property and therefore there is no different identity that created by property. So, is private property the cause of inequality within the society? Through Locke explanation, it was the case but I believe that Locke saw that good in private property outweigh the evil that property created during his time.
From my point of view, Locke was a democratic man He was, in my respective, the most human right philosopher during his time. He believed in liberty and no interference from government. This is how democracy society in USA operates now. People are allowed to pursue their own interest as long as they do not violate the laws. I also believe that Locke contribute to the concept of wealth transfer that are being used nowadays in a democratic society. Locke argued that private properties were created when people put their labor into natural resources and produced goods. Therefore private property existed since the state of nature so it still existed in the social contract. However, no one individual should accumulated so much wealth that left other in poverty. Through this we can say that Locke was against wealth concentration. This is link to the idea of transfer payment in today modern democracy society. Moreover, Locke supported majority rule. He might not favor direct democracy but he was still very much a democratic man. Beside, direct democracy is still not as widely use as representative democracy nowadays. It would consume too much time and money Locke would fit in quite easily with today world politics. He may not agree with how all things are done now but he surely would be much happier than Hobbes would be living in the twenty first century.
Due to Locke optimistic view about human nature, the correlation that i develop above can not hold and can not be use to determine the degree of the freedom in decision making that the state should give to its people. However, something else can be drawn from Locke description of social contract. Locke saw the least important of government which was something that Adam Smith also saw and stated out in his book, The wealth of Nation. As contrast to Hobbes as he was seen to be, they both were unwilling to give political power to the mass. From my view, Locke also saw ordinary people and the poor as low intellectual class and should not gave them any political power, i.e the right to vote for parliament members. Therefore, there is something wrong with his representative government. Since, the poor didn’t have the right to vote then who would represent them in the Parliament. I rejected his argument that people have a common interest. Therefore, his representative government might look like a democracy one but it was not. His argument of representative government would work if and only if his statement that, people share the same common basic interest, is true at all time. Since i doubt very much that people share the same basic interest, then i believe that his representative government was ineffective. However, his idea did contribute to today modern democracy society.

Jean Jacque Rousseau
The third social contract philosopher in my discussion is Jean Jacque Rousseau. Rousseau’s view on human nature seemed to be more optimistic rather than pessimistic. The state of nature was peaceful according to Rousseau description. It was peaceful because the people were passive and tried to avoid conflicts. Rousseau went on that people wanted to improve themselves and to make themselves better. The state of nature offered no chance to do so because, as mentioned above, people were passive in order to avoid conflicts. Therefore, people must come together to form a social contract to seek a better and moral life. This reason was completely unrelated to the ones that Hobbes and Locke offered. However, it link very much to the modern democracy society. People interaction with each other create new knowledge. This is a strong belief for today. Therefore, social interaction is encouraged. This is also the reason why children are sent to school. Apart from education, schooling provides the chance for interaction with one another, sharing experience with each other. Unlike Locke, Rousseau did not believe in representative democracy. He argued that no one can perfectly represent another person. So he supported direct democracy. Rousseau also talked about private property. Unlike Locke, he did not believe that private property was a natural right. He believed that it was a social right. Therefore, no one should have unlimited right accumulate property. Rousseau went on to descript that private property was the mean to exploitation and inequality. He wanted property to be distributed equally among the members of society. This concept was also share by the Communist. When the communist, the Soviet and the China, came to power they abolished private property and create collective property, which was something Rousseau never actually proposed. But it was the best way to distribute property equally to the people. But did it last? I think we all know the answer to that.
One crucial point that i believe that Rousseau brought up and very much affect the modern democracy is the separation of power. Rousseau argued that the executive and legislative power should be separated. He also demanded that legislative should be more powerful than the executive. The legislative is the community or the people that create the general will. The executive is the government that had the duty to carry out the general will. The government only served the people of the community. It has no special rights as Hobbes or Locke proposed. Therefore, Rousseau argued that the government can be changed anytime and community remained the same. The sole function of the government, in straight forward description, carry out the wish of the community hence the general will.
Rousseau favored direct democracy which is the pure form of democracy. However he did not believe in private property which makes him least democrat. From my point of view, Rousseau was a very controversial man and almost impossible to place him on the political spectrum. Rousseau idea was not practical in today modern society at all. Even though technology made direct democracy possible, people still prefer representative democracy. Moreover, private property is not as bad as he described. Private property is the incentive that drives people to work hence the society to function. Of course there is greed, exploitation and inequality. But to rid of private property is to take risk of destroying the social contract. We have seen the Soviet Union tried it and failed. The social contract didn’t break but the government collapsed. Another government arises to power and allowed private property and the freedom to accumulate it as much as one can. Still, Rousseau had made many contributions to the development of modern democracy.

Now I will try to reflect the contributions of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau regarding the three social contracts that I have discussed above in several modern democracy as well as Cambodia Democracy today.
Hobbes distrust in people nature, which I conclude due to lack of education of the mass, leaded him to grant all the power to the leader. As Cambodia had gone through decades of war and destruction and poverty, most people were denied from education. Hence, power is centralized in the hand of the government. People are allowed to vote to choose their leaders but we are still denied of many rights in political decisions making as in the western society This is the negative correlation. But if we turn to look at other society, for example the America, things are much different. The mass education is generally higher than of Cambodia. Therefore, they get to practice many of their political right, other than voting. For instance, they have the right to petition to rid of laws and to demand a certain law be passed, involve in helping pass the law during poling, and so on. This is also the negative correlation that i have develop above. The Americans get higher degree of freedom in political right because the people are more educated, hence they are trustworthy. Once they are educated they tend to be able to rid of their greed and selfishness to a certain degree which allow them to participate to a certain degree in political decision making.
Locke stressed the important of private property which is true to every democratic government, hence Cambodia society. The government encourages private business and meddle as little as possible into the economics. There are not much left of state own enterprises in Cambodia nowadays. As Locke proposed in his social contract, Cambodia has a parliament but one that every citizen regardless of wealth status is allowed to vote and choose a representative. For Cambodia, representative democracy is the better than direct democracy. Consider time is not a problem, we still do not have the technology nor the finance to practice direct democracy.
Rousseau idea about the separation of power between the legislative and the executive can be found in all democracy society. Adding the idea of checks and balances proposed by James Madison to the separation of power, an effective government was born. No branch of the government has unlimited power to do as it wishes and dominate other branches. No individual could serve in more than one branch of a government at a time. The legislature makes the law, the executive carry out the law and the judiciary is to adjudicate legal disputes and interpret the law.

In conclusion, i believe that by studying the social contract we can understand better the root of democracy and use it to reflect today modern society. I also believe that Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau are all major contributors to modern democracy theory. The existence and the important of private property, the general will, the separation of power are all major components of today democracy. However, I believe that Locke was the best one. Locke social contract reflected today modern democracy than of Hobbes and Rousseau. However, if all three views were to combine together, I believe that we could draw up a social contract that would actually allow the society to function at its best.

Reference: LEON P.BARADAT, Political Ideology, 3rd edition, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1988
JOSHUA S. GOLDSTIEN, International Relation, Brief Edition, Library of Congress,2002
GABRIEL A. ALMOND, G. BINGHAM POWELL, Jr. KAARE STORM, RUSSELL J. DALON, Comparative Political Today, 8th Edition, Person Education Published, 2004


Blogger Chhun Sokha said...

- Hey Vichet! You said "he(Hobbes) did not give power to the king but he believed that by only doing so will the society and the people within that society be at peace ..."
What do you actually mean by saying "he(Hobbes) did not give power to the king."
When you said like that it was likely that Hobbes was the person who gave the king the power. However, he was, actually, just a philosopher; hence, he did not have any right to surrender power to the king.
It is just a small mistake but you should change by saying another way because it is a bit confusing, just my idea.

- I partialy agree with your opinion saying that Hobbes was too pessimistic to trust people enough to give them the right to make decision regarding the welfare of the society because during his time, most people were not educated enough. However, I, besides this, also think that one reason that people were not allowed to make significant decision regarding the welfare of the society was because most people were not well educated, but another reason was possibly, from my point of view, several people had enough ability and knowledge to make a decision regarding the welfare of their country, but because the king,himself,wanted to monopolize the power, refusing them the right to make important decisions concerning the affair of the country. Thus, people could not make any decision related to the welfare of their country.

May 6, 2007 at 11:46 PM  

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