Is social contract theory helpful

The articles of association of Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in comparison

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. Thomas Hobbes
2.1 Historical background and image of man
2.2 Hobbes' Articles of Association

3. Jean-Jacques Rousseau
3.1 Historical background and image of man
3.2 Rousseau social contract

4. Comparison of the Articles of Association of Hobbes and Rousseau

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1 Introduction

The two state theorists Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes are among the most important representatives of political science. Even several centuries after her death, her works are of great importance and have had a lasting impact on developments in political science. Even if your theories of the state and your image of man have been and are heavily criticized in part, one cannot deny the importance of their records. Their ideas about how to prevent misery and the threatened collapse of society have decisively shaped the values ​​of today's politics. They are considered to be important masterminds for today's conceptions of the state and even if one does not always agree with their ideas, for example because one accuses them of favoring dictatorial structures, the importance of their works cannot be denied.

For these reasons it makes sense, in my opinion, to compare the two social contracts "Leviathan" by Thomas Hobbes, who sees himself as the founder of political science, and the "Contract Social" by Jean Jacques Rousseau with one another and to compare their core statements with regard to the ideas of the social To compare living together and the different forms of society.

Since it is difficult to work out all of your theories and to compare them with one another in a term paper, due to the relatively small number of pages, I will mainly refer to the social contract in its form and implementation and the necessity why it is necessary. In addition, I will present the historical background of their time and their respective image of man for each of the two state theorists, so that one can better understand the intention to write a social contract.

In order to work out a representation and a comparison of the two social contracts, I will primarily deal with their respective works "Leviathan" and "Contract Social". In addition, I will also use some secondary literature that seemed helpful to me in dealing with the topic.

To briefly describe my approach, I will work out in the following chapters under which conditions and motives the respective social contract was created. Understanding the social and historical circumstances is important to understand the motivation to draw up a social contract. In my opinion, the historical background is of particular importance, since the problems of the time in which the two state theorists lived decisively shaped their ideas of an ideal form of society.

Then I will examine the treaties individually and present the exact form of the state and the form of government. Then I will start to make a comparison of the two articles of association, which in my opinion should clearly show the most important differences and similarities. In conclusion, I will draw a brief conclusion in which I will once again refer to the contracts themselves and also to their transferability to the present day.

2. Thomas Hobbes

2.1 Historical background and image of man

Thomas Hobbe's most famous font "Leviathan" appeared in 1651. Just two years after the end of the English Civil War, which lasted from 1642 to 1649. The horror and suffering that the civil war brought with it motivated Hobbes to look for a solution for an optimal form of society in which people should live in peaceful communion with one another. The chaos and the many deaths that resulted from the civil war left a lasting mark on Hobbes’s image of man and confirmed his desire for social order.

Unlike historical philosophers such as Aristotle, Hobbes takes the view that man by nature does not strive for community voluntarily, but only because he hopes for a personal advantage from it. He makes this clear with his statement: "By nature, man does not seek society for the sake of society, but to gain [...] advantage from it."[1]

Hobbes used the behavior of wild peoples that existed then and now as a basis for his conception of man in a natural state.[2] Thomas Hobbes sees man in his natural state as a being who has complete freedom of action[3] and is always anxious to stand out from his fellow men and wants to be better than them. For Hobbes, this is one reason people band together. But since, if all people have the same amount of fame or honor, such a connection cannot exist, Hobbes considers such an agreement to be void. For this reason, Thomas Hobbes feels it makes more sense to have a Ruling Force rather than a connection among equals. Hobbes names fear as the driving force behind such a form of rule, since, according to his statement, "the origin of all great and lasting connections [...] was fear."[4] As an example to illustrate the effect of fear, Hobbes explains that two people who are actually enemies will only make peace out of fear of (death) each other[5]to escape the fear of death. Since death in Hobbes' notes of the image of man is the "greatest possible evil"[6] fear has such immense power.

He sees the natural equality that Hobbes attests to human beings in their natural state as a problem and believes that it prevents peaceful coexistence. He says that the physical differences between people are so small that each would be able to kill the other. For this reason he sees the natural state of people as "life and freedom-threatening"[7]. Hobbes says that the desire to harm one's fellow human beings "in a state of nature all [r]"[8] lies. The most common reason to want to harm other people is the disagreement that arises when several people want the same item.

In the natural state, according to Hobbes, everyone has the right to everything, everyone is allowed to do anything he wants and to take into his possession everything that he feels is desirable. A coexistence in which everyone is allowed to own and use everything cannot work, according to Thomas Hobbes, since in this case there is no way to stand out from the others. This is why Hobbes says that the natural state of man is the "war of all against all"[9] be.

But since people naturally cannot regard such a war as good, since, as already mentioned, death represents the greatest possible evil for them, they consider it sensible to leave this state and to join together in a community based on the fear of War based on uncertainty and death.

Hobbes says that it is a law of nature that people, because of their instinct for self-preservation, strive for a peacemaking community. Hobbes sees a relapse into the natural state as a "constant threat"[10], since this would mean the collapse of the sovereign monopoly of fear. The type of society that Hobbes said would guarantee peace and security is presented in the following chapter.

2.2 Hobbes' Articles of Association

"People who naturally love freedom and domination over others, introduced self-restraint [...] with the aim and intention [...] to escape the wretched state of war."[11] Thomas Hobbes quotation from the beginning of the second part "Vom Staat" of his work "Leviathan" makes it clear why, in his opinion, it needed a social contract. According to Hobbes, it was necessary because the state of war was not "through a philanthropic decision alone"[12] could be terminated. This means that Hobbes believes that it needs a contract that does not affirm man's natural attributes but goes against his nature[13]. The natural laws like "justice, equity, humility, gratitude"[14]According to Hobbes, the law to treat others as one wishes it to work against the natural emotions of people and cannot be obeyed without a driving force such as fear. He says that "contracts without the sword [...] are just mere words"[15] are and attest to people's natural passions such as "partiality, arrogance, vindictiveness"[16] etc. which cannot be reconciled with the desire for peace. For this reason he says that a power is needed that strives to observe the laws of nature and uses fear as a tool for this. This power is brought into being through the social contract.

In contrast to bees and ants, for example, which naturally strive to form communities that match and are therefore seen by Aristotle as political living beings, this has to be created artificially in humans with the help of a contract. The reason for this is that, as already mentioned in the previous chapter, humans are in constant competition for honor and dignity with their fellow human beings and thus naturally cannot form a homogeneous society.

According to Hobbes, the only way to establish a force that is able to guarantee people peace and security is that all people “reduce their entire power and strength to one person or a gathering of people [...] . "[17] So a person or an assembly of people is determined who embodies the entire community and is legitimized to act as he or she wants, as long as it is the "common will of all"[18], the desire for peace and security for the entire population. This person or assembly of people calls Hobbes the Leviathan or mortal god. Through the power and strength transferred to him, he is able to direct the will of all persons towards peace within the state and to take the necessary measures. The Leviathan himself determines which means he considers necessary to fulfill his obligations. He represents the sovereign within the state who has the highest power. Its primary task is "to take care of the security of the people"[19]. All other persons besides the sovereign are considered "subjects"[20] designated. Some political scientists, such as Herfried Münkler, are of the opinion that Hobbes' contract is not just a social contract, but rather a mixture of social and power contract, others even refer to it as a "contract of submission to an almighty state"[21].

The latter formulation is understandable, since people submit their own will and their own judgment to that of the Leviathan and thus melt into a unity that arises from the fact that everyone concludes a contract with everyone. The state emerges from this united mass of people. The sovereign himself does not submit to the contract, which is justified by the fact that "restricting his options for action"[22] should be prevented.

Once the sovereign has been determined, his sovereign rights can no longer be withdrawn, as this would constitute a breach of contract. The consequence would be the dissolution of the state and the relapse of the people into the natural state. It applies to the subjects that they can no longer free themselves from submission after the conclusion of the contract.[23] At this point Hobbes' tendency towards monarchy can be clearly seen. One could discuss whether Thomas Hobbes should be classified more as an absolutist or a liberal state theorist.

In order to guarantee peaceful and safe coexistence within the state, so-called "civil laws" are required, according to Hobbes. These are laws that are drawn up by the sovereign and to which every subject in the state has to adhere. Each subject has committed to this by signing the contract. Solely the sovereign is entitled to enact and repeal the laws, he himself is not subject to civil laws. Civil laws can limit people's natural rights as long as they serve to maintain peace[24]. As an example, one could cite that civil laws restrict people in such a way that they are no longer entitled to protect themselves through their own physical strength, but only the law is able to do so.

In summary, Hobbes' social contract can be described as a unilateral and irrevocable contract, the most important features of which are the waiver of rights by everyone, the favor of an individual and the authorization of a sovereign, and which has set itself the primary goal of securing peace.


[1] Hobbes, Thomas (1918): Principles of Philosophy. Doctrine of man and of the citizen. Published by Felix Meiner. P.80

[2] See Münkler, Herfried (1993): Thomas Hobbes. Frankfurt / New York: Campus Verlag. P.111

[3] Jdanoff, Denis (2006): Obedience and Resistance in Hobbes ’“ Leviathan ”and Rousseau's“ Social Contract ”- A Comparison. Berlin: Scientific publishing house. P.25

[4] Hobbes, Thomas (1918): Principles of Philosophy. P.83

[5] Münkler, Herfried (1993): Thomas Hobbes p.125

[6] See Jdanoff, Denis (2006): Obedience and Resistance in Hobbes ’“ Leviathan ”and Rousseau's“ Business Contract ”- A comparison. P.25

[7] Höffe, Otfried (2010): Thomas Hobbes. Munich: Verlag C.H. Beck. P.145

[8] Hobbes, Thomas (1918): Principles of Philosophy. P.84

[9] Hobbes, Thomas (1918): Principles of Philosophy. P.87

[10] Münkler, Herfried (1993): Thomas Hobbes, p.111

[11] Hobbes, Thomas (1651): Leviathan. or the substance, form and power of a civil and ecclesiastical state. Stuttgart: Reclam-Verlag p.131

[12] Höffe, Otfried (2010): Thomas Hobbes. Munich: Verlag C.H. Beck. P.137

[13] See Münkler, Herfried (1993): Thomas Hobbes, p.122

[14] Hobbes, Thomas (1651): Leviathan. P.131

[15] Hobbes, Thomas (1651): Leviathan. P.131

[16] Hobbes, Thomas (1651): Leviathan. P.131

[17] Hobbes, Thomas (1651): Leviathan. P.134

[18] Höffe, Otfried (2010): Thomas Hobbes. Munich: Verlag C.H. Beck. P.150

[19] Hobbes, Thomas (1651): Leviathan. P.255

[20] Hobbes, Thomas (1651): Leviathan. P.135

[21] Voigt, Rüdiger (2014): Thinking about the state. The Leviathan in the Sign of the Crisis, 3rd edition. Baden-Baden: Nomos-Verlag p.179

[22] Münkler, Herfried (1993): Thomas Hobbes p. 130

[23] See Münkler, Herfried (1993): Thomas Hobbes p.135

[24] See Hobbes, Thomas (1651): Leviathan. P.205

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