Every developed society today has a system of constituted laws which places restrictions on the people of such society. However, there is a story behind the formation of every society.
As conceived, the social and moral order we see in our society today is not a natural phenomenon, rather, it was established as a result of the yearning and need of the people in the society. I dare to say that there was a time in the history of any developed society where people lived without restrictions and morality was subjective. At this time, there was no order in the society and men live to please their pleasures.
As the popular acronym goes “where there is no law, there is no sin”, the society was characterized with excess freedom and impiety. Since there was no law and there was nobody to question or sanction another for actions done, people lived in fear and doubt of the next hour. For the first time, people came together, having the same goal, to seek a way out of this lawlessness. It was at this point that they saw the need to be united under a social contract.
Generally speaking, a social contract is a form of an agreement that is entered into by the people of a state. It involves the laying down of individual powers and rights to the universally constituted authority. In a social contract, there is a mutual agreement as to the duties of each party in the contract.
In this context, after man has discovered that the lawlessness and impiety rules the society, they come together with the same goal and each individual lays his right to the state. In the social contract, there is a kind of symbiotic relationship between the individual and the state.
Here, the individual lays down his right and power to the sovereignty or the state who in turn seeks to protect the individual. The social contract is entered by the people in order to end lawlessness and impiety which was a characteristic of the society before then. It is a transition from lawlessness to justice, from negative freedom to inalienable right to freedom, from individual goal to a universal goal and from a state of nature to social co-existence.
One of the greatest philosophers of all times whose work haunts political philosophy is Thomas Hobbes. Although the subject of social contract has existed before his time, he can be credited for being the first person that really made an exposition on this topic. In his work “Leviathan”, he was of the opinion that the society was in a “state of nature” before the social contract was entered. Before the social contract, man lived in an asocial and apolitical world.
Thomas Hobbes described this state of nature as state of war where life was considered “short, nasty and brutish”. Hobbes’ state of nature was characterized by insecurity and uncertainty because each man is a potential victim. Therefore, it became necessary for the people to surrender their individual right to the leviathan or the absolute, who will provide security and ensure that the rights of each citizen is protected.
An issue raised by Hobbes in his work is the fact that the leviathan must be absolute. According to Thomas Hobbes, in order to maintain the order that has been restored in the society, the leviathan must be sovereign and must be the absolute power. He believed that if given the chance, man will undermine the order that has been established in the state as man can not be trusted with power.
This position has made Hobbes’ social contract theory to tend towards authoritarianism. From this, it can be inferred that Hobbes believes in the dictatorial approach to government since he claims that for the effectiveness of the social contrast essentially requires the self-sufficiency of the leviathan.
However, another approach that can be used in looking at the issue of the necessity of the authoritarianism of the leviathan is that the people are the one that constituted this government but they do not have a power over the government. Once the leviathan is created, all the powers in the state naturally accrue to him. From my point of view, it is possible for the people of the state to be democratic while the order in the society will not be undermined.
This is because the mere fear of a return to the former way of life will definitely make the people concede to the dictates of the leviathan. I want to believe that there must have been a realization of insufficiency before the people chose to leave their personal freedom and liberty in order to benefit from the security that is promised by the leviathan.
According to Hobbes, life in the state of nature was short, nasty and brutish, even the strong is not safe when he sleeps. If this is true, one will expect that nobody will seek to go back to that kind of life again – not after he has enjoyed the benefits and order that is now a feature of the social contract.