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What Is a Social Contract According to Rousseau

Virginia Held argued that «contemporary Western society is plagued by contractual thinking» (193). Contract models have come to inform a variety of relationships and interactions between people, from students and their teachers to authors and their readers. Given this, it would be difficult to overestimate the impact of social contract theory both in philosophy and on culture at large. The theory of social contracts will undoubtedly accompany us in the foreseeable future. But also the critique of such a theory, which will continue to force us to think and rethink the nature of ourselves and our relationships with each other. Charles Mills` 1997 book The Racial Contract is a critique not only of the history of Western thought, institutions, and political practices, but especially of the history of social contract theory. Inspired by Carole Pateman`s The Sexual Contract, it seeks to show that non-whites have a relationship similar to the social contract as women. As such, it also challenges the supposed universality of the liberal individual, who is the agent of contract theory. Given that the end of the «unification of people in the common good» (para. 124) is the preservation of their wealth and the preservation of their life, liberty and well-being in general, Locke can easily imagine the conditions under which the pact with the government is destroyed and people have the right to rely on the authority of a civilian government, like a king. When the executive power of a government turns into tyranny, for example by the dissolution of the legislature and thus the denial of the people`s ability to legislate for its own preservation, then the resulting tyrant puts himself in a state of nature and, in particular, in a state of war with the people, and they then have the same right to self-defence, as they had done before a pact to found the company.

In other words, the justification for the authority of the executive component of government is the protection of the property and well-being of the people, so that when this protection no longer exists, or when the king becomes a tyrant and acts against the interests of the people, they have the right, if not a complete obligation, to oppose their authority. The social pact can be dissolved and the process of creating a political society can be revived. According to this argument, morality, politics, society and everything that goes with it, everything Hobbes calls a «trivialized life, is purely conventional.» Before the establishment of the basic social contract, according to which people agree to live together, and the contract to embody a sovereign with absolute authority, nothing is immoral or unjust – everything is allowed. However, once these contracts are concluded, the company becomes possible and it can be expected that people will keep their promises, cooperate with each other, etc. The social contract is the most fundamental source of all that is good and on which we depend to live well. We have the choice of sticking to the terms of the contract or returning to the state of nature, which Hobbes says could not benefit a reasonable person. Carole Pateman`s 1988 book, The Sexual Contract, argues that beneath the myth of the idealized contract, as described by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, lies a more fundamental contract on male-female relationships. Contract theory presents itself as opposed to patriarchy and patriarchal law. (Locke`s social contract, for example, is established by him in stark contrast to the work of Robert Filmer, who advocated for patriarchal power.) But the «original pact» (2), which precedes the social contract between equals, is the agreement of men to dominate and control women. This «original pact» is made by brothers, literally or metaphorically, who, after overthrowing the father`s reign, then agree to share their dominion over women who were previously under the exclusive control of a man, the Father. The shift from «classical patriarchy» (24) to modern patriarchy is therefore a change in the question of who has power over women. However, this is not a fundamental change in whether women are dominated by men.

The balance of power between men is changing, but not the relationship of women to the power of men. Modern patriarchy is characterized by a contractual relationship between men, and part of this contract involves power over women. This fact that one form of patriarchy has not been completely overthrown, but replaced by another form in which male power has been distributed to more men rather than being held by one man, is illustrated by Freud`s story about the emergence of civilization. According to this story, a group of brothers ruled by a father who has exclusive sexual access to the women of the tribe kills the father and then contracts with each other to be equal and share the women. It is history, whether or not we understand Freud`s history as historically correct, of modern patriarchy and its deep dependence on contract as the means by which men control and dominate women. In summary, it seems clear that Rousseau`s social contract was an idea ahead of his time, even if he will not be able to provide operational support for the conclusion of contracts. .