What Is John Locke’s Theory of Social Contract?


Jane Flores

John Locke’s Theory of Social Contract

In the 17th century, English philosopher John Locke proposed a theory of social contract that aimed to explain the relationship between individuals and their governments. According to Locke, this social contract was a voluntary agreement between individuals and their rulers, in which the former relinquished some of their individual rights in exchange for protection and security provided by the latter.

The State of Nature

Locke’s theory of social contract begins with his notion of the state of nature – a hypothetical scenario where humans lived without any form of government or societal structure. In this state, individuals had complete freedom and autonomy over their lives, but also faced insecurity and vulnerability due to lack of protection from others.

According to Locke, humans are rational beings who would naturally seek out ways to secure their lives and possessions. Thus, in the absence of government or law enforcement agencies, individuals would come together to form small communities that would provide mutual support and protection. However, these communities were often unstable due to conflicts arising from disagreements over resources or power.

The Need for Social Contract

In order to overcome these issues, Locke argued that individuals voluntarily entered into a social contract with their rulers – giving up some individual rights in exchange for protection provided by the government. This contract was based on consent rather than coercion – meaning that individuals agreed to give up some rights only if they received certain benefits in return.

According to Locke’s theory, legitimate governments were those that derived their power from this social contract rather than from divine right or inherited privilege. Furthermore, if rulers failed to protect the rights and interests of citizens as outlined in the social contract, then citizens had the right to overthrow them.

Implications for Democracy

Locke’s theory of social contract had significant implications for the development of democratic societies. According to Locke, the ultimate authority in any society rested with the people rather than with rulers or elites. This meant that individuals had the right to participate in governance through representative institutions such as parliaments or councils.

Furthermore, Locke’s theory emphasized the importance of individual rights and freedoms – such as freedom of speech, religion, and property – which were protected by law and were not subject to arbitrary interference by rulers or governments.


John Locke’s theory of social contract remains a key foundation for modern democratic societies. It emphasizes the importance of individual rights and freedoms, as well as the role of consent-based governance in ensuring stability and security for citizens. By entering into a voluntary social contract with their rulers, individuals can ensure that their rights are protected while also contributing to the greater good of society as a whole.