What Is the Concept of Social Contract Theory?


Jane Flores

The concept of Social Contract Theory is a fundamental idea in political philosophy that explores the relationship between the government and its citizens. It provides a framework for understanding the origin and legitimacy of political authority. In this article, we will delve into the key principles and thinkers associated with Social Contract Theory.

What is Social Contract Theory?

Social Contract Theory posits that individuals voluntarily enter into a social contract with one another, relinquishing some of their freedom in exchange for protection and stability provided by the government. This theory aims to explain how societies are formed and how political systems derive their legitimacy.

The Key Principles

There are several key principles that underpin Social Contract Theory:

  • Mutual Consent: The social contract is based on the voluntary consent of individuals to form a society and establish a governing body.
  • Mutual Benefit: Individuals willingly give up certain rights and freedoms in exchange for protection, order, and other benefits provided by the government.
  • Equality: All individuals are equal under the social contract, regardless of their wealth, status, or power.
  • Rights and Responsibilities: Both citizens and the government have rights and responsibilities outlined in the social contract. Citizens have rights to life, liberty, and property, while governments have responsibilities to protect those rights.
  • Revocability: If governments fail to fulfill their obligations or violate citizens’ rights, individuals have the right to revoke or alter the social contract.

The Thinkers

Social Contract Theory has been developed by various influential thinkers throughout history. Here are some notable figures associated with this theory:

  • Thomas Hobbes: Hobbes believed that in a state of nature, without any governing authority, life would be “nasty, brutish, and short.” He argued that individuals enter into a social contract to escape this chaotic condition and establish a sovereign ruler to maintain order.
  • John Locke: Locke emphasized the importance of individual rights and government’s obligation to protect them.

    He argued that if governments fail to do so, citizens have the right to rebel and establish a new social contract.

  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Rousseau believed that people are inherently good but corrupted by society. He proposed a social contract where individuals surrender their natural rights to the general will of the community.


Social Contract Theory provides insights into the nature of political authority and its relationship with citizens. By understanding the principles and thinkers associated with this theory, we gain a better understanding of how societies are formed, governed, and transformed.

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