The Social Contract Theory is a political theory that originated in the 17th century and has had a profound impact on modern-day society. The central idea behind the theory is that individuals agree to give up some of their individual freedoms in exchange for protection and security provided by the government. This concept has been used to justify the existence of governments and their role in society.

Origins of the Social Contract Theory

The earliest known advocate of the social contract theory was Thomas Hobbes, who wrote about it in his book “Leviathan” in 1651. In his view, society without a government would be chaotic and violent, with everyone fighting for their own interests. He believed that individuals willingly gave up some of their freedom to a governing authority in exchange for safety and security.

Another influential thinker who contributed to the development of this theory was John Locke. He believed that all individuals have natural rights such as life, liberty, and property. According to Locke, people come together to form societies and governments to protect these rights.

The Effect on Political Thought

The social contract theory had a significant impact on political thought during its time and continues to influence contemporary political ideologies. It challenged traditional ways of thinking about political power and legitimized the idea of democracy.

One notable effect was on the development of constitutionalism. The idea that governments should be bound by a set of rules or constitution emerged from this theory. This concept has been instrumental in limiting government power and protecting individual rights.

The Impact on Society

The social contract theory has played an important role in shaping modern societies around the world. It has created an expectation that governments should provide certain basic services such as healthcare, education, and infrastructure in exchange for taxes paid by citizens.

This theory has also influenced ideas about citizenship, democracy, and human rights. It provides an ethical justification for democratic governance based on the consent of the governed. It has also been used as a basis for arguments for universal human rights.

Criticism of the Social Contract Theory

Despite its many contributions to political thought and society as a whole, the social contract theory has faced criticism over the years. Some argue that it is too simplistic and fails to account for the complexities of modern societies.

Others argue that it fails to account for power imbalances within society, which can make it difficult for some individuals to truly give their consent to be governed. Still, others argue that it does not provide a clear solution to issues such as economic inequality or environmental degradation.


In summary, the social contract theory has had a profound impact on political thought and modern society. It has provided an ethical justification for democratic governance and limited government power while also influencing ideas about citizenship and human rights. Despite its criticisms, its influence is still felt today in discussions about government legitimacy and individual rights.