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Social contract theory

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The Social Contract Theory is a philosophy that has been put forth, varyingly, by different philosophers and political thinkers, as the contract entered into by the masses, to form a social setup. One of these political thinkers, was Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who propounded his social contract theory, in the book, ‘ The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right’.

This write-up aims to summarise the first three chapters of Book 1 of Rousseau’s Social Contract. Chapter One highlights the Subject Of The Book, Chapter Two talks about the First Societies and Chapter Three puts forth the idea of the Right Of The Strongest. The following is a concise explanation of these three chapters of Rousseau’s famed Social Contract Theory.
In Chapter One, Rousseau talks about the fact that man is born free but eventually concedes to what is known as Collective or General Will. Therefore, Rousseau’s Social Contract Theory attaches more importance to General Will, rather than the Individual Will, even though it does highlight the fact that man is born free.
Chapter Two is a revelation into his ideology that man surrenders his free and naturally independent self, to combine to form a family. A group of families lead to the formation of a society. Therefore, the formation fo a society is attributed to the voluntary surrender of the individual will of the free man, to lead to the ‘ general will’ of the society. He also alludes to Hobbes and Aristotle, and discusses their idea, refuting some of it while accepting the left over parts.
Chapter Three, as the title suggests, talks about the rise of the strongest in the society, as the sovereign or the leader. It is more of a voluntary submission to this strong sovereign, who is bound by the duty of catering to his subjects. Rousseau, in his theory, talks about Popular Sovereignty and its characteristics of being inalienable and permanent.
This Thoery has also been criticised by numerous political thinkers and authorities on various grounds. Some feel that the concept of individuals coming forward voluntarily to give up their naturally endowed freedom and getting into ‘ slavery’ is a bit too far-fetched. In addition to this, others say that the sovereign need not necessarily be the strongest. He should be someone who is accepted by one and all. It is felt that while Rousseau’s sovereign possesses traits of an authoritarian dictator, a democratic leader is what a society would aim at having.
Thus, Rousseau’s Social Contract Theory, was propounded to facilitate the voicing of his ideas on the emergence of a social order and the formation of the society, leading to the birth of a power called the ‘ sovereign’. Even though criticised, the sheer overall concept is certainly a well-propounded theory.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, ‘ The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right, Book 1, Chapters 1, 2 3, Pages 84-88.

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