Enlightenment Universal Laws

(The Social Contract)


Thomas Hobbes (d. 1679)


In Leviathan (1651) he describes the state as a horrible yet beautiful monster.

Humans are selfish, greedy, and warlike.  They agree to a social contract that is irrevocable.  This contract (i.e. obeying a ruler) is the only hope for peace and security.


The purpose of government is to provide peace and security.  Sovereignty belongs to the state.  This justifies absolutism.


John Locke (d. 1704)


In On the Origin of Government (1690) he argues that humans are basically good.  They are born with a tabula rasa, or blank slate.  They have natural rights: life, liberty, and property.  People get together to form a government (social contract).


The purpose of government is to protect the individual's natural rights by providing peace and security.  Sovereignty belongs to the people.  Revolution can be justified when a ruler violates the social contract (constitution).


Jean Jacques Rousseau (d. 1778)


In Discourse on the Origin of Inequality Among Men (1755) and the Social Contract (1762) he states that human beings start out good, but society (togetherness) corrupts.  Human beings have two wills: an individual will that is selfish and greedy, and a general will that acts for the common good of all.  The social contract is nothing more than an agreement among people to safeguard their individual liberty (rights).


The purpose of government is to reflect the general will.  Sovereignty resides in the "body politic," or whoever/whatever governs and is acting out the general will.  Therefore, the general will is always more important that individual will (or rights).