Social Contract Theory of Hobbes AND Locke


The term ‘State’ has been through multiple definitions by the best thinkers of the 17th century. The common elements between all of these definitions were the salient constituents that are indispensable for the consideration of a state, which are: Population, Government, Sovereignty and Territory. 

Hence state can be plainly defined as an “Association of human beings occupying a territory of defined boundaries under an organized government, subject to no outside authority and established by the consent of the ruled and recognised internationally”

There have been several theories and multiple evidences from various subjects that have determined the conditions under which the term ‘state’ has emerged.

The most fundamental theories that have advanced regarding the origin of the state are:

1) The theory of Divine origin

2) The theory of force

3) The theory of social contract

4) The Evolutionary theory.

Social contract theory can be defined as a theory which advocates that a person’s moral and political obligation are dependent upon an agreement that has been formed among people in order to create the society they live in. 

The Social contract theory is considered to be an extremely important theory as it provides us the basis to understand why society has established rules and regulations and further provides justification over the power the law enforcement can exert over the general public rather than enforcing a certain form of social behaviour.

The biggest problem with social contract theory is that even though it is a contract formed among the people for creation of their own society, some factors that are advantageous to some people, might be disadvantageous to others and there is no distinction between morality and law. Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau were the prominent theorists that propounded social contract theory.


Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679)  was a witness to the civil war and was a royal tutor who had a certain kind of affinity towards monarchy. He is contemporarily known for political philosophy, multiple contributions to a wide array of subjects and his acclaimed book ‘Leviathan’, which expounds a detailed formulation of the ‘Social contract theory’ and explains how men were driven by wealth, glory and power which led to eternal conflict. 

According to Hobbes, prior to the establishment of social contract, man lived in the ‘State of Nature’ and their life was characterized by constant fear by living in a chaotic condition. According to him their life in the ‘State of Nature’ is pre-political and pre-social and is “Solitary, poor, nasty brutish and short” [1]hence painting an extremely dark picture of perpetual warfare.

Men had no social instincts hence no social cohesion, they were motivated by the instinct of self-preservation to avoid misery and pain. Here the ‘might is always right’ principal applied and there was no scope for any kind of development as it was period horrible existence as force was more dominant in nature but he believed every citizen should have the right to life and self-protection.

He realized that the only way to end anarchy was through an ‘Absolute ruler’ hence strongly believed in ‘order’ which would be achieved through establishing a strong government. Hence he believed that he had to devise a theory that would justify monarchy and a strong form of government. 

Streaks of utilitarianism, individualism , materialism and absolutism are inter woven in the theory. In his theory, state is a third party beneficiary of the contract and not a part of it as it is a contract between all people with themselves.

The critics believe that Hobbes social contract theory is an extremely partial theory as men have been portrayed and depicted in an extremely negative way. Rosseau defines his theory of sovereignty extremely revolting and self- contradicting. His theory is called out to be extremely unreal and untrue as no sovereign has wielded such absolute powers hence is also called ‘pernicious and impossible’ [2]by Vaughan.

His admirers believe that Hobbes clearly sees the note of modern state by offering the theory of absolute sovereignty. He was known to be the first theorist to be an individualist and conceive state as a human institution. He applied scientific method to the his study of political science and emphasised on the supremacy of the matter in relation to mind.


John Locke (1632 – 1704) was an English physician and philosopher who is known as the “Father of Liberalism”. His contributions to the social contrast theory in the second of the ‘Two Treatises of Government, (1690)  is extremely commendable and well known.

Locke considered the ‘State of Nature’ as a ‘Golden Age’ as it was a state of “peace, goodwill, mutual assistance, and preservation”. In this state of nature, men had all possible rights nature could provide as the natural condition of mankind is a state of complete liberty in order to conduct one’s life as one best sees fit. 

Locke’s state of nature is dominantly pre-political rather than pre-social. People assumed to be equal to each other hence were equally capable of  being bound by the law of nature and discovering it. He granted people 3 natural rights- the right to life, liberty and property.

Property plays a dominant role in Locke’s justification for civil government and the social contract  as he feels when men decide to abandon the ‘state of nature’ they will seek protection of their property, which included the property in their own bodies. He considered property unstable in the state of nature as there was no body to establish law, absence of an impartial judge and a body to execute the natural laws. 

Thus, in order to obtain protection for their property, they entered into the “Social contract” in which men did not yield their rights to an individual but solely surrendered their rights to preserve ,maintain and enforce law. 

According to him, the very sole purpose of law and the government is to protect and endorse the natural rights of the people. He believed that as long as the government performs its functions, the laws made by them are binding but the day they cease to, the government can be deprived of its powers. He believed “ Unlimited Sovereignty is contrary to natural law”. Hence he promoted the “a state of liberty; not of license” principal and pleads for a ‘constitutionally limited government” and also promotes revolt. 

The critics say Locke does not consider military overtake for creation of state and like Hobbes his theory too is one sided. He ignores the concept of legal sovereign and fails to include the two contracts in the treaties of civil government. 

He is applauded for his contribution of constitutional monarchy and is credited for his introduction of very lucid, innovative and extremely reliable philosophy of political sovereignty and individualism.


To understand the contributions of the philosophers to the modern Democratic state we first need to understand what a modern democratic state is. A democracy can be defined as a government where people elect their leaders hence choose their own government by the power of voting and elections. Hobbes and Locke have contributed majorly to the development of the modern Democratic state as many concepts that has been established during their development of social contract are still extremely pertinent.


The concept of ‘sovereign’ was originally formulated by Hobbes and Locke during their study of the social contract theory. Further Hobbs and Locke talk about giving certain powers to the sovereign for creating laws, protection of property etc which is extremely applicable today. This is a major contribution to the modern democracy, especially by Hobbes as he stated that law will always be the command of the sovereign and should be obeyed. 

Right to life:

‘Right to life’ is the most important fundamental right available to citizens as this right provides protection to the life of all citizens as no entity or even the government has the right to take away a citizen’s life. This right was laid down by Hobbes in his book Leviathan’, which expounds a detailed formulation of the ‘Social contract theory’.

Separation of powers:

Locke talks about a state of confusion and a war like condition is present because there is no organ that frames laws, executes laws and interprets laws. Due to this the doctrine of separation of powers was born, which is the division of the state governments powers into 3 different branches namely, the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. There is doctrine has helped in keeping the government in order and providing stability.


Locke had stated that “ Unlimited Sovereignty is contrary to natural law” and ‘constitutionally limited government”. Locke had provided a detail explanation on how the government can remain in power as long as it performs its functions but when the government stops performing them, the citizens have the power to throw out the government and have the power to revolt  hence giving rise to impeachment. Today the citizens are provided with a more effective removal process. 

These contributions made by these 2 philosophers are extremely relevant today as they have established the main function of the government, which is welfare of the people.

[1]Thomas Hobbes ,Leviathan,  Pgae 9, De Cive 1650.

[2] Vinto helen, ,The audience of “leviathan” and the audience of hobbes’s political philosophy, 15, owl 2018.


1) Britannica,, (last visited May 15TH, 2021).

2)Battlefields,,life%2C%20liberty%2C%20and%20property.&text=In%20spite%20of%20their%20many,underlying%20all%20of%20civil%20society, (last visited May 15TH ,2021).

3) Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy,,(last visited May 15TH ,2021).

4) Manzoor Laskar, Summary of Social Contract Theory by Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, JST, 5, 2002.

5) Thomas Mouritz ,comparing the social contracts of Hobbes and Locke, JST, 5, 2002.

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