The social contract is the concept of social and political philosophy, connected with the theory of establishment and essence of the state as the result of an agreement between people. According to this theory, people, being in a natural state, by free agreement create an institution that by force of law reliably provides for their natural rights given to them from birth and puts the beginning of their own civil life. In European philosophy, the idea of a contractual establishment of the state was expressed by the ancient Greek sophists and later it meets Epicurus and Lucretius.
From the medieval Christian philosophers, the idea of a social contract applied to the secular state was taken by Thomas Aquinas, thereby emphasizing the temporal and conditional nature of this institution as opposed to the eternal church of God, a church of divine origin. However, the concept of a social contract was fully developed by the thinkers of the New Time – T. Hobbes, S. Pufendorf, O. Sidney, J. Locke, J.-J. Rousseau. At the same time, various theoreticians of the social contract differently interpreted the natural state, the volume of rights alienated to the state, people’s sovereignty. Thus, for example, Hobbes, understanding the natural state as a “war of all against all,” and the nature of man as extremely egotistical, associated with the social contract the establishment of such a state that first of all ensure the peace and security of its members in society. For this, out of fear and fear for their lives, people transfer their natural rights to the state and limit their freedom.
The state is endowed with truly unlimited, absolute power. Unlike this absolutist point of view, Locke developed the liberal concept of a social contract. Uniting in the state, people give him only a small part of the rights for the protection of their basic natural rights: personal freedom, freedom of speech and faith, property. These rights are inalienable, and the power is called upon to protect them. If it does not fulfill this primary task and violates the treaty, the people have the right not to support such power and establish a new government. Locke’s concept of the social contract, unlike the Hobbesian, included the idea of people’s sovereignty, according to which the people are the source of all power.
While creating the doctrine of a social contract, its authors always had in mind real historical circumstances. For Hobbes – is a civil war in England, for Locke – it was on the agenda of English history the need for a constitutional restriction of the monarchy. However, they did not turn to historical, but to normative, philosophical arguments. They were not interested in the depiction of actual historical events or how real states appeared in history, but in analyzing the conditions under which such an occurrence could be considered legitimate; not an authentic picture, but a rational, constructive model. At the same time, the impact of the doctrine of a social contract on real historical processes cannot be overestimated.
The theory of the social contract and the idea of popular sovereignty closely connected with it played a significant role in the socio-political development of Europe and America. Having arisen as an alternative to the notion of the divine origin of power widespread in feudal society, the theory of the social contract served as a justification for the overthrow of absolute monarchies in England and France, and in North America for the establishment of a republican constitutional system. Its far-reaching consequence was the periodic election of the authorities, widespread in all modern democratic countries, by popular vote, which in effect means a conclusion of a social agreement every time.