Rousseau Social Contract Theory Essay

Total Length: 1575 words ( 5 double-spaced pages)

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Introduction

Several theorists have used social contract theory to understand the government’s role in taking care of the public and addressing the public’s needs. Current political issues offer further examination of social contract theory and how it may help with understanding government obligation and public participation. Rousseau's social contract theory is best and most relevant for understanding and offering solutions to contemporary political issues like mandatory vaccination, taxation, and universal healthcare because it offers a foundation from which to explain the perceived obligations of both the government and the public. Rousseau’s version of social contract theory contrasted against other theorists like Hobbes's and Locke's social contact theories demonstrates how one interpretation of a theory may be better suited for modern political issues over others.

According to social contract theory via Locke’s interpretation, when the government remains unsuccessful in securing natural rights or fulfilling society’s best interest often recognized as the "general will" according to Rousseau, citizens have the options of withdrawing their responsibility to obey, or alter the leadership via elections or other means that may include violence. Rousseau understood that democracy in this case, self-rule was the best means of ensuring welfare while maintaining a person’s individual freedom under law’s rule. Such thinking is a key strength of his version of social theory. However, the inherent weakness is the idea that the public has the right to choose a better leader. With the way politics goes in many countries, often political leaders are far from qualified, yet still get elected due to resources and popularity. Rousseau’s version of social contract theory has a social aspect to it that provides a better context to analyze what parts of the theory may provide a basis for resolution of modern political problems.

Some key terms to understand involve social contract theory. For example, social contract is an understood arrangement between members of society to collaborate in exchange of social benefits. A contract is an agreement or rule-based relationship among at least two bodies. The State of Nature represents the hypothetical conditions of how people’s lives were before the existence of societies.[footnoteRef:1] According to Rousseau, the sovereign relates to all of a nation’s citizens acting collectively. General will refers to society’s best interests. Although there are varying interpretations of the Noble Savage, Rousseau’s offer what some may see as the most sympathetic version; essentially men in a state of nature know not of evil and good. However, their independence, passions, and ignorance of vice, allow them to not committing acts to the detriment of others. [1: Professor John Rawls, A Theory of Justice: Original Edition (Belknap Press, 2009)]

A modern interpretation of social contract theory refers to two things: the ethical origins of the principles allowing sovereign power to be legitimate and/or just and the historical origins of said sovereign power.
[footnoteRef:2] Some potential solutions that may come out of understanding social contract theory and applying it to contemporary political issues, is the public’s right to choose what kind of healthcare options the government provides, what kind of vaccinations should be mandatory, and what forms of taxation must be allowed. If the government has an obligation to the citizens of a country, and especially within…

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…University Press, 2007)]

Universal healthcare is another key issue people often find difficult to support due to potential loss of freedoms like options for private insurance and medical treatment. However, with the government in control of healthcare, everyone within the nation is entitled to potential free healthcare at roughly the same quality and rate.[footnoteRef:11] They relinquish their potential options for a guaranteed level of service provided by the government. The trade-off then becomes what Rousseau saw, as a necessity. Looking at an example of the past, equality is something social contract theory provided a decent foundation for, because within the theory, the government became responsible for assuring equal opportunity to accumulate and own private property after the Civil War through amendments and Supreme Court cases.[footnoteRef:12] [11: Ryan Muldoon, Social Contract Theory for a Diverse World: Beyond Tolerance (London: Routledge, 2016)] [12: Aaron James, Fairness in Practice: A Social Contract for a Global Economy (Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press, 2013)]

Conclusion

In conclusion, contemporary political issues like taxation, mandatory vaccination, and universal healthcare can be addressed within the theoretical framework of social contract theory. Rousseau’s interpretation of social contract theory provides the best understanding of the obligations of both the government and the people. While people should respect the laws that the government makes and passes, the people also possess the right to contest these laws and fight for a potential rewriting of them, to suit the best interest of society. There are a multitude of ways to understand social contract theory. Both Hobbes and Locke have their own understanding and perspective. However, the social aspect….....

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Bibliography

Baker, Ernest. Social Contract, essays by Locke, Hume and Rousseau. Read Books Ltd, 2013.

Bertram, Christopher. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Rousseau and the Social Contract. London: Routledge, 2004.

Daniels, Norman. Just Health: Meeting Health Needs Fairly. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Hobbes, Thomas, George H. Smith, and Wendy McElroy. Leviathan. [United States]: Wilder Publications, 2015.

James, Aaron. Fairness in Practice: A Social Contract for a Global Economy. Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Locke, John, and C. B. Macpherson. Second Treatise of Government. Hackett Publishing, 1980.

Muldoon, Ryan. Social Contract Theory for a Diverse World: Beyond Tolerance. London: Routledge, 2016.

Rawls, Professor John. A Theory of Justice: Original Edition. Belknap Press, 2009.

Rosenblatt, Helena. Rousseau and Geneva: From the First Discourse to the Social Contract, 1749-1762. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Williams, David L. Rousseau's Social Contract: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press, 2014.

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