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A social contract refers to a situation whereby people and their governments enter into agreements and both parties have distinct roles and responsibilities to play. It describes an appropriate relationship between citizens and their governments and implies that individuals should enter into mutual agreements with their governments and accept to observe rules and responsibilities associated with such an agreement, as a way of protecting themselves. The social contracts theory requires that an individual’s moral and political obligations be dependent on the agreement between him/her and the society/ government. It requires that political leaders should derive their authority from the people whom they lead. Such authority should only be exercised after consent of the ruled. Thomas Hobbes suggested that humans are willing to set up political society to avoid the state of nature, a condition of unlimited freedoms (Morris 113).
In addition, Jean-Jacques argued that people are obliged to respect and defend the rights of others if they want to gain reciprocal benefits from the society. However, most philosophers who are sensitive to racial difference argue that social contracts give incomplete reflections of a person’s moral and political life (Locke, Hume & Rousseau 67).
The Socrates asserts that people should make agreements that they can abide to without use of coercion. They postulate that a rational individual would deliberately use his/her conscience and surrender the freedom in exchange of benefits from those in power. Through social contracts, any drawbacks in the political systems or shortfalls of societal laws may be changed by the people through elections. John Rawl developed the theory of justice that states that human beings are rational and would thus make moral judgments from a universal and democratic point of view.
However, David Hume argued the idea of social contract and consent of the governed cannot exist in reality. He pointed that majority would pursue their individual self-interest desires at the expense of other members of the society. Legal scholars have as well argued that the agreements must be constitutional in ordered to be effective. Similarly, for social contracts to exist, both parties must voluntarily agree to observe the conditions and bear the consequences of non-adherence, an aspect which is not easily achieved in the real world situation. Furthermore, the theory has received strong critics from feminists who argue that it demeans the women’s social rights as they are considered subordinate to men. Mill referred to social contract as a racial contract that was be used by the whites to suppress blacks (Mills 40-41).
In conclusion, the idea of social contract is a paradox that calls for further thinking and research to determine its worth. This would help determine the prefect kind of relationship that should exist between citizens and the state, and the rules and laws that governs such a relationship. Who should propose these laws still remains unclear. An ideal social contract, therefore, should mutually benefit both parties.