Can Political Obligation Be Exlained Through the Idea of a Contract - Essay Sample

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  8
Wordcount:  1952 Words
Date:  2022-11-23


In general, the statement "political obligation" is the honorable duty to follow the laws of the nation. The requirement contains more than just the constitutional and self-interested justifications, primarily the concern that a person violating the rules is punished. When analyzing political obligations, one significant requirement is obedience to the law because it is the law. History of political obligation can be traced back to a time when the world viewed God and the natural order to be part of the legislative authority that had to be obeyed (Dunn, 1996). In the Sixteenth century, there arose questions of the role played by the political obligation, when liberal critics viewed the government as unjust, with the rise of the liberal political theory. In the liberal tradition, duties were believed to be traditionally rooted in the permission of those ruled. This consent is related to the theory of social contract which was entered by citizens when they left the state of nature.

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A social contract is a view that a person's governmental and chaste duties depend on the agreement and contract among the people to form their community. In his arguments, Socrates uses a likeness to a social contract to explain to Crito the reasons why he should accept the death penalty and remain in prison, rather than escaping and going to exile in another Greek city. Speaking in the voice of the Athens, Socrates says that he has acquired a moral obligation to obey the laws since they have made his entire way of life and his existence possible. His life and the way it flourishes are dependent upon the laws (Poster, 1998). The relationship between the laws of the city and its citizens are not forced. Once citizens grow up, they can choose to stay in the city and obey the laws or leave. By staying, one agrees to abide by the laws and accept a death penalty. The contract that is represented by Socrates is showed by the choice he makes to stay in Athens, even though he is free to leave.

Social contract theory is linked to the modern political theory and moral, and its full defense is given by Hobbes and John Locke. This critical theory has been discussed by these best-known proponents, the most dominant theory within the political and moral explanation through the renaissance of the modern West. Lately, scholars from contrastive points of view have offered their criticisms of the social contract theory.

According to the opponents of political authority, if citizens did not consent to conditions in which they were ruled or the government ruling them, they were free to resist, and the political obligations stopped existing. In the consent theory, John Locke argues that political dominance can only be based on the consent and permission of each person (Connor, 1973, p9). He acknowledges that some members of the community have agreed to the government. He brings out the rationalism of tacit consent where anyone can obtain obligations through either ownership of property or through residing in a State. However, in the essay "of the original contract," David Hume doubts the tacit consent. According to Hume, many poor people do not know other cultures and are not financially stable to move from one country to another (Hume, and Cahn, 1752, p162). These people do not have many choices of residing in different countries and just that they have been living in the same place for many years is not a guarantee they have consented.

From the time of Hume's; people have been working tirelessly to be able to explain how they have consented to authority. Most advanced options such as being a part of a political system through voting have been criticized. When Immanuel Kant viewed the government contract as entirely theoretical rather than a real historical incident, he achieved some advancement (Wolf, 2006). He argued that given a chance, one would consent to the government. Scholars have tried to provide other grounds for political obligations. At the beginning of Hume's essay, he tends to agree with the notion that a truthful government is dependent on the consent of the governed. He seems to coincide with the social contract idea of how the first government came forth in the past. Those who defend the social contract seem to think that the current government highly depends on the contract among the people (Brownsey, 1978). Hume distinguishes two ways of understanding this idea: a normative thesis of political philosophy and a normative thesis of political sociology.

According to the normative thesis of political sociology, most individuals get angry when they are notified that their rights have been violated. Also, people rightfully or wrongfully believe that their obligation to obey the government lies within their consent. Hume replies to this thesis by saying that it is not a fact. It does not mean that the social contract idea as a normative thesis is false. The normative thesis as a political philosophy holds to the notion that people should submit to the government only if promised or consented to do so. Hume disagrees with this idea by saying: consent cannot carry weight unless it is voluntary (Hume and Cahn, 1752). A person cannot be forced to perform duties based on the promises they were forced to make (Brownsey, 1978). He also outlines that the only reason we are forced to keep our commitments is to maximize our society utility. It would be better if we just left out promises and focus on the notion that the government is based on efficiencies. Introducing the idea of promises creates a cog which does not work.

The idea of a social contract developed in the seventeenth century. It started when John Locke and Thomas Hobbes used the theory to distinct ends (Dunn, 1996). Other philosophers also depended on the theory of social contract, but the contract theory of political duty remains a classic expression of Locke's Second Treatise of government and Hobbes's Leviathan. For Hobbes, the contract theory initiated the dominance of any person who was disposed to hold and preserve power. He argued that if we imaged ourselves in a state of being where there is no government and laws to guide us, we would notice that every individual is independent and naturally equal. But this state of life will turn a man against man, everyone wanting to lead the other.

So to escape the condition of war with one another, people must enter into a covenant to obey a single ruling government that will have the power to give, interpret and make laws. He calls this form of social contract "sovereignty by institution," but insists that those who conquer gain their authority through "sovereignty by acquisition" over their subjects. In either way, he mentioned that the subjects agree to obey those in power whether they have a choice or not and therefore must abide by the sovereign whether it has been acquired or instituted.

Locke differs from Hobbes's in his conclusions. According to Locke, equal and free individuals in a nation come up with a government so that they can avoid inconveniencies of that State (Dunn, 1996). His social contract has two stages; in the first one, the naturally free people agree to form themselves into political society, under the law. In the second, they form the government. This allows him to argue in contrast with Hobbes that revolution has a right on the ground and that overthrowing the government cannot return people to the state of nature immediately. He does not agree with Hobbes that specified submission to a conqueror entails a form of consent to their rule. He, however, agrees with Hobbes that obligations can be obtained to obey the law from the governed consent.

His argument reveals three problems associated with the social contract theory: one is whether the nature of the contract is hypothetical or historical (Dunn, 1996). If it is historical, then the problem shows that many people have entered into such a contract. If the contract is designed to be an instrument that shows how individuals have given their consent, then the difficulty is that a contract which is hypothetical is not a contract at all. The second problem is that of Hobbes and Locke depending on the tacit consent. This is to argue that the only explicit and express statements of commitment or agreement can be counted as unquestionable consent. It appears that a few individuals have consented to adhere to the laws of their States, but if tacit consent is permitted, the consent concept may reach a further stretch. Hobbes agrees to this when he summates consent as compliance to a conqueror. Locke lucks through also when he states in the second treatise that "the very being of any person within the territories of a government amounts to tacit consent."

It is not comprehendible that the key to political obligations in these theories is consent. In Hobbes theory, it seems that anyone who can keep up with order should be obeyed. In Locke's, it appears that we cannot consent to everything. We will defeat the purpose of entering the social contract if we agree to place ourselves under an absolute ruler. The reason for entering into the social contract is for liberty and to protect our lives and property (Dunn, 1996). David Hume was among the first people to find fault in the argument from contract and consent. In the book "of the original contract," he takes specific exception to the appeal to tacit consent. For Hume, the obligation to obey the law hails from the straightforward service of a module of rules that help people to peacefully and conveniently practice their welfare, outside contract and consent (Hume and Cahn, 1752).

In the last decades, social contract theory has acquired enormous attention. The familiarity of its instance has brought more carelessness as compared to contempt. The new vocabulary of the social contract is hardly taken back to the basics. It springs up confusions most of the times as definition of terms regularly differ. Given Hobbes insistence on the definition accuracy, this is regrettable. When inquiring about political obligation, the most appropriate starting point should be the ability to ask what it means to have and to be under such a duty. It is demanded that a clear definition of this term is offered by being separated from the synonymous terms, "duty" and "ought" obligations and duties could not be the only reasons for us to take up moral actions (Wolf, 2006). It is essential for everyone to know their responsibilities about specific tasks so that one can find what they are supposed to do.


The contemporary Western society is under contractual thinking. Those who uphold the idea of the contractual model have informed some interactions between students and their teachers, and readers and their authors. Given this, we cannot underestimate the impact of the social contract theory in the broader culture and philosophy (Wolff, 1998). The theory will be with us for more years and use in the future. The critics of this theory will continue existing to make us think and rethink of our nature and our relations with one another. For instance, in recent years, more scholars have come up with different lines of arguments for political obligations. New theories that are based on principles of gratitude and also consent have been established based on the fact that a person is a member of a given community and the natural duty of justice.


Brownsey, P.F., 1978. Hume and the social contract.

Connor, W., 1973. The politics of ethnonationalism. Journal of International Affairs, pp.1-21.

Dunn, J., 1996. The History of Political Theory and other essays. Cambridge University Press.

Hume, D. and Cahn, S.M., 1752. Of the original contract. Reading political philosophy: Machiavelli to...

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