Social Contract Theory

Rousseau: The Social Contract

800px-Jean-Jacques_Rousseau_(painted_portrait)The Social Contract (French: Du Contrat Social) is a 1762 treatise by Jean Jacques Rousseau, outlining a theory of political rights based on unlimited popular sovereignty.

In contrast to Hobbes, Rousseau argues that is only in political society that human beings can be truly free. His suggestion that under circumstances people must be forced to be free has led some to see him as an authoritarian, although this has been challenged by those who stress his egalitarian republicanism. His undoubted role as a key intellectual influence on the French Revolution has given point to the controversy.

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Free online texts

Early Modern Texts: The Social Contract, adapted and translated into modern English, by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format.

Gutenberg: The Social Contract and Discourses, translated by G.D.H. Cole. EPUB, HTML, MOBI and TXT formats.

Internet Archive: A Treatise on the Social Compact. English translation. Multiple formats. Digitisation of a copy owned by John Adams.

Online Library of Liberty: Ideal Empires and Republics. Rousseau’s Social Contract, More’s Utopia, Bacon’s New Atlantis, Campanella’s City of the Sun, with an Introduction by Charles M. Andrews (1901). Multiple formats.

University of Adelaide (Internet Archive): The Social Contract. EPUB, HTML and MOBI formats.

Wikisource: French texts and English translation by George Douglas Howard Cole. HTML and other formats.

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John Locke: Two Treatises of Government

Embarquement_de_Guillaume_d'Orange_pour_l'Angleterre_en_1688The Two Treatises of Government by John Locke are seminal works in the history of the liberal tradition, originally published in the aftermath of England's Whig revolution of 1688, with which Locke was intimately involved, though written some years earlier.

The First Treatise attacks the doctrine of the divine right of kings, defended by Anglican theologians such as Sir Robert Filmer, an important bulwark of the legitimacy of the Stuart monarchs.

The Second Treatise offers Locke's positive political theory, putting forward a social contract argument, which unlike that of Hobbes, provides a basis for limited representative government. If this Locke's key significance for his admirers, his critics point to his theory of property, which allows for slavery, and has been interpreted as allowing greater to rights to those who exploit natural resources more fully, potentially favouring European settlers in the Americas over natives.

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Free online texts

Constitution.org: Second Treatise of Civil Government. HTML and TXT formats.

Early Modern Texts: Second Treatise on Government (1689), adapted and translated into modern English, by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format.

Gutenberg: Second Treatise of Government. Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: Two Treatises of Government, with Patriarcha by Robert Filmer, edited by Thomas I. Cook. Hafner Library of Classics. Multiple formats.

Liberty Fund: Two Treatises of Government, edited by Thomas Hollis. Multiple formats. See also enhanced edition.

Marxists.org: The Second Treatise of Government. HTML format.

University of Adelaide (Internet Archive): The Second Treatise of Civil Government. Multiple formats.

Wikisource: Two Treatises of Government. HTML and other formats.

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Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan

Leviathan_by_Thomas_HobbesLeviathan by Thomas Hobbes is one of the outstanding works of political theory in the English language. It develops an early social contract theory to argue that human beings must put themselves under a single absolute sovereign as the only way out of a state of nature in which life is famously said to be 'nasty, brutish and short'.

For much of Hobbes' life such an argument would have been seen as favourable to the Stuart monarchy. By the time of Leviathan's publication in 1651, however, it could be read as supporting the effective authority of Cromwell's Commonwealth. Hobbes was acordingly repudiated by former associates among the exiled royalist court in Paris.

His time in France was nevertheless fruitful through associations with the leading philosophers and scientists of the day. This is reflected in the mechanical philosophy of the opening pages of Leviathan, in which living things are compared to automata, and the state to an artificial man, a figure memorably illustrated in the book's original frontispiece.

Leviathan at Amazon: United States | Canada | United Kingdom | France | Germany | Spain | Italy

Free online texts

Early Modern Texts: Leviathan, adapted and translated into modern English, by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format.

Gutenberg: Leviathan. Multiple formats. 

Internet Archive: Hobbes's Leviathan, edited by W.G. Pogson Smith (1909). Multiple formats.

Online Library of Liberty: Leviathan, edited by W.G. Pogson Smith (1909). Multiple formats.

Marxists.org: Leviathan (first five chapters) - from the Cambridge Revised Student Edition, Edited by Richard Tuck, 1996. HTML format.

University of Adelaide (Internet Archive): Leviathan. Multiple formats.

Wikisource: Leviathan. HTML and other formats.

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