POG240 Written Assignment 1
Question: According to the “contractarian view of the state, what are the conditions under which a state (civil society) will emerge from an initial “state of nature “? Do you agree or disagree with this view? Why?
A question that has dawned over political theorists since the beginning of civilizations focuses particularly on the dark history related to humans’ “state of nature”. The term was devised out of two differing views of the state. The state being a unit that bases its rule over citizens on forces such as coercion and intimidation. Any such resemblance that cannot coerce and is unable to control its subjects would be considered a failed state. The two views of the state presented focus on potential conflicts. The predatory view examines probable conflicts of interest between its people and the state, where the state threatens the security of the citizens, making it possible for exploitation. Clashing from this view, and the perspective that will be focused on throughout this paper, is the contractarian view of the state. This paper will discuss the conditions under which a state will emerge from its “state of nature”, and how this perspective translates accurately with present day societies.
The contractarian view of the state resulted out of Thomas Hobbes’ attention towards the state of nature as being “a war of every man against every man”. This pessimistic view was influenced by his upbringing in England during a period of political and social mayhem. Hobbes famously described life in the state of nature as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” In an attempt to resolve what individuals undergo in the state of nature, Hobbes wished to create something sovereign. This entity would be implicitly created for people to contract with one another to “give up their natural rights” to the sovereign in return for protection. According to this view, the social contract between citizens would be implemented to elevate society from a sort of brutish chaos, to a civil society with a sovereign body to protect and serve. In Hobbes’ ideological sense, the institution of the social contract is quite a primitive response to human nature as a whole. The discussion surrounding the contractarian view of the state is not to represent such human nature as barbaric. In fact, in a stylized representation, in what is known as Game theory; it is used to display structural aspects of the state of nature and the dilemma individuals face.
Hobbes describes two individuals that desire the same thing. In this artificial scenario, there are essentially two actions to choose from. In the first option, the individuals can choose to “steal”, or in the second option they can choose to “refrain”. The definitive conflict is not based on any sovereign coercive power, but the instinct on what the other individual might do. Holding every individual to the standard that they will only act for their own good is far drawn. However methodically, the contractarian view, if implemented correctly, is a well thought out strategy towards empowering the citizen and the state. The contractarian view is a valid foundation for political structures and institutions seen in present day societies, not just from the Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau eras. There is a variety of forms of social contracts embedded in today’s governments, that are not given much thought. Examples of such can take the form of several constitutions with entrenched rules governing the citizens of said state or nation. A nation’s constitution is quite significant to the social order and governance of its citizens, containing the civil rights of peoples as well as their obligations to the government. Without such structures in place, it is quite possible that individuals could fall susceptible to actions parallel to what Hobbes describes in the state of nature.
In short, this paper discussed the origins of the contractarian view of the state and the realities of the “state of nature” through the stylized representation, Game Theory. With the brutal reality of the state of nature, Thomas Hobbes describes it as necessary for a social contract to be established amongst citizens with a third-party sovereign body. This dynamic is currently implemented in many societies today and attests to Hobbes’ standpoint that without a sovereign body, there would be nothing to compel individuals not to deviate from society’s norms. Hobbes’ view of mankind in the state of nature does appear to be a crude version of society, as it cannot be assured that each person will act in a foul manner. However, without these political theories coined, human nature would take form in a changed socio-political landscape.