mikema63 wrote:I always took it as a sort of fundamental assumption to social contract theory, one which no one liked to talk about, that you just don't have a choice. The social contract is imposed on you without consent much like your being born in the first place.
Not really. At least in both Locke and Rousseau the social contract requires the consent of the every individual, otherwise he is not bound by it. This issue is discussed, but not properly addressed if you ask me. You could say the purpose of the exercise is to design a social contract which everyone willingly consents to given the alternative, which is the state of nature.
In the state of nature, man is assumed to be free and equal:
Locke wrote:TO understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.
A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection
Rousseau wrote:THE most ancient of all societies, and the only one that is natural, is the family: and even so the children remain attached to the father only so long as they need him for their preservation. As soon as this need ceases, the natural bond is dissolved. The children, released from the obedience they owed to the father, and the father, released from the care he owed his children, return equally to independence. If they remain united, they continue so no longer naturally, but voluntarily; and the family itself is then maintained only by convention.
This common liberty results from the nature of man. His first law is to provide for his own preservation, his first cares are those which he owes to himself; and, as soon as he reaches years of discretion, he is the sole judge of the proper means of preserving himself, and consequently becomes his own master.
For Locke, man gives up natural liberty in order to preserve life, civil liberty and estate.
Locke wrote:IF man in the state of nature be so free, as has been said; if he be absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest, and subject to no body, why will he part with his freedom? why will he give up this empire, and subject himself to the dominion and controul of any other power? To which it is obvious to answer, that though in the state of nature he hath such a right, yet the enjoyment of it is very uncertain, and constantly exposed to the invasion of others: for all being kings as much as he, every man his equal, and the greater part no strict observers of equity and justice, the enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe, very unsecure. This makes him willing to quit a condition, which, however free, is full of fears and continual dangers: and it is not without reason, that he seeks out, and is willing to join in society with others, who are already united, or have a mind to unite, for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name, property.
Rousseau obviously thinks the state of nature is pretty cool, so he comes up with something else.
Rousseau wrote:I SUPPOSE men to have reached the point at which the obstacles in the way of their preservation in the state of nature show their power of resistance to be greater than the resources at the disposal of each individual for his maintenance in that state. That primitive condition can then subsist no longer; and the human race would perish unless it changed its manner of existence.
I think there are 2 arguments here: First, civilized man is not capable anymore of living a primitive life. Second, uncivilized man does not have the power to defend his way of life.
Now in contrast to Locke Rousseau adds another benefit that comes with the social contract, namely "moral liberty": The liberty to act in accordance to self-imposed law.
Which, among other things, deserves further explanation, but I'm done for today.
Edit: I must add I haven't read Hobbes (the founder of the social contract theory). In his view, to my knowledge, the state of nature means "war of all against all", consequently every sovereign authority is legitimate (correct me if I'm wrong here).