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How was the social contract significant in the history of the world?

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lifeinlove | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted December 14, 2012 at 5:21 PM via web

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How was the social contract significant in the history of the world?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 14, 2012 at 5:34 PM (Answer #1)

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The social contract itself is not something that can ever be proved to have existed.  Therefore, the contract itself is not significant in the history of the world.  However, the idea of the social contract was been very significant in that it has provided part of the basis for the ideas of modern liberal democracies.

The idea of the social contract says that people extracted themselves from a potentially brutal state of nature through the creation of the social contract.  In the state of nature, there was no authority.  People had unlimited rights, but were also susceptible to having those rights taken away from them by stronger people.  The idea of the social contract holds that people then created governments to protect their rights.  In the social contract, they gave those governments the right to rule them if, in exchange, it would protect their basic human rights.  It is not clear that this ever actually happened.  Therefore, the contract itself may not have had any significant impact on world history.

However, this idea was been very significant.  It was set forth by such thinkers as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke during the Enlightenment.  It helped to bring about the idea that governments were supposed to exist by the consent of the governed.  They were also supposed to exist for the purpose of serving the people and protecting their rights.  This idea provided a philosophical basis for opposing monarchy and supporting democracy.  Locke’s and Rousseau’s ideas, therefore, formed the basis for the thought of the people who brought about the American Revolution.

In this way, the idea of the social contract has been tremendously significant because it has helped to bring about the system of liberal democracy that is enjoyed by many people in the world today.

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