Social Contract and its Relevance to Political Science

The Concept of Social Contract

The previous articles have discussed the development and growth of modern nation states along with an analysis of what made the west forge ahead of the east. The key theme in the discussion was that the west was able to grow faster than the east because of strong institutions and the provision of a social contract to its citizens that guaranteed access to basic services as well as enforcing the rule of law. Further, capitalism needs well functioning markets and judiciary and this has been arranged in the west through the concept of the social contract. The term social contract refers to the forging of the agreement that is informal but yet potent between the individual and the state. In other words, the state is obliged to follow certain responsibilities towards its citizens and give them constitutional rights. In turn, the citizens are expected to have certain duties that they have to carry out as part of their acquiescence to the social contract. This means that the west was able to convince its citizens to employ themselves productively and to follow the rule of law and in turn, the citizens were expected to discharge their end of the agreement.

Origin and Practice of the Social Contract

The social contract was a term that was coined during the Enlightenment and the Renaissance in Europe and it was accepted and followed in the west as an example of the relationship between the individual and the state. The western countries persuaded other countries in the east to form their own versions of the social contract and to ensure that their citizens were guaranteed rights in exchange for duties. For instance, people in the west take for granted that the state would be able to provide them the basic services and in turn, they would be expected to pay their taxes and follow the rules. Of course, in recent years, there has been erosion in the social contract in the west as well and this is mainly due to the corrosion that has crept in between individuals as well as the loss of legitimacy of the state following the ongoing global economic crisis. Having said that, it must be remembered that many failed states in Africa and Asia do not even have the rudimentary systems of governance that enforce the social contract and hence, despite setbacks the western model is indeed worthy of emulation.

Closing Thoughts

The point to be noted is that unless there exists a covenant between the state and the individual the very foundation of modern political science and the progression of state development is not possible. Hence, it is important for the countries in the world to have some form of the social contract and to enforce the basic principles so that there is a semblance of order and normality. The subsequent articles in this module discuss the components of the social contract including property rights and the key to unlocking capital that is the basis for the triumph of western capitalism.


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Political Science