Declaration of Independence & Social Contract Theory

The concept of natural rights and the idea of the social contract were paramount in the thinking of the colonists when they challenged the right of Europe to control their economic and political lives. The Declaration of Independence is a restatement of Locke and Rousseau, and the same concepts would be embodied in the Constitution. The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen would be influenced by the same sources and by the Declaration of Independence as well. The idea of the social contract infuses all of these documents, an idea honed by Locke and Rousseau, though the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Man have somewhat different visions of individual rights and responsibilities as a comparison will show.

The idea of the social contract holds that political society rests ultimately on a voluntary agreement whereby people in a state of nature agree to give up some of the freedom they enjoy in that state as a way of assuring their security and other advantages in a social structure under law. A contrast is set up between the state of nature and society, though the precise difference depends on one's view of what the state of nature actually entails. For Locke, the state of nature was a state of full natural rights so that there had to be a compelling advantage in any social agreement that would replace it. For Hobbes, the state of nature was a state of warfare, and there was every reason to seek protection in a



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Category: Philosophy - D
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