John Locke's social contract theories differed in one key aspect from others. Locke felt that mankind's natural state was of freedom and individuals entered into a contract with other people to ensure that freedom.
The Basis of Early Social Contract Theories The concept of a social contract started with the Greek philosopher Socrates. Socrates believed that the tenets of modern society were based on the laws created to govern that society. Those who chose to stay within such a society, after they were old enough, should follow the laws of that society, or else expect to suffer the consequences for breaking those laws. This, in turn, helped perpetuate a lawful society where its citizens were bound by the law but could expect certain benefits for observing those laws.
John Hobbes is another philosopher, who lived in 15th-century England during the English Civil War. It was Hobbes's belief that although all members of a society were created equal, people within that society must subject themselves to the monarchy in order for that society to survive. Hobbes believed in the hypothetical state of nature, which states that individuals operate in a state of self-interest, which can quickly lead to death for many individuals as others took what they wanted with no regard to the rights of others. To avoid this, individuals sought to create a civil society to avoid this state. The civil society demanded that the individual subject themselves to rule by one person, or a group of people, who they invested with the power to enforce the laws of society, thus ensuring that society continued to exist.
Where Locke's Social Contract Theory Differed Like Hobbes before him, Locke believed in rule by the monarchy as a means to establish and enforce social order. Where he differed was in his view of the state of nature. According to Locke, the state of nature while prepolitical, was not premoral. Locke further believed that the Law of Nature, which governs nature and its morality, commanded that members of society did no harm to others in regard to their life, liberty, health or possessions. In Locke's view, the state of nature was, in fact, a state of liberty, where all members of society had the right to pursue their own interests. By subjecting themselves to a social contract with the rulers they appointed in a lawful society, individuals ensured that they retained the freedoms that they so cherish.
How Locke's Social Contract Theory Influenced Others Locke's philosophies and influence on modern society were far-reaching, even extending to the formation of the American Colonies into the bastion of freedom the country is today. It was Locke's ideas that were considered one of the most important influences in the formation of the United States. The founding fathers looked to his ideas and writings to form the basis for the Declaration of Independence, especially when it came to the right of the individual to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Without Locke's writings, the U.S. would probably be a far different country than the one that exists today.