What Is the Role of the Individual in Society?

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According to the writings of philosopher John Locke, the individual gives consent in establishing society, but the individual has an obligation to obey laws. An individual can only become a member of society if he gives consent.

In modern society, it is generally believed that the rights of the individual triumph over the community, but the individual is not entirely free from the group. A person becomes part of the whole, willingly or unwillingly, by giving up some freedoms to attain safety and foster social bonds. For example, an individual must obey laws and social norms to be accepted by the community. According to certain philosophies, such as the social contract, the individual plays a vital role in allowing society to function.

The social contract is an idea that began with Plato but was expanded upon by British philosopher Thomas Hobbes. His view was that groups give power to elites in exchange for protection, but it was John Locke who highlighted that the individual voluntarily legitimizes people who hold authority.

According to Locke’s view, humans come from a natural state, where they are free of authority in all forms. The individual comes from a place of natural freedom to form society and establish governance. While Locke believed that individuals are obligated to submit to authority, he also maintained that people had a duty to overthrow the state if it abused its power, an idea that became popular with the founding fathers of the United States.