State and Social Contract

Photo: https://joinfo.ua
Photo: https://joinfo.ua

What does social contract mean?

The phenomenon of so-called “Social Contract” has always drawn the attention of competent and outstanding representatives of international social, political, judicial and philosophical thought. Beginning from the ancient times until now, there have been written numerous works referring to the object of the issue.

While writing this analysis we are going to refer to the fundamental provisions and ideas of distinguished Jan Jacques Rousseau, French thinker, social actor of the period of Enlightenment and philosopher, as well as Hugo Grotius, Dutch thinker, lawyer and statesman.

«Du Contrat Social ou Principes du droit politique», one of the monumental works of Rousseau, which literally is translated as “About the Principles of Social Contract and Political Right” is fully devoted to the research of the topic, as the headline prompts.

According to Rousseau the history falls into two phases in terms of right. The first one is characterized by the domination of natural right. During this phase the power of natural right was intrinsic to the heterogeneous relations of social coexistence. Consequently, the animal instincts and wishes of people were the main landmark and dimension constructing and characterizing the lifestyle of communities both in individual and group levels. To put it in a nutshell, there was a single law in this phase: everybody does whatever they want. There was no single normative of lifestyle, behavior and customs, manners, social and political relations both in individual and group levels. It means that there was no any other principle besides the factor of power interrelating between communities bonded together according to some similarities (ties of blood, identical beliefs) and conducting collective lifestyle.

Speaking about the natural right, Grotius advanced the idea that it is considered an indivisible part of human nature. The author of the human nature’s creation is the Creator of being. Thus, the right is inserted in the essence of man. In short, Grotius defines natural right literally, e.g. to give others what belongs them and implement our responsibilities towards them.

However, as we now, the most essential criterion distinguishing the person from the other representatives of animal world is the greatest award of having rationality. From this arises the second greatest value – the right to choose, in other words freedom, which is given to us from above. Referring to this universal values Rousseau explains the entry of humanity to a qualitatively new and differing from the first one stage, e.g. the era of rationality. Now the major feature characterizing the lifestyle of human community (together with its heterogeneous formats) appears to be rationality. Rousseau was deeply convinced that the fact man is rational, unavoidably brings about the emergence of new human category which is called morality, moral admonition, ethics (la moralitè). Actually, as for him rationality brings about morality. It is possible to define the so-called rationality as an ability of the individual to think, speak, reckon, analyze and also act, but what about morality? It is viewed by Rousseau as the individual’s consciousness and readiness to be responsible for his steps and actions in accordance with commonly accepted rules elaborated by the given community. We share the opinion that moral perceptions are conditioned by aesthetic taste, knowledge and experience.  Consequently, there are no common boundaries for morality, and everything is relative here. Somehow, trying not to wander away from the subject, it should be fixed that the human community overcoming the phase of natural right which was characterized by the idiom “weak is always to blame for the strong”, now enters a new historical era when the society obtains a new system of value both in individual and group levels, which was characterized not only by the factor of force, but the realization of being responsible for own actions. Every community works out norms, which are defined for universal application in accordance with the criteria intrinsic to their self-consciousness, which should serve as a guide from the perspective ensuring the unfailing activity of life rhythms. Commonly accepted principles are cultivated within the frames of inter-communal and interethnic relations.

 This brings up the question what should be done when any member of the community simply refuses to follow the fixed rules. That is where the unavoidable necessity of dealing a social contract arises. Proceeding from their mutual interests and the considerations of maintaining security, people came into consensus and signed a social contract. As a result of this civil authority and state, the institution in charge of it was created. The latter was entitled with the responsibility of maintaining the unfailing activity of social contract signed through the mutual consensus of the community members. In fact, as Grotius, Rousseau and others rightfully noticed that people were guided by mercenary motives while creating the state. People endow state institutions with the outstanding right of exercising compulsion in exchange requiring to ensure their physical safety and other preconditions of living. Regardless of the form of governance, whether monarchal, aristocratic or democratic, the main function of the state remains the guarantee of the protection of the main principles and clauses of social contract.

It is worth mentioning that initially Rousseau was against the phenomenon of civilization and the institution of state, labeling them as defective things impeding and mutilating the harmonious existence of human community. He advances in his work called «Émile ou de l’éducation» the idea that it is possible and realistic to form such a society where the role and the significance of the state would be minimized or abolished. The given ideas may seem utopian for some people, so let us view as a counterargument the example of Belgium. De facto, there was no government between 3 June, 2010 and 11 October, 2011. But it did not influence even trivially the intra-social functions of the community. This is the proof of Rousseau’s statements. Surely, taking into account the political and social developments in Europe and other regions the example of Belgium is an exclusive phenomenon, however, it proves that Rousseau’s vision can be one of the possible options of future prospects provided there are the will and appropriate level of social consciousness.

In his adult age, generally remaining true to his ideas, he accepts that in the current conscious level the institution of the state is necessary as a means of protecting the social contract. Besides, according to him, the mean objective of the state should be the following: to prevent the state apparatus from converting into an instrument serving the narrow interests of one particular stratum or group of people. In order to achieve this, the members of the society should reach such conscious level, when they prefer the interest of their state to their personal one understanding that private interest is maximally demonstrated in the frames of state interest.

The institution of lawmaking

From the above-mentioned we can fix the following: the state is considered to be the direct outcome of social contract simultaneously bearing in its shoulders the role of ensuring the unfailing and harmonious activity of social contract. For the state machine to implement the given mission successfully a necessity arises to cultivate and create laws and judicial norms constructing, regulating and ensuring the unfailing flow of the rhythms of social coexistence, that is widely accepted principles of social contract, that would derive from the will of the all and would serve the interests of all. Here the imperative of forming lawmaking body emerges, which is probable the most important state institution. Speaking about the role and significance of the given body in the process of maintaining the harmonious lifestyle of the community, Rousseau vested it the highest level of significance and responsibility. Consequently, as for him the talent of drafting laws is a God’s award, and the law writers are prophets or saints. However, according to Rousseau the judicial norms written by them should be subject to all-out voting and only after gaining the approval of the all (or at least the majority) be implemented. Thus, vesting to the institution of lawmaking the honor of drafting and cultivating judicial norms, Rousseau simultaneously deprived it of the right to exercise them individually, so any norm cultivated by the latter should be put to national vote.

It is worth mentioning the that the given mechanism of electoral system is nowadays being exercised in Switzerland , when any decision of national significance is put to national voting before being implemented in reality.

Automatically a question arises what is the main reason for such a respectful attitude of Rousseau to the institution of lawmaking. As we have already mentioned , for Rouso the source of morality is rationality, the highest level of the manifestation of which is civil society, which in its turn provides all the necessary prerequisites for the self-manifestation and self-expression of rationality. The vital role in the process of the formation of civil societies belongs to the representatives of legislative body. From this perspective, the legislators stop to be law writers, judges or politicians. The elaboration of legal rules aimed at regulating different spheres of social life has a function with high level of importance. Since it is those legal acts which mould the community’s general characteristics and the dimensions of its moral perceptions. In fact, the criteria of the moral self-consciousness of the public are created by the representatives of the judicial body.  As we were convinced, the lot fell on the latters to have the most important role in the process of forming the characterizing features of the societies.

Conclusion

Integrating and summarizing the above-mentioned we can distinguish the most important functions of state according to us:

  1. The protection and application of the principles, essential ideas and norms of the social contract, the objective and outcome of which should be ensure the unfailing and harmonious development of social life.
  2. The guarantee of physical safety of the community members and the protection of citizens’ and people’s fundamental rights.

Truly, according to Rousseau this can be reached even without the institution of the state, and view the latter as a negative and impeding factor in the way leading to harmony and the rule of law.  Nevertheless, he was forced to accept the fact that society’s current level of consciousness does not allow to implement the above-mentioned clauses without the state and its institutions, that is without the theoretical chance of exercising power. As it was mentioned, the exclusive right of exercising compulsion was one of the major features of state.

Thus, the presence of the institution of state is a necessary and imperative precondition for the peaceful and safe existence, as well as during the possible development of the nation.

The institution of lawmaking in the Armenian reality

On April 2, 2017 the elections for RA National Assembly of the fifth convocation were held. Five parties and four blocks were participating in the elections. Taking into account the consideration not to wander away from the subject it is unnecessary to go deep into the details of the electoral processes. In order to understand the general situation in the Armenian political sphere let us observe the imaginations of newly-elected elite’s representatives about the institution of the state and its mission, keeping in mind Rousseau’s views about the latter.

Take the interview of Eduard Sharmazanov, elected Deputy of the National Assembly by the proportional electoral system from the Republican Party of Armenia. Referring to the alarms, anxiety and concerns of citizens about the bribery and corruptions in the Armenian army, he said the following: “The one who stole one coin from that money is son of a bitch”.   Another example of this is the speech of Seyran Saroyan, elected Deputy of the National Assembly by the proportional electoral system from the same party: “I’ve never heard of someone stealing from the army and not getting head to toe in a difficult situation. Either their children become drag addicts or they lose those money in casinos. So let’s leave it on God’s discretion. It is better if the God punishes instead of the judge”. Such speeches can be easily found among the representatives of the legislative body. If we take into account the fact that as a result of constitutional amendments The National Assembly is the only body endowed with the function of lawmaking (by then the government were also entitled to come up with lawmaking suggestions), it becomes clear what impact and role has the National Assembly in the formation of myriad spheres in social and state- political life. From this perspective, the intellectual, conscious and educational level of the legislators is distressing. The people, who are entitled to work out judicial norms and paradigms intended to ensure the efficacy of the social contract, and present it to the national discussion, set one of the problems of the state to the hope of God. Instead of calling to account those who breach the universally accepted principles of the social contract, legislators are fully satisfied with cursing the thieves.

Due to a group of external and internal problems the newly sprouted enlightening movement did not have its logical development and end, deviated from its natural flow, and as a result came to end. The best proof of this is the destiny of group functioning in the 1770-s in Madras. The inception was promising, there were written such books as “Booklet of Aim” and “Snare of Glory”, which were very progressive for their time and based on liberal ideas. If the ideas of the above-mentioned books were implemented, the state which would be created on their basis would have been the first in the world with republican form of governing. But they did not gain the necessary support for their development and dissemination in Indian and other Armenian colonies, as well as in their motherland, were for some objective and subjective reasons social-political thought was directed to the ideas of launching fidayi struggle.

As a result, the Armenian social-political thought did not manage to reach the level where it would be possible to provide all the strata of the Armenian population with a unique ideological basis thus creating a solid community based on ideas and then launch a national-emancipating struggle with its full potential. The fading of enlightening movement had serious impacts on the Armenian reality the influence of which is noticeable today. Serious prerequisites of changing the situation emerged on September 21, 1991 by the restoration of Armenian state, the biggest and promising achievement is the generation of independence: a generation, the representatives of which are endowed with necessary willingness, knowledge and historical experience to launch the subsequent phase of the Armenian enlightening movement and lead it to the long-awaited and victorious end.


  1. Jean Jacques Rouseau, «Du Contrat Social ou Principes du droit politique», 1762,http://classiques.uqac.ca/classiques/Rousseau_jj/contrat_social/contrat_social.html
  2. Jean Jacques Rouseau, «Émile ou de l’éducation», 1762, https://archive.org/details/mileoudeldu02rous.
  3. Emile Or Education by J.J. Rouseau, Translated by Barbara Foxley, http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/rousseau-emile-or-education
  4. Աննա Խաչյան, Հուգո Գրոտիուսի իրավաքաղաքական ուսմունքը// Անհատը պատմության հոլովույթում, գիտաժողովի նյութերի ժողովածու, Երևան, 2015:
  5. Hugo Grotius, the law of War and Peace, Paris 1625. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/grotius-the-rights-of-war-and-peace-1901-ed
  6. James Wilford Garner, Political Science and Government, New York, 1928, /www.questia.com/read/348726/political-science-and-government
  7. http://ml.berkeley.edu/~saez/course/carneiro70.pdf
  8. Joseph Zarri, Aristotel’s Theory of the Origine of the State, 1948, http://www.scholardarity.com/?page_id=2410


Author: Hayk Paytyan. © All rights are reserved.

Translator: Khachik Makyan.


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