The Social Contract Theory of John Locke

The Social Contract Theory of John Locke

Recently in a conversation regarding the social contract theory I mentioned a paper I wrote for my maters degree.  After reading several versions of others, I thought I would share as well.  While I believe many are far better written than mine, my research was fairly intense to come up with the following.  I truly hope you enjoy…

A research paper by Chris Grollnek


The social contract theory is a virtual agreement between members of society delegating their authority to a governmental body for protections. It allows citizens freedoms to live without fear of experiencing mistreatment by a stronger more capable person in a relatively “normal” manner. Protection for individual’s dates back to the beginning of time and history establishes patterns that continue to repeat themselves. Members of a given society forfeit their rights to self-govern by a binding agreement between them and their government. Today communities look to police and security officers to provide protection and enforcement services without violating civil boundaries. Agency administrators must ensure their personnel understand the balance between values and enforcement to maintain public trust and citizens rights. They do this by developing policies and practices that focus on personal rights, ethical standards, and a strong value system. Social contract theory extends beyond governing and protections; it is a balance of humanity that simply requires a semblance of guidance.

Analysis of The Social Contract Theory

The development of the social contract theory was during the time society began to understand an agreement for coexisting was necessary. The theory is an idea that people need certain rules and values to abide by to function as one safely. It acts as a roadmap outlining a proper way for members of the same geographic makeup to function as one in a society. In the virtual contract, people or members of the society, forfeit their right to self-governance to abide by governmental regulations and laws. The theory allows people to live without fear and ensures protection from stronger more capable people attempting to wrong them. The theory relieves threats of civil and religious wrongdoings by suggesting each human being is an individual, entitled to happiness, and should remain free (Souryal, 2007, p. 78).

Values of Social Contract Theory Consistent with Criminal Justice and Private Security

The values of the social contract theory are applicable to both the criminal justice system and private security agencies. The missions of both express the need for values and social conscience. As individuals voluntarily surrender their rights to the govern themselves, an assembly of justice specialists are essential. Since the beginning of these needs, both public and private policing have coexisted.

Private security professionals share similar responsibilities to public police officers such as general duties. Ensuring their ethical obligation to serve and not abuse are two contrasting issues problematic for both professions. Although there are differences in duties, they mirror each other in scope (Larrabee, 2007). Public police perform additional duties not typically carried out by private police. The difference in the two occupations is a matter of law established by governmental policy. Whereas both can be sworn to have ‘special police powers’, public police officers generally exercise them more freely. For reasons of certification, liability, and oversight, private police focus on protection and public police with enforcement. Both public and private policing have ethical boundaries fundamentally the same but regulated in a different fashion. Protecting others and their property without becoming overpowering to enforce laws and policy on a case-by-case basis requires oversight (Bates, 1989).

The cycle of the social contract theory extends a step beyond to support the justice system. That system has rights and values monitored and enforcement at a higher level of authority. Oversight of public and private criminal justice representatives is found in the court system. Acting as another tier within the system, the courts must remain neutral and ethically balanced to provide equal justice for all (Reese, 2003).

Major Differences of the Social Contract Theories

            Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) belief in the social contract theory is noted for the evolution of its principles. Hobbes was a believer of individuals entering shared agreements to ensure their safety and well-being. Resolving conflict and disagreements is the direct responsibility of a central governmental authority. Absent that authority, individual property and personal safety would be at risk (Souryal, 2007, p. 78, 79). Souryal states Only through a “social contract,” Hobbes argued, can a man be transformed from his “natural state” to that of a civil society” (Souryal, 2007, p. 79).

John Locke (1632-1704) used Hobbes theory as a foundation from which he built. The theme of Locke was that the social contract had a direct correlation to freedom. Locke was a believer in liberalism instead of total monarchy as seen by Hobbes. Locke was a believer in mans morale judgment, which Hobbes was not. The need for a government to be involved to solve conflict would only be acceptable in the resolution of exceptional disputes (Souryal, 2007, p. 79). These differences in opinion between Hobbes and Locke are simple understandings of human beliefs. Observing these differences through the modern social contract theory make them easier to discern.

Key Principles Associated with Locke’s Social Contract Theory

According to the Constitution Society “The social contract is very simple. It has only two basic terms: (1) mutual defense of rights; and (2) mutual decision by deliberative assembly. There are no agents, no officials, that persist from one deliberative assembly to another” (Constitution Society, 2007).

The first term is outlining the simplicity of the theory and what provides its success and capability. Individuals make up groups who set forth the duties of assemblies called militia. Processes and practices could be common from one assembly to another but are separate except for the militia aspect. The second term predates the Constitution but is similar in meaning.

Locke believed that mankind is a social animal capable of coexisting with limited conflict if governed. People are equal and deserve freedom and protection simultaneously. Peace is a norm that sometimes needs to be enforced through violent measures to protect the whole. Mankind is aware of right and wrong and at times the minority of these “good people” tend to set aside what is right or wrong for self-interests. The need for impartial justice is absolute and to achieve that goal, policing through governmental oversight is good practice (Souryal, 2007, p. 79-80).

Key Principles of Social Contract Theory as Inculcated in the U.S. Bill of Rights

As the Constitution was adopted state by state, many expressed concern that clarification was in order. This was not the first time that such clarification was sought. Pre dating the Bill of Rights relating to social liberties is the Magna Carta. On June 15, 1215, King John of England signed a document recognized as the first step to a Constitutional Government in England. The document is known as the Magna Carta drafted by Archbishop Stephen Langton (Magna Carta, 2010). The Magna Carta represented 37 English laws and was the foundation for Civil Rights in England. The rights drafted in the Magna Carta are the foundation for The United States Bill of Rights. The United States Constitution and Bill of Rights both reference the Magna Carta (Magna Carta, 2010). As an example, Article 21 from the Declaration of Rights in the Maryland Constitution of 1776 reads: “That no freeman ought to be taken, or imprisoned, or disseized of his freehold, liberties, or privileges, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any manner destroyed, or deprived of his life, liberty, or property, but by the judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land.”

The Bill of Rights drills down into the Constitution for clarification for the rights of individuals.  Members of society willfully forfeiting their rights to self govern must establish a backstop to ensure equal representation.  Public and private criminal justice representatives must abide by these amendments in efforts to control their powers (Bill of Rights, 2011).

Principles Exercised in the Criminal Justice System and Security Settings

Policies and guidelines are important as they set a clear goal to accomplish a specific task while outlining objectives and standards. Public police are held to principle standards outlined and derived from both federal and state laws and statutes. These principles set boundaries for law enforcement officers to operate within. Adhering to policies ensures public trust by means of measureable standards.

Essential policies for public officers are found in a general orders manual under a section generally titled ‘Professional Standards and Ethics.’ Sections of professional standards manuals do not typically include a standard operating policy; instead it is a guide to acceptable behavior. With the roles and responsibilities of public police forces developing into problem-solving, goal-oriented professionals; it is essential to have these in place.

Important qualities sought when hiring public police is integrity and one who is willing to lead a personal life unsullied by corruption and poor morale standards. The ability to outline that would not be reasonable if not set forth in a policy of professional standards. Departments that side step this vital procedure expose themselves to liability and either civilian or Department of Justice oversight (Reese, 2003).

Freedom Related to Personal Rights, Ethical Standards, and Obligation

         Societies and sub-cultures set the pace for how police and security respond to their duties. Governments grow along with communities and the sub-cultures develop along different paths of those communities. Following numerous high-profile cases of racial profiling, police and security executives have begun to address bias-based policing. Finding that several officers conducted interdiction and enforcement by profiling on the basis of race instead of fact. Working together within the community, developing policies, and procedures, an era of community-based policing works well with the social contract theory. Each model of community-oriented policing is different from the next as individual community cultures differ from city to city (Reese, 2003).


The social contract theory is basic and necessary for societies to function with limited fear of oppression. The virtual contract permits happiness of individuals and the potential for prosperity. Structuring the value-based system, the people have a choice in the freedoms they enjoy and limit those that are over-reaching. The U.S. Bill of Rights is an example of the possibilities within the contract to maintain individual guarantees against “shake down” tactics. Organizing acceptable responses from public or private police agencies will set acceptable standards. The social contract theory remains in the hands of the people.


Bates, N.D. (1989, August). Special Police Powers: Pros and Cons. Security

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Constitution Society. (2007). The Social Contract and Constitutional Republics. Retrieved from

Bill of Rights. (2011). Retrieved from

Larrabee, A.K. (2007, November). The Debate on Private Versus Public Policing.

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Middle Ages. (2010). Magna Carta 1215. Retrieved from http://www.middle-

Reese, R. (2003). The Multiple Causes of the LAPD Rampart Scandal (p. 92). California

State Polytechnic University. Retrieved from

Souryal, S.S. (2007). Ethics in Criminal Justice in Search of the Truth (pp. 78-80).

Newark, NJ: Matthew Bender & Company, Inc.

The Social Contract Theory of John Locke

A research paper by Chris Grollnek

Active Shooter Prevention Expert and Policy Strategist

By Chris Grollnek

Active Shooter Prevention Trainer and Public Speaker PROFESSIONAL SUMMARY: Chris Grollnek is a dynamic Public Speaker and forward-thinking Director of the Active Shooter Prevention Project, LLC. ( An Interview and Investigation specialist with a record of success at the Executive and National level for Leadership and Management efficiencies regarding Policy and the Curriculum Development for Terrorism related Prevention. Chris recently wrote and appeared in the Department of Justice Active Shooter prevention Training Video (2022-2023). Complete understanding of government and corporate contracting and investigative programs to enhance corporate standards of policy implementation. An architect of efficiencies with a results-oriented pattern of success in investigative techniques, security, safety, sales leadership, and interviewing while leading teams and establishing best practices. A well-versed public speaker, freelance television contributor, and radio news commentator. Experience in testifying before serval governmental bodies, including The United States Congressional bodies of the House and Senate committees, regarding Terrorism Prevention, Response, and Training Initiatives. #activeshooterexpert #NEVERHERE