Origin of Society and Social Contract Theory!
Man is a social animal. Before we explain the relationship between man and society, it may be worthwhile to explain the origin of society.
The Origin of Society:
A number of theories have been put forward to explain the origin of society. Thus the Divine Origin theory makes society the creation of God. Just as God created all the animals and inanimate objects of this world, so he created the society as well. This theory in course of time, particularly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries took the form of Divine Right Theory.
The Force theory makes society the result of superior physical force. According to this theory, the society originated in the subjugation of the weaker by the stronger. In the primitive times the man of exceptional physical strength was able to overawe his fellowmen and to exercise some kind of authority over them.
Thus through physical coercion or compulsion men were brought together and made to live in society. The Patriarchal and Matriarchal theories make society the expansion of family system. Sir Henry Maine defines patriarchal theory as ‘the theory of the origin of society in separate families, held together by the authority and protection of the eldest male descendant’.
He believed that society is the family writ large. The matriarchal theory suggests that polyandry and transient marriage relations were more common in primitive times than monogamy or polygamy. Under such circumstances descendance is traced through the mother for, as Jens point out motherhood in such cases is a fact, while paternity is only an opinion.
Social Contract Theory:
In addition to these theories the social contract theory views society as a contrivance deliberately set up by men for certain ends. According to this theory, all men were born free and equal. Individual precedes society. Individuals made a mutual agreement and created society. According to Hobbes, man in the state of nature was in perpetual conflict with his neighbours on account of his essentially selfish nature. In his own words, the life of man was ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.’
Every man was an enemy to every man. To protect himself against the evil consequence man organised himself in society in order to live in peace with all. Locke, another social contract thinker, believed that the state of nature was not a state of war. It was a state of ‘peace, goodwill, mutual assistance, and preservation.’
The only disadvantage of the state of nature was that there was no recognised system of law and justice in it. To make good this deficiency and ensure the exercise of his liberty man entered into a contract by which certain powers were conferred upon the community. J. J. Rousseau in his Contract Social (1762) held that men in the state of nature were equal, self-sufficient, and contented.
They lived a life of idyllic happiness and primitive simplicity. But growth in numbers of men and the quarrels arising among them necessitated the establishment of civil society. Consequently men entered into a contract in virtue of which everyone, while uniting himself to all, remains as free as before. According to Adam Smith, society is an artificial device created to foster a mutual economy.
Brief Criticism of the Various Theories:
The above theories of the origin of society do not provide an adequate explanation of its origin. All of them have been subjected to numerous criticisms. Not going into the details of the criticism of each theory we will confine ourselves to certain important observations.
The origin of society is not due to God’s intervention in human history. The society is the outcome of the social instinct of man. Force, no doubt, is an important factor in the evolution of society but it cannot be regarded as the one and the only factor.
Several other factors must have entered into the composition of early society. It is as much a result of voluntary amalgamation as of force or conquest.
Neither of the patriarchal and matriarchal families can be held universal. In the words of Leacock. ‘No single form of the primitive family or group can be asserted. Here the matriarchal relationship, and there a patriarchal regime, is found to have been the rule, – either of which may perhaps be displaced by the other’.
The social contract theory seems to assume that man as individual is prior to society but this assumption is erroneous because of the fact that sociality is in born in man. As soon as he saw the light of day with others like him society became a fact.
Human beings are human beings inside and not outside of society. Society in fact emerged gradually. It did not come into existence on a particular day. The above theories might indicate the way in which certain societies began to exist but they do not offer a valid explanation of the origin of society.
The evolutionary theory offers a generally correct explanation of the origin of society. According to it society is not a make but a growth. It is the result of a gradual evolution. It is continuous development from unorganised to organised, from less perfect to more perfect and various factors helped in its development from time to time. Kinship and family were the earliest bonds uniting man with man.
“Kinship creates society.” says Malvern. Patriarchal society was organised on the basis of Kinship through males. Religion was another factor to help in the creation of social consciousness. As a matter of fact as Gettell observes, “Kinship and religion were simply two aspects of the same thing.”
They were so closely inter-twined that the patriarch, who later became the tribal chief, was also the high priest. After this man gave up his wandering habits, settled in villages and cities, and took to the pastoral and agricultural life.
The population began to multiply. Wealth was accumulated. The idea of property took root. The economic life advanced. All this necessitated changes in the forms of social relations and man arrived at such advanced forms of social organisations as the nation state.
Thus, society did not come into being by virtue of a pact or special provision; it emerged spontaneously and followed its own line of development. It passed through several stages of evolution before reaching its modern complex form.
According to Comte, ‘the society has passed through three stages—the theological, ‘the metaphysical and the positive’. In his view society came into being as a result of a need for association, a felt need of human beings which evolved in accordance with definite laws. Existing societies are on different stages of development.
Progress, according to him, is inevitable, although it is gradual, slow and uneven. Herbert Spencer also subscribed to the theory of social evolution. According to him, society is subject to the same laws of evolution to which all organic and inorganic matter is.. To him also evolution meant progress.
Human society has advanced from a savage state to a civilized state. He marked out these stages, the primitive, the militant and the industrial in the course of social evolution.