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The Social Contract

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 07 February 2008

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Social Contract and ask a foundational question of political philosophy – by what authority does a government govern? “Man was born free and he is everywhere in chains”. So begins Jean Jacques Rousseau’s great work on the Social Contract. Rousseau was trying to understand why a man would give up his natural freedoms and bind himself to the rule of a prince or a government. But the idea of the social contract - that political authority is held through a contract with those to be ruled - began before Rousseau with the work of John Locke, Hugo Grotius and even Plato. We explore how an idea that burgeoned among the 17th century upheavals of the English civil war and then withered in the face of modern capitalist society still influences our attitude to government today. With Melissa Lane, Senior University Lecturer in History at Cambridge University; Susan James, Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London; Karen O’Brien, Professor of English Literature at the University of Warwick.

  • Further Reading

    Ross Harrison, Hobbes, Locke, and Confusion's Masterpiece: An Examination of Seventeenth-Century Political Philosophy (Cambridge University Press; New Ed edition, 2002)

    Thomas Hobbes, Richard Tuck (Editor), Hobbes: Leviathan: Revised student edition (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought) (Cambridge University Press; 2Rev Ed edition, 1996)

    John Locke, Second Treatise of Government

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, or On Education

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Julie, ou la Nouvelle Héloïse

    Maurice Cranston, Philosophers and Pamphleteers: Political Theorists of the Enlightenment (1986)

    Maurice Cranston, Jean-Jacques: The Early Career of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1983)

    Nicholas Dent, Rousseau (2005)

    Lester Crocker, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1968-73)

    Greg Dart, Rousseau, Robespierre and English Romanticism (1999)

    Ian Hampsher-Monk, A History of Modern Political Thought: Major Thinkers from Hobbes to Marx (1992)

    Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract (1988)

    Judith Shklar, Men and Citizens: A Study of Rousseau’s Social Theory (1969)

    Patricia Springborg, Mary Astell: Theorist of Freedom from Domination (2005)

    Robert Wokler, The Social Thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1987)

    Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787 (1969)

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