Social Contract Theory Essay

Social Contract Theory of John Locke Jerome Green Jr. CJA/530 June 30, 2010 Instructor: Ms. Marie Romero-Martinez John Locke was one of the preeminent philosopher’s of his time. In one of his most successful works, the Two Treaties of Government, Locke asserted that men are by nature free and equal against claims that God had made all people naturally subject to a monarch (Tuckness). Locke argued that people have rights, such as the right to life, liberty, and property. Locke’s Social Contract Theory is used by sociologists, philosophers, and criminologists.

The theory is all encompassing and provides an excellent framework in the study of criminology because it delves into crime and punishment. This paper will explore how John Locke’s Social Contract Theory and values are related to the criminal justice system. John Locke was a British philosopher and is credited as the first person to provide a legitimate basis for civil government (Uzgalis). Locke’s social contract theory maintains that people, as part of nature, transfer some of their rights to the government in order to better ensure stability, comfortable enjoyment of their lives, liberty, and property (Tuckness).

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This correlates directly with the criminal justice system. For example, citizens of the United States have given up or relaxed some of their civil rights in order to aid law enforcement in doing their jobs. In return for this concession policing agencies have vowed to protect and serve citizens and will put their own lives in jeopardy to do so. Locke based his theory on the idea of natural law. The concept of natural law deals with the belief that there are a universal set of rights and wrongs that apply to all people (Pollack).

In a criminal justice context, this means that there are some rules that can’t be broken no matter who you are or where you are from. Locke believed that to be a member of society is to accept responsibility for following its rules, along with the threat of punishment for violating them. Criminologists have looked at Locke’s theory to help understand crime and criminal behavior. At the beginning of the 19th century, scholars attributed family and community influences as the driving force behind social stability and individual behavior because these are the environments that surround and shape the individual (Jeanty).

Toward the middle of the twentieth century contributors to social control theory began to lean more towards external influences that cause delinquent behavior. The theory began to address the causes of criminal behavior within society, and how issues of personal control were developed and influenced within the individual (Jeanty). Other researchers and criminologists have expounded on Locke’s Theory. In relation to criminal activity, Ivan Nye, developed four main areas of societal control: • Direct – an external control where punishment is implied for delinquent behaviors and reward is granted for compliant behaviors. Internal – an internal control wherein individuals are driven by their sense of conscience. • Indirect – an internal control driven by the individual’s need to please those whom he is closest to. • Needs satisfaction – a combined internal-external control that makes criminal behavior unnecessary when an individual’s needs are met (Nye, Locke’s theory also asserts that once a government violates the contract society can resist and no longer be expected to give up their rights.

According to Locke, “governments exist by the consent of the people in order to protect the rights of the people and promote the public good, governments that fail to do so can be resisted and replaced with new governments (Tuckness). ” This though can be applied to the criminal justice system by examining racism and discrimination within law enforcement agencies. For example, In Aurora, Colorado, there was a strong perception among the African American community that the police department was targeting people by race and responding in overly aggressive ways. The perception was aided by the following statistics: Aurora’s population is 14. % African American, but 44. 6% of the people hit with taser guns in 2004 were African-American, and only 3. 7% of the police force is African American. In response to the perceived mistreatment, African-Americans in the community became more combative with officers, refused to cooperate in investigations, and pressured local politicians to make changes (Mayer). John Locke’s social control theory is still widely used to day in all aspects of criminal justice including policing, courts and private security. John Locke’s principles helped shaped the study of criminology and criminal behavior. Works Cited Jeanty J. “About the Social Control Theory”, E-How, (2004),URL= http://www. ehow. co om/about_4579461_social-control-theory. html Meyer J. (2005). African-American, police at odds in Aurora Chief battling “perceptions. ” Denver Post. April 22, 2005. Nye I. F. & Short J. “Reported Behavior as a Criterion of Deviant Behavior,” Social Problems (Winter, 1957), 5:207-208. Tuckness, A. , “Locke’s Political Philosophy”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed. ), URL = . Uzgalis, William, “John Locke”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed. ), URL .


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