Chapter 8 The State of Nature, the Family and the State

In: The State of Nature: Histories of an Idea

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This chapter explores the theories of the family in the social contract theories of Thomas Hobbes, Samuel Pufendorf and John Locke. It takes up the missing half of the social contract theories which Carole Pateman brought to the fore in her pioneering study on the “sexual contract”, albeit from a more historical and contextual point of view. Based on Pufendorf’s distinction between a fictitious and a realist account of the state of nature, the chapter first shows how Pufendorf and Locke justified the exercise of power in the private realm of the family – a complex society in which the subordinated societies between husband and wife, parents and children, and master and servant, or slave, are united under the domestic rule of the paterfamilias. This reconstruction relies on the fictitious state of nature in which all human beings (women no less than men) are free and equal. The chapter then turns to the realist conception of the state of nature in order to assess how the social contract theorists conceived of the family as origin of the state. In this context, it proves useful to include the theory of the family Hobbes developed in his account of the commonwealth by acquisition. The comparison with Hobbes’s theory brings to the fore that Pufendorf and Locke struck a difficult balance when they attempted to reconcile the hypothetical contractual with the conjectural-historical origin of the state.