Family has always been the foundation of my life as well as the stability that keeps me sane in the midst of my ups and downs. As I have grown up, and subsequently grown more aware of my surroundings, I have come to realize that my family is far closer than others. My parents have made it clear, over the years that they are there for my sister and me, no matter what the circumstances may be. If I need them in the middle of the night, I should never hesitate to call. If I need advice, I should never hesitate to ask. And, if I need somebody to be there for me, regardless of what else is going on, I should never hesitate to rely on them.
Never have I thought about my family’s close relationship as a contract, nonetheless a social contract. Upon reading Rousseau’s reading about Social Contracts, I began to view my relationship with my parents in a different light. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that they uphold their end of the “contract” as long as I uphold mine.
In my family, the way in which we treat one another and the responsibilities we take on within the family confines are things that go unsaid and unwritten. It is as though upon being brought into this world, I was agreeing to an unwritten “contract” or agreement about what it meant to be a member of my family and what responsibilities come along with it.
A couple of weeks ago, I was on the phone with my Dad, before doing my homework which included Rousseau’s reading. He was giving me a quick life lesson prior to my long night ahead at the library; something that he did not have to take the time to do. After the reading and previous conversation with my Dad, I could not help but to think about how my life, could in someway, relate to what Rousseau was saying. I found this personal connection to be easier to find than I had imagined.
Rousseau discusses how society should be split into the sovereign and the government. His belief is that if people enter into contracts (or in my case, unwritten agreements) with one another, then society (or in my case, the family) will have little to no problems and will ultimately work very well together.
Delving into this comparison further, my parents act as the government and my sister and I act as the sovereign. In order for the “society” (family) to run smoothly, both ends need to uphold their end of the contract (agreement). My parents have the best interest for my sister and me in mind, just as Rousseau believes the government must have for their people. They have done and continue to do everything in their power to give us every opportunity necessary to succeed. This article, from the New America Foundation, discusses how the social contract, in terms of family, can infect be improved to help newer generations. Children are dependent on the idea that their parents view their well-being as a priority. On our end of the contract, my sister and I do everything in our power to take the opportunities and tools my parents have given us in order to become the best possible, independent, people we can be. Rousseau believes that due to the social contracts, governments have their sovereigns best interest in mind. When members of society lose sight of this, it causes issues to arise. The same goes for family social contracts; when children forget this, issues can arise in the family setting, which could potentially lead to Hobbes’ theory of social contracts. Hobbes believes that without government, people are naturally violent and malicious in their state of nature. So, if people lose sight of their government, they might resort to this natural state of behavior and thus, act poorly. Thomas Edsall, shares his opinion in the New York Times about this potential broken social contract.
Although Rousseau’s ideas of social conctracts can be compared to that of family contracts, there are pieces of his reading that do not fit in with the family setting. For example, he discusses bringing as many people together as possible to create a union which will eventually grow to become as large as possible. This does not make sense within the family setting, as most families do not intend to grow as large as they physically might be able to.
I believe that Rousseau’s theory is more comparable and relatable to the family social contracts, and more specifically, my individual family’s social contracts and agreements. I believe that although it is not a written out agreement, a family’s social contract is the most important. This ideal was defined by Rousseau and supported by the countless examples that my family, and many others, exemplify.