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Cover Rethinking Political Thinkers

10. Carole Pateman and Charles Mills  

Terrell Carver

This chapter begins by providing an overview of contractualism, explaining how social contract theories emerged in early modern north-west Europe as a critique of monarchical absolutisms. Contract theorists argued that absolutist monarchical governments were illegitimate. In recent years, political theorists Carole Pateman and Charles Mills have signally exposed the exclusionary violence and inclusionary discriminations related to gender, race, and class that lay within this apparently universal egalitarianism. To do this, they have theorized three prior contracts of domination: the sexual contract, the racial contract, and the settler contract. Each prior contract explains hypothetically how self-selected individuals have agreed that they can subordinate those whom they have already excluded. Thus, the subsequent social contract legitimates, not the human equality implied in its stated premises, but the inequalities that it fails to disclose. The chapter also registers the development of a further ‘capacity’ or ‘ableist’ contract modelled on the prior contracts of gender, race, and class. It examines the principles of contractual egalitarianism in relation to the subordinating dynamics of capitalist inequality.