Question: "Society moves from status to contract": Henry Mains. Explain this statement.


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The concept of movement of society from status to contract is given by sir Henry Maine. In explaining this statement, Maine said that in early times an individual’s position in his social group remained fixed; it was imposed, conferred or acquired. He just stepped into it. He accepted such fate as he found it. He could do nothing about it.


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Later on, however, there came a time when it was possible for an individual to determine his own destiny through the instrumentality of contract. No longer was anything imposed on him from external forces; he was now in charge: from slavery and serfdom, from status determined at birth, from master-servant relationship to employer-employee contract. The morale is that society moves from status to contract. In ancient law, (status inheritance) was of the essence but in modern society it is consideration (contract).

In developing his progressive principle of status to contract, he was particularly influenced by the family law of the later Roman Empire, though his theory of the familial origins of society is based on the wider organisation of many ancient communities.

One most important limitation placed upon the doctrine is that made by Maine himself, in which he cautiously restricts its application by the word “hitherto”, which translates in English as “Until now”.

In a sense, he himself seems to admit that the application of this statement is limited till a certain period of time, and further progress of the society restricts the applicability of this doctrine.

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