Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Paine, three great political philosophers, all view the nature of man and society as anarchical, which is a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority, making it “war of all against all”. The utopian society of individuals enjoys complete freedom without government, wherein there is a display of a lack of morality for most of the time. In the Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes presented the political state as a Leviathan—a sea monster. As a metaphor for the state, it is described as a replica of a person whose body is made up of all the bodies of its citizens, who are the literal members of the Leviathan’s body, and placing the sovereign as the head. In order for them to escape this natural condition, the people in the state constructed the Leviathan through social contract wherein they give up certain natural rights and transfer them to another person of authority.
In turn, the power of the Leviathan protects them from the abuses of one another. The source of inequality comes from the scarcity of resources. If one looks around at other animals—Hobbes specifically notes ants and bees—they appear to live harmoniously with one another without any sort of state or society. If they can do so, then why can’t men who are, after all, “animals” themselves? Hobbes discussed several reasons as to why men cannot live this way: the main one being that men are rational creatures.
If we lived in some pre-societal concord with others, reason would always devise ways for us to cheat and make ourselves better off than others in order for us to survive. Furthermore, as we humans possess speech, we are able to mislead one another about our wants and desires. Hobbes also claims that animals naturally agree with one another while humans do not, and the reason for this essentially is because man is competitive in nature and therefore views everyone around him as a threat.
Therefore, the government is created to provide order and regulation. For Hobbes, the best form of government is monarchy for four reasons: first, since humans will always choose the private over the public good, the best way to ensure peace when choosing a sovereign is to have these united. And by the outweighing of private good over public ones, infighting and corruption within government is encouraged. Second, having a secret counsel is allowed in a monarchy as opposed to in a democracy or aristocracy.
Third, a monarchy is more consistent: since the monarch is one person and humans are not perfectly consistent, the commonwealth changes only as human nature dictates. In a democracy and aristocracy, because more natural bodies compose the sovereign, the commonwealth is more subject to human inconsistency as well as the inconsistency that comes from a change in the makeup of the sovereign, which happens with each election cycle or new member of the aristocracy. Lastly, infighting or warring factions caused by envy, self-interest, or any other human imperfections cannot be seen in a monarchy.
On the other hand, Jean-Jacques Rousseau views the government as an abomination because it interferes with the nature of man. His aim is to examine the foundations of inequality among men, and to determine whether this inequality is authorized by natural law. He attempts to demonstrate that modern moral inequality, which is created by an agreement between men, is unnatural and unrelated to the true nature of man and that it is necessary to consider human nature and to chart how that nature has evolved over the centuries to produce modern man and modern society.
Like Hobbes, he describes man as just another animal, and this proves to be very important. The distinction between human and animal was used both to justify man’s possession and use of the Earth’s resources, and to explain why humans apparently have certain unique capabilities, such as reason and language. He further expounds that man is like yet unlike other animals, due to the unique way he develops. And as time goes by, human faculties were being fully developed. To be and to appear became two different things. Man became subjugated by a multitude of new needs, especially by his need for other men. Man became a slave to men as one takes pleasure in domination and tries to be their master.
However, this is only true for the rich. When the powerful claims a right to another person’s goods, such as the right of property, the inequality can lead to a state of war. Therefore, the rich tried to persuade the weak, who were indeed easily convinced, to unite with them into a supreme power to institute rules of justice and peace. Men ran towards their chains in the belief that they were securing their freedom, while those who did know about the deceit thought that they could trade part of their freedom for security.
Although his idea sounds wrong, it essentially represents a point at which the self-preservation and pity of savage man are perfectly balanced with the acute regard for oneself in relation to others of modern man. Some aspects of reason and communal life are good, but they are still potentially destructive. In criticizing civility and concern for others as negative features of society, Rousseau goes against the good manners and civility that are generally seen as restraining the savage features of man, as he feels that there is nothing to restrain in natural man, and civility only makes men compare themselves to one another.
As for Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, he justifies the principles of modern republican governments. He attacks the notion of monarchy and privilege and argues that each generation has the right to establish its own system of government. No nation can legally be ruled by a hereditary monarchy because government is for the living and not the dead. No generation has the right to establish a government binding on future generations. He argues that humankind can reach its full potential under republican governments which would allow individuals to live free of privilege and caste. To sum it all up, Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Paine put forward an idea of how the government sprung from inequality and lack of a central world authority.
For Hobbes, an absolute monarchial government ruled by one person only, is necessary to fulfill the society’s need for order and the regulation of its people so that society can avoid from spiraling into anarchy. As for Rousseau, a government having biases towards the rich while deceiving the poor was created so that the insecurities of the people would force them in order to perpetuate inequality which make them dependent on the government, giving it more power. Lastly, for Paine, a representative and democratic government is formed to protect the people’s rights to be protected and to safeguard them from the threat of chaos, allowing the people to create an environment where they can mature and achieve their potential.
Despite the differences in some parts of their ideologies such as the sources of inequality and the roles of the government, a single goal is presented—that is, for the creation of a concept of government in order to prevent the society from turning back to its nature of anarchism. While Hobbes’ “one-man rule” could lead to abuse of power, his intention is for this monarchial type of government to administer order and self-preservation in the society. As for Rousseau, the maintenance of an inequality between social classes assures the stabilization of finite resources and society itself. Lastly, for Paine, his ideal world of a representative-democratic government lies on the belief that environmental influences create the individual and that a benevolent form of government can bring about human happiness. Putting them together, their main objective can be viewed as the organization and harmonization of society so as to push it towards progression.
(n.d.). Rights of Man. Retrieved December 20, 2012, from http://www.enotes.com/rights-man salem/rights-man
SparkNotes Editors. (n.d.). SparkNote on Discourse on Inequality. Retrieved December 20, 2012, from http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/inequality/
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