Thomas Hobbes and John Locke are indeed, two of the most brilliant philosophers that ever existed. They may have similarities and differences between them, but it is undeniable that their ideas contributed a lot in shaping the modern world. Both Hobbes and Locke perceive man as a central figure in a society. For Hobbes, it is man’s nature to be mindful of him exclusively, with self-interest going above everything else. On the other hand, Locke perceives man as both self-interested and concerned about other people.
The two really have similarities and differences, but in order to know more about them, we need to compare their stand about various aspects of society. One important aspect that we could consider is sovereignty (Williams, 2006). Hobbes made it clear in his Leviathan that a political society’s sole task was to identify a person or a group as the sovereign. This pertains to an election of some sort, which would determine who would be the sovereign. Hobbes regards this sovereign as someone with absolute power, and that every person in the society should give him/them their absolute obedience.
For Hobbes, the only time that the people would be sovereign is when they choose who will be the distinguished sovereign of all. Locke on the other hand, would put the public good above all else, thus affecting his notion of sovereignty (“John Locke,” 2004). In Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, he recognizes the permanence and irrevocability of the social contract, but this limits the legislation only for public good. If and whenever the public trust is violated, say perhaps the people in power overlooked the public good, then they would have to answer to the people.
They retained the power to remove or replace the legislative, considered to be sovereign, with a new legislative. Though it is unclear in Locke’s writings, he somehow deposits sovereignty in the people. He recognizes the sovereignty that a legislative may have, but still, it is in the hands of the people to correct any inappropriate actions that violate the public good. Another aspect that we could use to compare Locke and Hobbes is their idea about government. But before that, we need to consider first how these two look at the natural law that all men follow.
For Hobbes, man follows a naturally law that eventually leads to a state of war. Their equality leads to conflict between each other, eventually leading to war and chaos. Locke on the other hand, would consider man’s natural law as a movement towards equality and freedom. Both men draw their ideas about the government from their concept of natural law. For Hobbes, government is important because it can be used to control natural law. For Locke on the other hand, government is important in order to preserve natural law.
In relation to this, another aspect that we can consider in comparing Hobbes and Locke is their idea about rights. Thomas Hobbes believed that the natural law that man follows result from the rights possessed by each person to do everything in the world. Since they’re allowed to do whatever they want because of the rights they possess, conflict would be unavoidable. In order to avoid this state of war, man follows a social contract in order to create a civil society. This requires them to forfeit or cede some of their natural rights in order to be protected.
This somehow controls them from exercising all of their rights, but somehow protecting them from the impending destruction that results from conflicts and wars. As for John Locke, he believes that all of us possess Natural Rights, which is brought about by the state of nature that we follow in the society. These include the right to life, liberty, and property. Both Thomas Hobbes and John Locke believe that all men are equal according to the natural law. For Hobbes however, this equality is seen in a state of war, caused by man’s right to everything.
These rights lead them into conflict and boils down to chaos. Still, Hobbes believe that this state of war to be an equal field, wherein the weakest can still kill the strongest. There is no one above others in this state of war. He also believes that all man is sensible by nature, and can agree upon each other to avoid these constant wars. Locke on the other hand, sees man optimistically, wherein they are governed according to reason, thus coexisting equally and peacefully. They are all equal in terms of the rights they possess, thus putting them on the same level as everyone else.
Thomas Hobbes and John Locke both agree on the importance of civilizing man. It either control or preserve natural law, either way, it is beneficial. Putting this on the idea of “the savage”, we can see that they give emphasis on the importance of civilizing man because it makes him better. We can say that for these two, man can’t do away with the social establishments that he created, including the government and their notion of sovereignty, as it preserves and promote order in the society, something that both philosophers can somehow agree upon.