Thomas Hobbes and John Locke held contrasting theories on how government should limit the rights of men, which they referred to as the social contract. Thomas Hobbes’ theory of the social contract is that a government should have complete discretion over the limitations of men’s rights, while Locke’s theory is that a social contract is necessary, but the rights limited should be solely for the protection of property.
Thomas Hobbes’ theory of the social contract is that men should give up all of their rights to an absolute government for the protection of their lives. He writes in Chapter 14 of Leviathan that “man [should] be willing … for peace and defence of himself … to lay down this right to all things …. “ (Hobbes 161). He concludes by describing the motive for man handing over rights as being for his security (Hobbes 162).
John Locke’s theory is that the social contract should limit the rights of man only to protect his property. In Chapter 9 Locke describes his theory that man joins the social contract “only with an intention … to preserve … [his] property” (Locke 171). Locke contrasts with Hobbes where he writes in Chapter 7 of Of Civil Government that anyone that thinks that absolute government improves men should read the history of any age to be convinced otherwise (Locke 170).
What role the social contract should have in the lives of men is subjective. Thomas Hobbes’ theory on the social contract holds that an absolute government is needed for the protection of men’s lives, while John Locke’s theory focuses on a limited government solely for the protection of men’s property.
Thomas Hobbes; “Leviathan”; The Arts 1000 Reader; Pearson 2007; pp 159-163 John Locke; “Of Civil Government”; The Arts 1000 Reader; Pearson 2007; pp 167-173.