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John Locke vs. Thomas Hobbes Essay

During the seventeenth century, Great Britain produced Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, two of the greatest political philosophers of all times. Both men are known for their great philosophical ideas that help to explain the role of government in man’s life. Their explanations are based on the description of their understanding of man’s state of nature. While both men do have opposite views on many of their political arguments, the fact that they are able to structure the essence of their conflicting ideologies in to the shell of what they define as the state of man in nature, is the link that relates them to each other.

Both man share there desire in an establishment that provides order to ensure not only the protection of the individual, but also the security of the state. In Hobbes philosophy, the state of nature is a very unwelcoming, dull place. His theory is that individuals in their true nature are guided by their innate primal, animalistic instincts, rather then reason. Hobbes’ concept of the state of nature is based on his believe that morality such as the ideas of good and evil do not exist in tis state. He claims that with out guidance, man will use any power at his deposal, to defend his life and positions.

In his book Leviathan, Hobbes describes this condition as war, in other words, it is every one against every one. (Hobbes) In addition, he depicted the state of nature as a state in which individuals are without any of the benefits that are taken for granted in modern society. Hobbes describes the lack of these benefits as: “No commerce, no agriculture, no account of time, no arts, no letters, and no society. (Hobbes)” Hobbes believes that without proper structure, man is in constant state of war.

A state where an overbearing sense of fear and grief, triggers men to be on a constant defense in order to protect themselves, and their belongings. Hobbes relates man’s desire to escape from the state of nature and war by seeking peace, which allows man to end his unremitting feeling of fear. In order to obtain peace, Hobbes claims that it is the use of reason that enables man to respond the laws of nature. It is through reason, that man transfers all rights to a higher power, according to Hobbes, which in turn allows man to receive man’s natural right to all things, providing that others will do the same.

Hobbes labeled this mutual transferring of rights contract. Hobbes knew, however, that there has to be some collective authority in place to enforce the laws. He believed that human’s appetite for power would be a constant threat to the contract. To prevent this threat, Hobbes saw a necessity for government. He concluded that there aught to be some sovereign authority that could enforce laws and would be authorized to punish anyone who broke the rules; an authority that is endowed with the responsibility to uphold the rights of every individual, as a part of the social contract.

Hobbes believed that the best form of government to fulfill this role is in form of an absolute monarch as ruler over the people. He named the role of the absolute sovereign Leviathan. The role of the monarchic ruler was to be successful because it helped to create a endless circle that reinforced the social contract. The sovereign was to control the masses through fear, as he had the power of the threat of punishment bestowed upon him. This power helped to reinforce the mandates that the laws of nature provided, thereby ensuring the continued operation of the social contract that was in place.

In turn for turning the responsibility to protect and serve over to the ruler, the people essentially gave up all of their own personal rights to govern themselves to the sovereign. The concept was that people are able to maintain their right to self-preservation by granting the sovereign all of their other rights. Hobbes titled this idea of a system of sovereignty the Commonwealth. It is through this social contract that is upheld between the people and the sovereign in the commonwealth, Hobbes states, that “man is able to get out of the state of nature and into society.

(Hobbes)” Being a philosopher of political theory in the seventeenth century, John Locke understood and believed in the social contract and the state of nature as much as Hobbes. The positions he took on them, however, were most of the time on the polar opposites of the spectrum. Locks interpretation of the state of nature becomes evident in his publication Two Treaties of Government, where he states, “while there were no civil societies yet formed, people basically were able to live in peace, because the natural laws that governed them were an innate quality which everyone had.

(Locke)” In other words, is Locke’s believe that in the state of nature, all people are equal, and have executive power of the natural laws. One of the major clashes between Locke’s and Hobbes’ theories was the interpretation of the state of nature. Hobbes was a firm believer in the state of “war” as a natural part of the state of nature. Locke on the other hand, alleged himself with the thought that the two states were not the same. Locke’s philosophy states that the human nature is characterized by reason and tolerance.

He believed that in the state of nature all men where equal and independent. Further more Locke believed that it is every ons right to protect his rights of life liberty and property. He states that people govern to govern their lives by using reason, and do not need a common superior, or leader. The state of war occurs when people try to force things on others, and it was Locke’s belief that when this occurs, people have the right to wage war because force without right is an adequate basis for the state of war.

In order to transition from the state of nature into a civil society, Locke believed that people would innately want to give up their natural freedom in order to assure protection for their lives, liberties, and property. Locke claimed that the most efficient form of government for a civil society would be one that is run by the majority of people with common views, and that the individual, when entering into this society would submit to the will of the majority and follow the rules set forth by it.

In transitioning from the state of nature to a civil society, Locke stated that the state of nature differed from a civil society because it lacked “an established, settled, known law; a known, and different judge; and power to back and support the sentence”. In order to complete this transition into a civilized society, the individual has to relinquish certain natural rights. These rights include the right to do what they wanted within the bounds of the laws of nature, and the power to punish the crimes committed against natural law.

Both rights are given up in order to put oneself under the protection of the executive power of the civil society. According to Locke, it is a transfer of these rights to the civil society. Lock states that there will be “a law, a judge, and [an] executive working to no other end, but the peace, safety, and public good of the people. ” Locke’s ideals were considered to be very progressive at the time of their creation and based on the principles of equality and government working to the advantages of the people.

After entering into a civil society, Locke stated that the government of the commonwealth, using the element of a majority, should have a single legislative body that was used for the creation of laws. Locke suggests many types of governments such as Democracy, or Oligarchy, but he never states that one is better then the other. This again is another difference in the views between Locke and Hobbes. While Hobbes favored one single person to have the divine power to rule, Locke stated that the power to create law should rest within a majority legislative body and that the law created by it should be absolute.

No other body could create laws of its own, and every member of society and the commonwealth must abide by the laws that were created by the legislative majority. While the legislation is an absolute governing body, it does in fact have limits as well. Locke states that the legislative body must govern by fixed laws that apply equally to everyone, and that the laws that are designed are to be done solely for the good of the people; lastly, the legislative body cannot increase taxes on property owners with out the people’s consent.

John Locke and Thomas Hobbes ideas about common law governments help to explain, at least from a philosophical ideal, the evolution of man from the animal age to the enlightened seventeenth century in which they resided in. While I believe the critical difference between their views is the amount of power they each placed in the idea of a sovereign power, they also shared many other different ideals, such as the state of nature in which people resided, and their ideas of how people living in the commonwealth should relinquish their rights. However, one crucial element of commonality should be noted that existed between Locke and Hobbes.

Even though many of their ideals differed their end result was the same; the common good of the people. Though they both may differ on how this plan works, they are able to base at the crux of each of their arguments, the essential need for reason in man’s life, and how we as a race are able to better ourselves through the tools of reason and government. Work cited: Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. first edition . Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1909. Print. Locke, John. “Two Treatises of Government . ” 22/04/2003: n. pag. Web. 18 May 2011. <http://epublish. biz/pdf/Two_Treatises_of_Government. pdf>.


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