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Locke vs Hobbes Essay

The concept of human security, which has had a crucial place in human’s societal history, has been argued over by many great philosophers throughout mankind’s existence. Two pioneer thinkers of political philosophy, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, theorized state of nature typologies, which are the core of social contract theory, and created a concept of modern security, even in the 17th century. Hobbes created a contract entrusting absolute power to the sovereign, which thrived off of the individual’s duty and responsibilities to the government.

Contrary to Hobbes, Locke recognized the secure relationship between individuals’ rights and liberties and the role of the sovereign. These two philosophers revolutionized liberal thinking in the height of the enlightenment age in which many philosophers questioned and argued over the relationship between the state and the individual. Hobbes and Locke, two brilliant thinkers, are notorious for being the founders of social contract liberalism. Before one can look at each philosopher’s social contract, we must first define what separated their thinking from the standard at that time, and what actually made them liberal thinkers.

There had been one way of thinking in governmental rule for thousands of years which had been formed around the tyrannical ideals of hereditary privilege, absolute monarchy, and the Divine Right of Kings. These governmental ideals, which extremely lacked rights for the individual, had been spread all over the world for thousands of years and throughout many empires. What made Locke and Hobbes such liberal thinkers, was their ideas of a mutual relationship between the individual and the state.

This was a mutual contract in which both parties had an agreement where they could coincide, benefit, and enforce the liberal ideals of liberty, equality, and justice. Now one must dive into both philosophers proposed social contract, to get a better grasp on the aspects of the contract where both men agree, and where both men have conflicting ideals. The place to begin in both contracts, would be at mans most simple form, when he is untainted by the aspects of society, and is simply, in the state of nature.

John Locke describes the state of nature as the most basic fundamental condition in which a human persons lack an authoritative, common, or human superior. Locke feels that man can successfully exist without the structure of a society, and that, “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent” (Locke Second Treatise of Government pg 191).

This natural law is formed through God, who created all men naturally equal. Reason is the driving force of cooperation of man in the state of nature, Locke argues that this driving force of reason makes men realize, “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker” (Locke Second Treatise of Government pg 192) The reason makes men understand that working together and cooperating will ultimately benefit themselves and the natural state they inhabit.

Locke then makes it clear that even though men inhabit a state of nature, and they are not limited by any obligatory laws of society, each individual in the state of nature has the power to execute the natural laws. Man still cannot “invade others right” and anyone who does so, man has the right to “Punish the transgressors of that law” (Locke Second Treatise of Government pg 192). Locke then proves this by using the example of a foreign “alien” committing a crime in a country not of his origin, but still being held accountable and punished for it.

Locke believes that the state of nature and the state of war are two separate entities as well, and one is only in a state of war if his property or safety is threatened by another party. This is seen as an act of self defense and the men who are being attacked have the natural right to protect themselves. Differing from society, in the state of nature, war does not end until the hostile party offers peace and payback for the destruction they have caused.

Locke also addresses the issue of property in the state of nature, following the recurring theme of religion, Locke states that no land can be individual property because God created the world for all of man to use. The way individual property can come about is when man uses his body (which is his own property by natural right) to exert labor on something of the land, only then does that become his own individual property.

Locke applies these rules to land and says that a person in a state of nature can claim land by adding labor to it but only so much as that person can reasonably use without waste,” But if they perished in their possession without their due use, they can be punished”( Locke Second Treatise of Government pg 219) John Locke’s state of nature, entrusts man as a social animal to naturally and successfully live in peace and harmony amongst each other, Thomas Hobbes’s state of nature, clearly does not. Hobbes’s has no faith in man whatsoever to live peacefully amongst each other in the state of nature. In Hobbes’s state of nature, it is the opposite of peace; he states that the natural state is, “Warre of every man against every man” (Hobbes Leviathan chpt 13).

Hobbes stresses the fear and brutality of the chaotic and uncultured state of nature in which man has “no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. ”(Hobbes Leviathan, pt. 1, ch. 13 (1651) Hobbes recognized that this description of human nature emphasizes our uncultured animal nature, leaving man to live and act independently of each other, and acting selfishly only in his own self-interest, with blatant disregard for others.

Self preservation is the only right that can exist independent of Hobbes’s government. This produces what he called the “state of war,” a way of life that is certain to prove “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. ” (Hobbes Leviathan I 13) Locke states that “In the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First, competition: secondly, diffidence: thirdly, glory. The first, maketh men invade for gain: the second, for safety: and the third, for reputation” (Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, I 13.).

In a state of nature man simply cannot know what is theirs and what someone else’s property is because there is no distinction. Within the state of nature there is no private property because there is no law to establish it, the only order is caused by natural laws that are discovered by reason. Hobbes does agree with Locke that reason is the driving force in the state of nature and that, “that every man ought to endeavour peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it” (Hobbes Leviathan, Ch.XIV).

According to Hobbes, property exists solely by the will of the state, that being said in a state of nature men are forced into an endless struggle for property. Although Hobbes does not fault man for these problems, he just believes that, “Where there is no common Power, there is no Law; where no Law, no injustice. “(Hobbes, Leviathan XIII 13). Hobbes completely disagrees with Locke that man naturally understands the difference between good and evil. Unlike Locke, Hobbes believes that in a state of nature, the state of war is always present because of mans natural distrust of one another.

To solve the problem of the chaotic state of nature man is naturally thrown in, Hobbes creates a social contract based upon mutual agreements, in which man can agree to and enter a much more sophisticated and efficient society. Both Hobbes and Locke both agreed that men would eventually willingly come together to form a government. Locke figures that man eventually will be inconvenienced by the state of nature as their social and economic life develops, and they will leave it by forming government.

Contrary to Locke, Hobbes states that society could not exist except by the power of the state and since man was evil by nature that he would require a strong mutual authority to save him from the anarchical state of nature he was originally born in. Even Locke agreed with Hobbes on the fact that human nature allowed men to be selfish, Individuals fear of one another forces mankind to come together and form a sophisticated state. This state allows man to be provided with a mutual and central authority to protect the lives, liberty, and property of those who within this civil sovereignty.

Hobbes believes in the second fundamental law of nature which says that, “Man should lay down this absolute right of nature and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself. ” (Hobbes Leviathan, Ch. XIV) The laws of nature are the main ideas which Hobbes basis his social contract. Man must transfer the power to a mutually agreed common authority in a contract, where both parties agree in a covenant not to harm each other.

This contract is beneficial to both parties because it is a guarantee that they will each be safe, but this guarantee can only be fulfilled if there is a common authority enforcing the covenant, and stopping any cheating from going on. The third state of nature proceeds the second one saying, “”That men perform their Covenant made; without which, covenants are in vain, and but Empty words; and the Right of all men to all things remaining, wee are still in the condition of Warre.

“(Hobbes Leviathan Chpt 15 pg 89) This state of nature solidifies the fact that the covenant will not be broken because the risk of breaking the covenant is not worth being punished by the authority. These laws of nature serve as moral codes for Hobbes’s society, and enforce rules that did not exist in the state of nature, Hobbes goes on to say that the moral philosophy “”is nothing else but the science of what is good, and evil, in the conversation, and society of mankind. “(Hobbes Leviathan Pt. I, Ch. 15.pg 100) Hobbes establishes that this common authority, or common sovereign which is calls it, is crucial to enforcing rules in his society, “Covenants without the sword, are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all. ” (Hobbes Leviathan ch. 17, p. 415).

Mankind, in this society must then concede his authority to govern himself to the common sovereign in exchange for his safety. All the liberties that man once had in the state of nature are transferred to the sovereign when the contract is agreed upon. The sovereign then takes the duty of ensuring the preservation of itself and its subjects, and will do so by any means necessary.

A sovereign can come to power either through mutual agreement, or forcefully. Either power is used to force someone to submit to the sovereign, or people voluntarily agree to give up their rights to a sovereign power. The moment man gives up his power to the sovereign, the contract becomes permanent, and he will be forever under the rule of the sovereign. The sovereign can never be replaced, and it can never replace itself, because the sovereign is considered an artificial man, that would be suicide and break the promise of the sovereign to protect its people and itself.

Since man agreed to put the sovereign into power, rebelling against the sovereign is considered injustice and is punishable. Also, since the sovereigns rule is always right and just that means the sovereign is incapable of injustice against its citizens. Any action by the sovereign is done within the rights of all who agreed upon the covenant, and therefore, is right and justly done. Accusing the sovereign of injustice is in turn accusing its citizens of injustice.

Hobbes continues onto a long list of other rights the sovereign has over man, but the main point of emphasis is that it has absolute authority over its subjects, without opposition. Although Hobbes’s theory clearly favors one person with absolute rule over the people, and feels that a monarchy is the supreme government, he also mentions two other forms of government that could be effective. First he mentions democracy, where the sovereign is a citizen assembly drawn from all natural persons in the sovereign. Then he goes on to mention aristocracy, where the sovereign is an assembly or body drawn up from select natural persons.

Hobbes believes that the Monarchy is superior to the other forms of government for an array of reasons such as consistency, unity, and privacy. Hobbes believes that the unification of public and private goods allows the government to reign over a united people, which in turn make it a more consistent government when it comes to ruling over the population. He also says that the affairs of the sovereign are better off discussed behind closed doors without the negative influence of the public. In the end Hobbes believes that whatever is done by state is just by definition.

All of society is a direct creation of the state, and a reflection of the will of the ruler. John Locke’s social contract can be seen as a reaction to Hobbes’s take on the subject, Locke’s conception of this same social contract differed from Hobbes in several ways. Locke, just like in the state of nature, firmly disagreed with Hobbes blatant distrust in the common man and he argued that laws could only be legitimate if “…They never suppose farther than the common good” (Locke Second Treatise of Government pg 299). Locke believed that mankind would make the correct decisions and do the right thing when he came together as a group.

While Hobbes had man giving up his total authority to the sovereign, Locke felt that man could keep his natural rights and could still exist within a civil society. He also explains that the only legitimate governments are those who have the consent of the people contrary to Hobbes and says that “Which the public has chosen and appointed and without this the law could not have that” (Locke Second Treatise of Government chpt XI pg 302), the legitimate government hopes to govern but cannot be legitimate without being appointed by the people.

According to Locke, any government that does not have the consent of the governed can be overthrown. Effectively, Locke thought that the link between the government and its citizens in the sovereign took the form of a mutual social contract. When they agreed to be ruled under this social contract, the citizens agree to submit some of the freedoms that man exercised within the state of nature. This agreement came in exchange for the order and protections provided by the state’s institutions. Contrary to Hobbes, the states power was not absolute and is only exercised according to the mutually agreed rule of law.

A large part of Locke’s contract that differs from Hobbes is that if the state were to move beyond the limits of its power and suddenly exercise power and authority in matters that were detrimental to state and its citizens under the social contract, the state breaches its part of the contract and it becomes void, “The union belonging to that body which consisted therin must necessarily cease, and so everyone return to the state he was in before” (Locke Second Treatise of Government pg 370 chpt 17).

If this is the case, the citizens of the state not only have the moral right to overthrow the government, but have a moral obligation to do so and return to the state of nature until they re establish a new and more effective government. While Hobbes believes that if man wants to be safe, they must forfeit their absolute power to the government, and that is simply the price mankind must pay for peace. Locke thinks differently and states that absolute power is never a cure for the state of nature and only puts man in a worse situation than the state of nature.

Hobbes also advocates that the sovereign has absolute power over all of society’s institutions while Locke is a supporter of a separation of powers in government, (which can later be seen in the US government) so that no one body can gain too much control over any of the society’s institutions. These limitations on power are in place to protect the citizens of the sovereign and balance out the power. If the legislative or executive power violates the agreement of trust between the state and its people, man has the moral right to dissolve the government. This is the ultimate limitation on power and an area where Hobbes and Locke critically disagree.

Hobbes social contract is one that is constructed from the power built from the top down. Locke’s philosophy contrasts with Hobbes in that his social contract is socially constructed from the people at the bottom choosing how the power at the top is run. Hobbes main problem is that he distrusts mankind, believing that they are naturally evil. Locke has a much more favorable view of human nature in that he feels that mankind is guided by rational thought and mankind is able to govern itself without Hobbes’ Leviathan restricting his freedoms. In Hobbes sovereign, random and impulsive behavior by the state is the price that mankind must pay in order to maintain the citizen’s personal peace and freedom.

Locke’s issue with Hobbes is the great price man must suffer to maintain the peace . A large portion of Locke’s social contract is centralized around the idea of property. As mentioned earlier in the state of nature, property is for all man to use, until man exerts some sort of labor on it, making it his own. Locke first explains that property consists of a man’s life and his possessions and that “the preservation of property is the end of government, and that for which men enter into society” (Locke Second Treatise of Government pg 138 chpt 6) Man has the natural right to defend what property is his, but in a state of nature, this can become difficult and inconvenient for him.

At this point the man agrees to enter a government that will use written laws that will be enforced to protect the citizens and their respective property, “”The great and chief end, therefore, of men’s uniting into commonwealths and putting themselves under government is the preservation of their property. ” (Locke Second treatise of Government Chpt 9 sec 124).

When a man’s property cannot be protected, he is in the same situation as he was in the state of nature. If the leader/leaders of the sovereign are the ones who are threatening man’s property, then they have breached the contract and created a state of war between themselves and the sovereign’s citizens. But fortunately in Locke’s contract, a government will be destroyed when its leading power fails to do its job and does not carry out the laws guaranteed in the contract.

Hobbes disagrees with Locke about the importance of property, and fittingly to his prior opinions arguing that property exists solely by the will of the state saying, “My own can only truly be mine if there is one unambiguously strongest power in the realm, and that power treats it as mine, protecting its status as such” He concludes this going along with the fact that no man can be trusted and man needs the stability of a government to have property rights.

Finally, Hobbes concludes that the concept of individual property rights would lead to the destruction of the commonwealth and a return to the state of war saying, “But the right of the sovereign also be excluded, he cannot perform the office they have put him into, which is to defend them both from foreign enemies and from the injuries of one another; and consequently there is no longer a Common-wealth.

” (Hobbes Leviathan 367) Locke believed that we all have certain undeniable rights and that these include rights over the physical goods and realty that constitute our property and they cannot be taken by a sovereign. These natural rights exist within the state of nature and a sovereign, and the sole reason men join the sovereign is to make this property more secure, not to put in danger. Hobbes and Locke have two very different ways of going about creating a society for which mankind can be safe and protected in. Each has its own successes and faults in their attempt to create the perfect society. On the issue of the contract made between the state and the people, I believe Locke’s would be much more successful when actually put into practice.

Locke’s citizens retain the right to life and liberty, and gain the right to just, impartial protection of their property as opposed to Hobbes much more abrasive idea of giving up all authority just for mans protection. What man lacked in the state of nature was organization and justice, and Locke’s society allows the role of the state to ensure that justice is seen for its people. In Hobbes’s form of government, man concedes all his rights permanently to the sovereign, which allows the state to act freely, doing whatever it wants without consequences. Hobbes’s government may put man in a worse of situation then he was in the state of nature if the state turns tyrannical.

The negative effects of the state manipulating its power and making everything it says truth can be seen in the reign of Stalin over Russia, when a sovereign acts without restriction or limitations and becomes too powerful and abrasive for its people. Locke instead grants people their rights by nature, and leaves opportunity for the citizens to return back to the state of nature and change their government if it becomes too abrasive or fails to meet the requirements of the social contract.

When a people agree to be governed, it is unreasonable that they would place themselves under the control of a government and have to obey laws, but then allow the state to act above such laws. If the intent of forming a government is to protect property for its citizens, it is illogical to allow a monarch to do as he desires and use his citizen’s property to his advantages.

Locke argues if a government is to be legitimate it must act within the confines of this mutually beneficial and implied contract. That is why I believe Locke’s social contract makes it much more beneficial for its citizens to leave the state of nature, “…tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to. ”(Locke Second Treatise of Government pg 199) The reason Hobbes and Locke have such contrasting views is because they both viewed human nature and mankind in very contrasting ways. Locke viewed man as having the ability to know what is right and wrong, and are capable of knowing what is lawful and unlawful well enough to resolve conflicts.

In particular, and most importantly, they are capable of telling the difference between what is theirs and what belongs to someone else. On the other hand Hobbes had total distrust in human nature and believed men simply cannot know good and evil and the principles of morality without a common master.

This is why Hobbes’s government had a much stricter control and gave unrestricted power to the master so that they could control and show the people the principles of morality that they were naturally unaware of. It is clear that Locke had a much more liberal view on government, and that is why many of Locke’s values where adopted into the Declaration of Independence. These two great thinkers present effective theoretical scenarios but illustrate entirely unlike conclusions.

Locke’s state of nature has much greater security and trust in mankind than in Hobbes scenario. They both have different conclusions on the base of man in the state of nature and that is why they both disagree from the start. Hobbes sees mankind as a creature of desire and Locke sees man as a social animal and one of reason.

Another point where they disagreed was their understanding of the natural rights of man. Locke felt that man understood certain rights in the state of nature and could effectively live in peace free from the state. Contrarily Hobbes felt as that man benefited from joining a state because the state implied these natural laws he lacked in the state of nature. a sense saw them as coming from the state.

The philosophers finally write out their social contracts and Hobbes’s laws are much more oppressive and restricting than Locke’s, a reason why Locke’s government is much more beneficial to its people and is a reason why he was such a heavy influence when America was building its nation. Both men are seen as the fathers of liberalism and for good reason; they both used unorthodox though process to conjure up theoretically perfect societies. “The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all the states of created beings capable of law, where there is no law, there is no freedom. ” (John Locke).


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