Locke vs Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke both developed theories on human nature, the state of nature, how men govern themselves and the dynamics of the social contract. With the passing of time, political views on the philosophy of government steadily changed. In spite of their differences, Hobbes, and Locke, became two of the most influential political theorists in the world. Hobbes believed that man is not by nature a social animal, that society could not exist except by the power of the state.

The state of nature, “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. ” (Leviathan I 13) Hobbes stated that “during the time men live without a common power to keep them in awe, they are in that condition called war; and such a way as if of every man against every man” (Leviathan I 13). Hobbes said that without a powerful centralized state “to hold man in awe”, every man had a natural liberty to do anything he wanted to in order to preserve his own life.

Hobbes believed that man would be locked in an eternal struggle with each other over attainment of limited resources such as food and shelter. This natural liberty without doubt leads to chaos as there would be in continuous violence and conflict as each individual imposes his or her will on others to gain access to limited resources necessary for their own survival. Men would naturally fear that they will be invaded and take preventive strikes on others. Others would be free to retaliate and take the law into their own hands. In a state of nature people cannot know what is theirs and what is someone else’s.

Property exists solely by the will of the state, thus in a state of nature men are condemned to endless violent conflict. In practice morality is for the most part merely a command by some person or group or God, and law merely the momentary will of the ruler. Sometimes Hobbes comes close to the Stalinist position that truth itself is merely the will of the ruler. Men cannot know good and evil, and in consequence can only live in peace together by subjection to the absolute power of a common master, and therefore there can be no peace between kings. Peace between states is merely war by other means.

He believed life in a state of nature that is, a condition without government. In this world which Hobbes calls “the condition of mere nature”, every man would act as judge, jury, and executioner whenever disputes arise with others. There are no acknowledged authorities to mediate disputes and no powers to enforce its decisions. In this state of nature, since there is no law, excepting certain natural precepts, one of which is "that every man ought to endeavour peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it" (Leviathan, ch. XIV). Hobbes states that there were two legitimate ways of establishing a sovereign.

One way is when people form a covenant with others to obey a common authority. Hobbes calls this “sovereignty by institution. ” The other way is when people are conquered and they promise obedience in exchange for their lives. Hobbes calls the second way “sovereignty by acquisition. ” Under both systems, men give up their right to natural liberty and transfer all power to a sovereign power in exchange for protection from other men. Now, the present, all people, all over the world are under some sort of sovereignty. Weather you elect or get stuck with a ruler, there must be a system in charge in order to keep society from raging out.

The social contract is the idea that society forms a basic compact with a government or an established power and both operate in conjunction with that established compact of governance. Hobbes stated the theory of a social contract, and the principle that society and government have an established "social contract" in regards to political functions and that of the state and the citizens that make up that state. Hobbes' social contract was one based on a firmly established relationship between the state and society, a relationship that placed the state as the higher power in the contract between society and government.

In Hobbes' opinion, an absolute or near absolute sovereign (Monarchy) was the preferable holder of political power and rights in a social contract, and as long as this power was able to keep society in a state of general order, then society in most measures must follow this power in full compliance and goodwill. If the state wasn’t held higher than the society, people in the society would not respect the law and would renounce the higher power. Unlike Hobbes, Locke believed that by nature man is a social animal.

Locke’s stance in the state of nature was men mostly kept their promises and honored their obligations, and it was mostly peaceful, good, and pleasant. He quotes the American frontier and Soldania as examples of people in the state of nature, where property rights and peace existed. Princes are in a state of nature with regard to each other. Rome and Venice were in a state of nature shortly before they were officially founded. In any place where it is socially acceptable to oneself punish wrongdoings done against you, for example on the American frontier, people are in a state of nature.

Though such places and times are insecure, violent conflicts are often ended by the forcible imposition of a just peace on evil doers, and peace is normal. Locke believed that with knowledge of natural law humans 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. Regrettably they do not always act in accordance with this knowledge.

Locke's social contract states that society and government are bound in a social contract that maintains an orderly and balanced system of life and general order, which shares many contrasting features with Hobbes' theory of the social contract. However, Locke's theory differs in many important points and factors with Hobbes' theory of the social contract. In Locke's work, society is bound to accept and follow the decisions of a governing sovereign as long as that sovereign does not stray from the basic confines and structures that make up the social contract between society and government.

But unlike Hobbes, if that sovereign repeatedly violates or/and fails to follow the basic guidelines of a social contract that makes up the agreed form of governance, than society itself has a right to replace that particular form of governance, and to agree to either a new social contract with a differing power, or have a differing sovereign agree to follow the dictations of the old one . But as in Hobbes' theory of the social contract, there are problems with Locke's theory as well. For example, the idea of what exactly constitutes a violation of the social contract is difficult to define and percieve to differing sections of society.

What may be tyrannical and despotic to one section of society may not be percieved to be as so by another section of society, and an attempt by one section of society to overthrow a particular sovereign may be opposed by another section of society, which would eventually result in civil conflict between different sections of society if the differing problems between sovereign and society were not resolved. Locke and Hobbes were both social contract theorists, and both natural law theorists but there the resemblance ends.

Hobbes, a pessimist and cynical man, thought little of mankind and doubted we could rule ourselves without constant war and mayhem. Locke viewed man in a more optimistic light. He believed man was naturally good at heart and we were able to be just amongst each other without a government. Both of them were very different and exceptional theorist.

Works Cited Hobbes, Thomas, and J C. A. Gaskin. Leviathan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Print. Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government. Raleigh, N. C: Alex Catalogue, 1990. Print.