Thomas Hobbes and John Locke

Thomas Hobbes was born in Wiltshire, England in 1588 just prior to the Spanish Armada. Philosophy is defined by Hobbes as the reasoned knowledge of effects from causes, and causes from effects. Hobbes was educated in Oxford where he learnt about the great classics and also of Aristotle, however Hobbes disliked Aristotles approach that democracy was the best form of government. Hobbes spent many a year on the continent and his disliking for Aristotles works grew, when he returned to Britain there was a civil war underway so he left the country again and wrote several pieces of literature, these include the, De Cive and The Elements of law.

Later on his book the Leviathan was published. Hobbes died in 1679 after becoming one well-known political writer, but he has not been forgotten and his political thought lives on. Hobbess most famous piece of work the, Leviathan presents life before government was formed this was what Hobbes referred to as the, State of nature. Hobbes believed that every man was naturally equal and due to this war was inevitable because every man was for himself. War would be inevitable as fought for material possession and for basic necessities like water and food.

The first of these, causes of quarrel- maketh man invade for gain, the second for safety and the third for reputation. With this continuing state of war and would produce a lifestyle in which there would be no society, industry or trading. As Hobbes states that there would be; No knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, contains fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man solitary, poor nasty, brutish and short. For Hobbes the, State of nature was a way of rationalising how people would behave in their most basic state.

Hobbes advanced from what Ren Decartes stated I think , therefore I am. Hobbes used the individual as a building block from which all his political theories arose. Hobbes formed his theories by way of empirical observation and he believed that the universe was just atoms in notion and therefore could be measured by geometry and mathematics and could be used to explain human behaviour. According to Thomas Hobbes people would willing give up all their rights to everything and anything as long as every individual was willing to do this.

Nevertheless basic human nature would not allow this and with no way of controlling it people would soon break it in an attempt to control a greater share of power over one another. Hobbes recognised that in order to ensure the stability and peace in his opinion this could be achieved by means of a Social contract. Hobbes realising that the only way to maintain order among the people would by having an authoritarian government. He gave the government the name of Leviathan which when translated means monster.

This meant that in exchange for individual rights the people would have in return peace, security and protection from one another. The people would not want to return to the basic state of nature and therefore would not protest against the government which would have power over their natural liberty. The social contract would at first be set-up by men to establish a commonwealth which in turn would be governed by a sovereign to whom in the interest of self preservation, simple right to govern oneself is abolished. The sovereign may be an individual or a group of individuals who are not part of the social contract.

However the citizens themselves are part of the social contract and this means that they will obey the sovereign and obey the rules that the sovereign has enforced. Since the sovereign has all power there would never arise any contract between the subjects and the sovereign to break. To add this once the contract has been established the subjects need to seek the sovereigns permission to break it. As a result of forming this contract nothing that the sovereign does can be seen as unjust and as a result of establishing this contract an artificial man or leviathan is formed.

Hobbes gives the sovereign absolute power. Hobbes allowed for three different kinds of commonwealth there was; democracy, aristocracy, or Monarchy. Hobbes preferred the Monarchy because the monarch cannot disagree with himself. Finally Hobbes was a great believer that only in peace and security can people develop to their full potential. In order for this to be so Hobbes places in an authoritarian government, to govern the citizens. However Hobbes believes that a self-government is absolutely impossible to achieve and declines any doctrine of natural light.

Hobbes was considered to be the first liberal thinker, however it is only right to now turn our discussion to John Locke, the father of liberal democratic thought. John Locke lived from 1632-1704 and during this period England was more politically traumatic than any other time in its history, he attended Christ Church in Oxford where he was a student for many years and became greatly interested in the great philosophical and scientific questions of the time. Although John Locke embraced many of Hobbes theories on the state, nature of government and society he also had opinions and theories of his own.

Locke believed that God was the centre of all politics. He believed that individuals when born were given certain rights by God and not by the government. Locke had a high opinion of human nature and believed that before the government was formed that the state of nature would have been a largely happy state. Locke believed that every individual had the right to self-preservation and the right to own property. This right had two conditions, firstly that people may have property as long as their is property for others, secondly that they cannot spoil anything.

For this if all conditions are met an individual was granted exclusive rights to an object that they used in their labour. Since the individual was using this object and placing part of the self into the object then it was considered their property. Lockes book the Two treaties of government Locke began a detailed account of how a civil government should be structured. Beginning with the state of Nature, Locke concludes that the problems needing to be corrected from this original state are; There wants an established, settled, known law.. in other words the constitution of rules which establish for all the difference between right and wrong.

Secondly There wants a known and indifferent judge , with authority to determine all differences according to the established laws. There is no need for a neutral to judge cases , because men are biased towards themselves and are unlikely to admit to any wrong doing. Thirdly There often wants power to back and support there sentence when right. It is important that the state has the power to punish the wrong doers, if not, then the strongest, right or wrong, will always have their way.

Locke then establishes the boundaries of the state by saying, though men when they enter into society give up the equality, liberty, and executive power they had in the state of nature into the hands of societyyet it be only with an intention in every one to preserve himself, his liberty and propertythe power of the society or legislative constituted by them can never be supposed to extend father than the common good. Locke said that people who had the ability to accumulate as much property and money were entitled to do so.

Locke also stated that when people started using their hard earned money they also had to agree to the disproportionate and unequal possession of the earth. Locke dreaded the state of nature, but he believed that Gods law created moral imperatives preventing humans from being greedy and having a free for all like Hobbes suggested. According to Locke people would not sacrifice all their rights to an authoritarian government. Instead they would form two distinctive groups or agreements, these are the contracts of society and the contract of the majority of society and government or trustee relationship.

This contract of society is formed when people give up their total freedom and move from the natural state into society. This society would roughly be split into two. There would be the property owners and the non property owners. As Marxist calls them the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. In this society property owners who were industrious and hard working were given the right of suffrage and the non property owners seen a non- industrious were not. In order to fulfil contracts within society and government the society contracts an impartial third party to act as the government.

This contract as mentioned earlier is sometimes known as the trustee relationship because the government has no rights but works for the good of the people. The government is given its power to act by the property owning portion of the population, and not by the society as a whole. Lockes theory also differs from Hobbes because the society has the power to overthrow the government. Locke stated that since the society made the government they have the power to abolish it, whereas in Hobbes theory the government was all powerful and the people would dread going back to the state of nature that the leviathan will not be overthrown.

This is also because the leviathan being solely powerful will only check against itself. Locke however feels that the government could be abolished without returning to the state of nature because the social contract would be upheld. If the government was abolished then another would be elected through a majority vote. This has the idea that the government is accountable to the people. The above themes show that Locke favoured a limited government whereas Hobbes favoured an authoritarian one.

Lockes society is designed to protect property, but Lockes definition of property is not the same as everyone elses. overall then, we are left with a society that is designed to prevent the abuse of power and to let people live peacefully and prosperously in an equal society. Hobbes however wanted the citizens to be restrained and have no say in the way the country was ran. Hobbes wanted there to be a dictatorship where decisions were solely in the hands of the sovereign and not the people whom lived in the democracy, so was this theory was actually liberal democracy.


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