Political theory - Hobbes and Locke: Leviathan or a limited government?

Thomas Hobbes: Moral and Political Philosophy
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Seminar paper from the year in the subject History Europe - Other Countries However, this shift in power as a consequence of this pre-societal state does not follow the same course for Locke and Hobbes. This is because two philosophers entirely disagree on the form of government that should be constructed and the kind of agreement that should be endorsed by individuals.

For Locke, the turmoil of the state of nature arises from the fact that each and every person is a judge in his own right, which makes it crucial to establish a social contract amongst men in order to pursue justice.

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This is because Locke refuses a top-down change in the condition of free and equal men in the state of nature and rather perceives his pre-societal men as being committed to renouncing their freedom for the sake of common well-being, safety and peace. Locke envisions constitutional monarchy as an ideal form of government because power remains in the hands of the individuals, at least to a certain extent.

Even though men acquire property in the state of nature, it can never be insured without men abandoning their own power to a civil government that can legitimately ensure justice and protect their natural rights as well as properties. Hobbes also imagines a type of social contract which leads men to put an end to the state of war and transform their community into a civil society.

However, the form of government that Hobbes favours is an utterly coercive one, due to his aforementioned negative view of natural human condition. The absolute power of this government is the only means by which the conflicts caused by hostile human nature may be put to an end.

The State of Nature

Individuals surrender their perfect freedom and subject themselves to a Sovereign who determines all the rules and decides what is just or unjust within society. Whenever any one shall go about to bring them into such a slavish condition, they will always have a right … to rid themselves of those who invade this fundamental law of self-preservation, …And thus the community may be said in this respect to be always the supreme power Locke, , p. Locke clearly asserts that it is lawful for individuals to revolt against a corrupt government and eventually overthrow it, since it has a constitutional rather than an absolute power.


It is evident that both authors use this concept as the basis for their political theory. They both emphasise the crucial need for a covenant between individuals and the government established thereafter.

State of Nature or State of War? Locke and Hobbes discussed.

Their ideal types of government, however, are almost certainly irreconcilable because absolutism, which Hobbes explicitly favours, is entirely disapproved of by Locke. Locke puts a great deal of emphasis upon the desire for a limited government, which can provide justice whilst also preserving human nature as it is.

Thomas Hobbes's Argument For Absolute Monarchy

Hobbes entirely juxtaposes this, as he asserts that government must obtain as extensive power as possible as a means for countervailing the natural condition of humans and thus ensuring security. The comparison shows that their theories contradict one another on very key issues such as human nature, the social contract, the form of government and so on.

go to link Even though each of the philosophers is fairly consistent in his own account, their stances are almost entirely antithetical. Black, Sam. Canadian Journal Philosophy, Vol.

Thomas Hobbes: Balancing Dominion and Liberty

Hampton, Jean. Hobbes, Thomas and Rod Hay. Hamilton, Ont.

Locke also stresses the idea that man is endowed with freedom and equality by nature, which thus causes the state of nature to be a state of sheer freedom and equality, in which no one is subordinated to the other and there is no supreme authority. In Second Treaties, Locke appears to rely on natural theology in his depiction of human nature, due to his engagement with the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth-century.

In other words, individuals are able to realise which behaviours are admissible and which are not in the state of nature. Hobbes is not as much of a believer in the natural theology as his counterpart, which caused him to develop a different understanding of Reason and natural law. In this regard, Hobbes rejects the sense of morality found in Locke, which derives from the moral philosophy of the ancients.

This makes it clear that Hobbes, as an enthusiast for New Science, refutes the idea that a traditional sense of morality is intrinsic to men. Individuals are not capable of determining their acts and realising what is right or wrong, simply because these concepts have no meaning or value in the state of nature. This indicates that the state of nature has an appalling connotation for Hobbes, which causes him to essentially conceive this state as a state of war.

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For him, it is a state of endless conflict, disorder and violence because everyone can benefit from unlimited liberty and thus no one can be sure of self-preservation. This fear is the main perpetuator of the state of war, which causes individuals to come to the conclusion that they need certain laws to end this fear.

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Hobbes asserts that these laws, understood through reason, tell man to seek peace and abandon the state of war in order to ensure self-preservation. Crawford B. Macpherson argues, however, that this distinction, although plainly outlined by Locke, is in fact highly equivocal.

Men living together according to reason, without a common Superior on Earth, with Authority to judge between them, is properly the State of Nature. But force, or a declared designed of force upon the Person of another, where there is no common Superior on Earth to appeal to for relief, is the State of War Locke, , p.

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As this quotation indicates, Locke acknowledges a transition into the state of war, which presumably occurs when individuals fail to direct their behaviours in compliance with the law of nature or Reason, since they are interchangeable to Locke. The state of nature is not a state of license for Locke, because everyone is eligible to execute the natural law when it comes to penalising those who prompt a transition into the state of war.

This indicates, to a great extent, that the state of nature and the state of war are ultimately not as different as they may initially appear. The former must lead to the latter due to the crucial need for an impartial authority to appeal to when solving conflicts in the state of nature. Having examined the ways in which Locke and Hobbes conceive the state of nature, one can conclude that though some of their ideas are similar, there is a myriad of great differences in their understanding of the state of nature.

For instance, Locke perceives the law of nature to preside over the state of nature, in which individuals and their properties are not necessarily in constant danger. Furthermore, both Locke and Hobbes develop a similar understanding in that the natural law serves to ensure self-preservation. However, whereas Locke argues that it is rightful for individuals to execute the law in order to punish the culprit, Hobbes believes that the one and only way to impose the law is the surrender of power to a Leviathan , who can successfully provide security.

Both of the authors ultimately suggest the establishment of a superior authority, namely an impartial judge for Locke and and an absolute ruler for Hobbes, in order to cope with the issues originating in the state of nature, which can be achieved by means of the establishment of a social contract.