S Belser

S Belser Human Nature and Self Government Thomas Hobbes and John Locke developed theories on human nature and how men govern themselves. Despite their differences, Hobbes and Locke, both became two of the most influential political theorists in the world. Their ideas and philosophies spread all over the world, influencing the creation of many new governments. These philosophers both recognize that people develop a social contract within their society, but have differing views on what exactly the social contract is and how it is established. Hobbes and Locke each developed differing versions of the social contract, but both agreed that certain freedoms had been surrendered for society’s protection and that the government has definite responsibilities to its citizens. Both philosophers agree that before men came to govern themselves, they all existed in a state of nature. The state of nature is the condition men were in before political government came into existence, and what society would be if there was no government.

Hobbes and Locke created a revolutionary idea of the state of nature. They did not believe government should be organized through the Church therefore abandoned the idea of divine right, where power of the King came directly from G-d. Starting from a clean slate, with no organized church, they needed a construct on which to build society. The foundation of society began with the original state of nature. Hobbes’s perception of the original state of nature is what would exist if there were no common power to execute and enforce the laws to restrain individuals. In this case, the laws of the jungle would prevail where only the strongest survive. Hobbes felt that everyone should live in peace, but you should protect yourself by all means necessary.

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Resources are scarce and humankind is naturally competitive. This inevitably created jealousy and hatred, eventually leading to war. This constant state of war is what Hobbes believes to be man’s original state of nature. According to Hobbes, man cannot be trusted in the state of nature. Limits must be put on freedom and inalienable rights, when there is an excess of freedom and power it is easily and often abused. Hobbes lived in the 17th century, and wrote during the time of the English Civil War. I believe that his political views could have been influenced by the war.

Hobbes perceived that by bringing back the monarch; there would be an end to the civil war. On the other hand, John Locke believes the original state of nature is a state of perfect freedom where men do whatever it is in their will and ability to accomplish. Every man has the liberty to arrange his life in the manner he chooses, however no man has the liberty to kill himself. Unlike Hobbes’ nature of constant war, Locke’s state of nature is peaceful, based on the fact that men do not want to risk their lives by constantly fighting. All men desire the right to live and respect that everyone is after the same thing.

Man, according to Locke, is governed by reason in the state of nature. Locke was influenced by the revolutionary upheaval in a different way than Hobbes. The war caused Locke to dislike violence and extremes. Stability was the central assumption of his thinking. Hobbes reasoning was derived from the assumption that man was naturally vicious or wicked, while Locke’s era was more optimistic about man’s nature and reasoning.

Preservation of mankind is the law of nature established by Hobbes and Locke. In order to abide by this law, man enters into an agreement, forming the social contract. The social contract is a theory that views the foundation of morality being founded solely on uniform social agreements that serve the best interests of those who make the agreement. It is an agreement by which men are said to have abandoned the “state of nature” in order to form the society in which they now live. Hobbes believes that people surrender their natural rights and submit to the absolute authority of a sovereign, who attained power through the collective submission of the people. Even though the power of the sovereign is accumulated from the people, the sovereign has absolute power.

Locke, however argued that agreement to absolute political power is irrational. A government where the power is limited and used to secure individual rights is necessary. Locke is opposed to Hobbes’ view of royal absolutism. Men are conditionally in competition for honor and dignity, according to Hobbes, from which envy and hatred arise, eventually causing war. With this view that only selfish interests motivate humans, Hobbes argues that people are better off living in a world with moral rules than without.

Rules ensure the safety of everyone’s property. Locke believes men make a social contract in order to preserve their natural rights, including that of property. Property is acknowledged only when laws are made and abided by. Since property does not exist in the state of nature, neither does war. The state of nature, according to Locke, lacks impartial judges, precise laws, and sufficient power to uphold moral laws protecting both people and their property. The social contract is formed to improve things and create order.

A government is formed with the basic purpose to serve the rights of the common good of the people. Locke justifies revolution if the government is not protecting the rights of the subjects. The job of the legislature is to represent the will of the majority. If the rights of the people are not protected, the legislature is not representing the will of the majority and should be replaced. This form of a government is representative of a democracy, which is prevalent in the United States.

According to Hobbes, continual war is inevitable if there is no government. Since individuals in the state of nature do what is in their best self-interest, at one point they decided to voluntarily and mutually transfer their rights to another person (the sovereign) in an attempt to get out of the miserable, constant state of war. Hobbes interpreted government to be a single governing body, made up of the power of the masses. Hobbes contends that if there is no power to keep people in awe, they will continually be in war against each other. For this reason, the power of the sovereign must be absolute.

His idea of government is similar to that of a fascist regime. Revolution was only justified if the people were in a state of war with the government. ‘Man’s participation in society must be consistent with his existence as a free and rational being.’ Society cannot be legitimate if subjects are enslaved. For this reason, man cannot be governed by a sovereign as Hobbes claims; instead, democratic institutions providing for civic freedom of subjects and their equal participation in legislative deliberation and decision is the necessary form of government. Hobbes and Locke constructed their own versions on what kind of government should prevail within a society in order for it to function properly. Each dismissed the divine right theory and argued for the need to start from a clean slate.

They both agreed that before men came to govern themselves, they all existed in a state of nature, which lacked society and structure. The two philosophers developed differing versions of the social contract, but all agreed that certain freedoms had been surrendered in order to improve the way of life. -S Belser.


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