An approach based on the theory of “social contract” by Th. Hobbes and J. Locke.
by Stavroula Fountanopoulou
Thomas Hobbes and John Locke are two English political philosophers who highly influenced the contemporary political science. Their political thought has a lot of things in common. But also there are a lot of things that separate them.
1. THE POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY OF HOBBES.
Thomas Hobbes lived in England in the 17th century. His book titled Leviathan or the Matter, Form and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiastical and Civil (1651) is an early form of the social contract theory. In this work, Hobbes concludes that we must surrender to the authority of a monarch, no matter how authoritarian he could be.
1.1 THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT
Hobbes wrote his main work just after the end of the English civil war, which took place from 1642 to 1648 between the supporters of the monarchy of Charles A’ and the supporters of the Parliament led by Oliver Cromwell. The philosopher supports the ideas of the monarchists, who wanted a government with unlimited power. That’s why his work is called Leviathan, to indicate his perception of a powerful state as a mighty monster. In the Bible, in the book of Job, Leviathan is the monster which ruled the chaos. (Burns et al. 1973, 258).
1.2 THE SOCIAL CONTRACT THEORY
Hobbes tried to find the principles that will shape the civil society without destroying it. Unfortunately he is very pessimist about human nature. Man in the state of nature, which is called by Hobbes “condition of mere nature” (Hobbes 1839, 343), has unlimited freedom but he is in a state of fear and insecurity (Hobbes 1839, 110). He is motivated primarily by his personal interest: “So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory” (Hobbes 1839, 112). But this is in contrast with the interests of other people; thus, conflicts are emerged, a state of war, where “every man is enemy to every man” (Hobbes 1839, 113).
Fortunately the nature has gifted the man the desire to seek peace and to do those things necessary to secure it. Hobbes calls this capability “Laws of Nature” (Hobbes 1839, 116). The social contract arises from the need to put an end at this “state of war”. People mutually agree to transfer their individual power to a person or a group of persons. Mutuality is the key term of the social contract: “The mutual transferring of right, is that which men call «contract»” (Hobbes 1839, 120). The government is legitimate as long as it protects those who have consented to obey it. For this reason, has the absolute power. Arbitrariness is not a reason for a government to be overthrown, because the existence of people later on will be worse: “In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; 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 1839, 113).
There are some questions unanswered in Hobbes’s theory. For example, his view that human beings have inalienable rights seems incompatible with his defence of an absolute monarchy (Lloyd and Sreedhar 2014). On the other hand, there are a lot of innovative features. In my view, Hobbes is the first theorist who supports so clearly the assumption that the creation of the state and the civil society is directly related to acculturation and the submission of violent death.
2. THE POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY OF LOCKE
Funnily enough, while Hobbes views humanity to be more individualistic, it is Locke’s idea of inalienable rights that has helped the individual rights movement to move forward. John Locke was a British philosopher who lived in the second half of the 17th century. In his main political work Two Treatises of Government he supports the argument that the state power derives from the people and the legitimacy of a government is based on natural rights and the social contract.
2.1. THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT
Locke’s political work tries to justify the revolution of the English bourgeoisie against the king Charles B’ and his brother, an event known as the Glorious Revolution (1688), and it was published anonymously at 1689 (Deutsch and Fornieri 2009, 274). It was meant to provide the theoretical foundation of the American Revolution (1774) and the French Revolution (1789).
2.2 THE SOCIAL CONTRACT
Locke, unlike Hobbes, believes that the existence of a government in a society is not the result of force and violence (Locke 1764, 194). On the contrary, it is based on the natural rights. These existed before the creation of the government, in the natural state of the human. The government was come to power when the people agreed that their natural state was unsatisfactory and transferred to the government some of their rights keeping some others for them (Uzgalis 2014).
In the state of nature, according to Locke, there is a natural equality between people (Locke 1764, 195). This is due to the intervention of God who wants the people to be kind and nice (Locke 1764, 197). Natural rights are the means which the nature gives to people in order to survive in the state of nature. There are three of them: life, freedom and property. All people have these rights equally and the law of nature implies that it is not logical for someone to attack the rights of others. In other words, the law of nature coincides with logic (Locke 1764, 197-198).
However, the life in the state of nature is not without troubles and leads to conflicts, so people feel insecurity and uncertainty (Locke 1764, 206-207). In order to face these problems, the people create the social contract. People agree to leave accordingly to commonly acceptable laws and rules, which make their lives better than in the state of nature. The political society is based on the principle of majority and grants the government with the protection of the natural human rights. “Whosoever therefore out of a state of nature unite into a community, must be understood to give up all the power, necessary to the ends for which they unite into society, to the majority of the community, unless they expresly agreed in any number greater than the majority. And this is done by barely agreeing to unite into one political society, which is all the compact that is, or needs be, between the individuals, that enter into, or make up a common-wealth. And thus that, which begins and actually constitutes any political society, is nothing but the consent of any number of freemen capable of a majority to unite and incorporate into such a society. And this is that, and that only, which did, or could give beginning to any lawful government in the world” (Locke 1764, 282). A legitimated government is the one which protects the citizen’s rights. If it fails or violates the civil rights, then loses its legitimacy and should be overturned, even with a revolution (Locke 1764, 371).
2.3 COMPARISON OF THE TWO THEORIES
Both Locke and Hobbes made an innovative offer to political thought: they tried to establish the existence of the state in the law of nature and not in the law of God. However, their differences are more than their similarities. There are three points of contrast. Firstly, Hobbes believes that the human state of nature is a state of war and violence, unlike Locke who believes that it is a state of peaceful coexistence and friendly exchange economy. Secondly, according to Hobbes, the government of a society is based on need and violence. In Locke’s view, it is based on the trust between the leaders and their subjects. Finally, as a result of the previous points, the former was a political supporter of absolutism; the latter tried to justify the liberal constitutional monarchy.
Burns E. M., Meacham St., Lerner R. 1973. Western Civilizations: Their History and Their Culture, 8th edition, vol.1, New York: WW Norton and Co.
Celeste Friend, “Social Contract Theory”, Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, URL = http://www.iep.utm.edu/soc-cont/, 14/5/2015
Deutsch Kenneth L. and Fornieri Joseph R. 2009. An invitation to Political Thought, Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.
Hobbes Thomas. 1839. The English Works of Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury; Now First Collected and Edited by Sir William Molesworth, Bart., London: Bohn, Vol. 3. URL = http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/585 , 14/5/2015
Lloyd, Sharon A. and Sreedhar, Susanne. 2014. "Hobbes's Moral and Political Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2014/entries/hobbes-moral/
Locke John. 1764. Two Treatises of Government, edited by Thomas Hollis, London: A. Millar et al. URL = http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/222, 19/5/2015
Uzgalis William. 2014. "John Locke", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2014/entries/locke/ 19/5/2015.