, Research Paper
The Political Theories of Hobbes and Locke
In the sixteenth century, the rise of the state and decline of the feudal system brought about the question of authority, whose is absolute, God or man? Should the state have power over its subjects or the subjects over the state? Soon after the theory of sovereignty and the theory of social contract were developed, but even these still drew debate.
Thomas Hobbes and John Locke?s political theories have been influential ever since they were first developed in the late seventeenth century. During this time there was an outpouring of political ideas, Locke and Hobbes?s theories stand out. Their theories are both psychologically insightful, but in nature, they are drastically different.
Although they lived in the same time frame, their ideas were derived from different events happening during this time. Hobbes drew his ideas on man from observation, during a time of civil strife in Europe during the 1640?s and 1650?s. Locke drew his ideas from a time where Hobbes did not have the chance to observe, the glorious revolution. At the time of the exclusion crisis in England, Hobbes was either dying or dead. These two time periods are very influential in the development of these two men?s ideas. As you will see, Hobbes developed a pessimistic view on man from his dreary and bleak surroundings while Locke developed an optimistic outlook on man from his eventful and promising times.
Thomas Hobbes?s greatest work was Leviathan. In this Hobbes stated that people by nature are selfish and ambitious. He concluded that the only way to restrain mans? natural aggression is by implementing an absolute power, whose main objective is to keep his subjects in line. In this form of government, the subject surrender all rights to the state so that it is best equipped to keep peace any way necessary. This idea is essential for the transition from mans? natural state of chaos to an orderly society.
Hobbes was a firm believer in absolutism but was greatly opposed to divine right. He was opposed to mysticism in general. He didn?t necessarily believe that an absolute government has to be a monarchy, but a government with total control over its subjects.
John Locke?s theories on government were deeply influenced by his predecessor, Hobbes. He too agrees that mans? state of nature is a state of war and that a contract among the people can end the chaos that precedes the establishment of a civil society but his conclusions were drastically different.
Unlike Hobbes, Locke believed that people, by nature are reasonable. He was the founder of empiricism. This was the idea that all knowledge comes from experience. While Hobbes believed that humans are implanted with the instinct to be selfish and ambitious, Locke believed that no knowledge is preordained and that all people, at birth, have a tabula rasa, or clean slate.
Locke?s most influential work, Two Treatises on Government, was written during the exclusion crisis of King James II and was published after William and Mary had succeeded him to the throne. In this he states, like Hobbes, that man must make a social contract in order to live in an orderly and civilized society. This is the agreement that forms the authority to govern, but Locke believed that this power is strictly conditional.
Locke developed the theory of mans? inalienable rights; life, liberty, and property. These rights proved to be the foundation of Locke?s political ideas. His views on government were that it should protect these rights. If it did not protect the rights of the people it serves and it became tyrannical, the people have the right to overthrow it. Government, in Locke?s views, is purely conditional. This directly differed from Hobbes?s views in which he states that the people are under contract with the government so that the government can keep peace by any means necessary, even if it infringes on a persons natural rights.
The basis for Hobbes?s theory on government root from his beliefs on human behavior. Because Locke has very different ideas about human nature this is what makes their theories so opposite. The only similarity that can be pointed out about the two great thinkers is that they both believe that mans? natural state is anarchy and that government is the essential to the establishment of a civil society. Aside from this similarity, the two couldn?t seem to think more differently. Hobbes was an advocate for absolutism. Locke was greatly opposed to it. Hobbes believed that the people should surrender all rights to the government while Locke believed that the government should protect the rights of its subjects. Hobbes has a pessimistic view on the nature of man while Locke?s views, influenced by empiricism, were optimistic.
It is easy to support one?s views over another?s but it is not possible to denounce one?s as not being true or correct. Because they are along two different lines of thinking, their writings and philosophies can easily be argued against one another. While Hobbes?s philosophy appeals toward absolute power and Locke?s appeals toward the people, Locke?s ideas may appear more popular but this doesn?t mean that they are truer. It is only appropriate that these two great political philosophers be references to all great political thinkers to follow.