Hobbes And Locke Both Supposed That A

Political Society Was Essential To Provide Security Of Propert Essay, Research Paper

Writing in the 17th century, both Hobbes and Locke used the concept of a state of nature to show the nature of man’s existence before the establishment of society and a sovereign. Both writers then proceeded from this abstract base point to construct a theory of how civil society came into being, what form it took and the consequences of it. The notion of property plays a crucial role in both works. Locke concentrates more than Hobbes on explaining the origins of property, mostly due to his desire to refute the arguments of Filmer and the natural rights theorists and show that all men are born free and equal regardless of what generation they’re born into and that private property does not arise from consent to divide up original common property. He does this through the labour theory of property which argues that God gave the world to all men in common to use to preserve life and liberty, that naturally found objects have to be made useful by labour, that man has property in his own person and therefore owns his labour and thus man appropriates for his own, exclusive use any object in its natural state with which he mixes his own labour (Plamenatz, 1992, p342). By contrast, Hobbes has less to say about the origins of property and concentrates rather on the effect of establishing civil society upon the security and enjoyment of property. `The following essay will firstly consider the role and security of property according to Hobbes and Locke in the state of nature. I shall then examine the factors that motivate men to enter into civil society and the effect this has upon property. This approach should demonstrate that insecurity, with regard to self-preservation as well as protection of property, is a defining characteristic of a Hobbesian state of nature. Whilst security of property from other men, although not from the sovereign, may result from entering a covenant to institute a sovereign, the principal motivation is self-preservation. In a Lockean state of nature, limited security of property does exist, however, the principal reason Locke cites for establishing political society is to further the protection of private property. `To begin therefore, I shall examine the state of nature as described by both writers. The right of nature, as defined by Hobbes, is the right all men have to all things they consider necessary for their own preservation. Thus, as more than one person may deem the same thing essential for their own preservation and consequently have the right to it, no man can have the exclusive right to anything in the state of nature. Given that no one has the exclusive right to anything, no one can enjoy anything in security. Hobbes believes that there is natural equality in that differences in natural strength are of limited significance as even the weakest can kill the strongest. In contrast to Locke the “state of nature is a state of scarcity” (Goldsmith, 1966, p131), and therefore everyone is in competition because a man’s power depends upon the resources he possesses. As no one can afford to trust anyone else (due to the lack of overawing power), a situation exists in which it is necessary to anticipate attack and get one’s own aggression in first; in short, attack is the best form of defence. Thus, natural equality leads to equality of insecurity. As Goldsmith notes, “For such natural goods as there are in the state of nature there is continuous and bitter competition because there is no natural limit to the desires of men” (1966, p131). `The state of nature then is, for Hobbes, equivalent to a state of war, that is , the constant disposition to fight. All men have the natural right to self-preservation and to anything they deem necessary to this end. Consequently, although all men have the right to possess everything they judge they need to protect their lives, there is no right to exclusively own anything and therefore no property and no security. As Hobbes famously argues, the state of nature is characterised by, “continuall feare and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short.” (1914, p65). `The state of nature as described by Locke is quite different to that of Hobbes. All men are born equal and are free, subject to the laws of nature which dictate that men mustn’t destroy themselves or others because of their obligation to God to preserve the life created by God. Every man has the right to punish others for breaking these laws. As the state of nature is governed by the laws of nature, it is not as it is for Hobbes, a state of war. `In the state of nature described by Locke, all men have the right “to dispose of himself and his possessions as he thinks fit” (Plamenatz, 1992, p338). This broad conception of property makes it equivalent to freedom and is limited only by man’s obligation to God to not destroy himself and by the recognition of the same right of others. Property in a narrower sense for Locke meaning the right to exclusive use of an object that no one else has previously claimed is derived from man’s right to dispose of himself as he sees fit and is acquired, as already mentioned, by mixing one’s labour with an object in its natural state. `Furthermore, unlike Hobbes, Locke regards natural resources as unlimited. Therefore, as long as everyone acquires only as much as he can use without it spoiling as Locke dictates, there should be little competition and conflict for resources. Private property does exist then in Locke’s state of nature and, because of the laws of nature and the plentifulness of resources, man is able to enjoy his property with reasonable security. `I shall now consider how entering political society affects the right to and security of property. Hobbes argues that a commonwealth can be created in two ways, namely acquisition, in which sovereign power is granted to a person or assembly that is feared, and institution, in which sovereign power is granted because men fear each other. In both forms of commonwealth however, the rights and consequences of sovereignty are the same. Sovereign power in all commonwealths is absolute, the possibility of the misuse of such unlimited power being outweighed by the insecurity and fear which exists in the only alternative, the state of nature. `Rights in political society are defined by law. Property becomes protected in civil society by “the establishment of general rules of property prescribes a protected area of safety to the individual in the enjoyment of his own” (Goldsmith, 1966, p193). As the sovereign is the legislator of all society’s rules, he or it lays down the rules for distinguishing that belonging to one subject from that belonging to another and the applicable punishment for any transgression of these rules. In this way, man’s property is protected from others in society. The sovereign, however, is not bound by the laws because, if the subjects’ property rights excluded the sovereign and the sovereign could not deprive individuals of these rights, then laws would be contracts and sovereignty would not be absolute. Hobbes’ argument for absolute sovereignty necessarily leads him to “deny the existence of absolute property rights in the subject” (Goldsmith, 1966, p199). `A subject’s property in political society is protected and secure from other subjects by the laws layed down by the sovereign. It is not wholly guaranteed and secure however, for the absolute power invested in the sovereign upon entering civil society, allow him/it to confiscate a subject’s property at any time should he/it wish to do so. So, although property is undoubtedly more secure than in the state of nature, the right to and security of property in political society is not complete. `According to Hobbes, men enter political society out of fear either of other men or of the man/assembly who acquires the sovereignty and out of the desire for a more comfortable life; in short, men enter civil society to improve their chances of self-preservation. In the state of nature described by Locke men do not live in constant fear of being attacked and killed, and thus the establishment of an overawing power (a sovereign) is not motivated purely by the desire for self-preservation. `Locke argues that the fact that everyone has executive power in the state of nature will lead inevitably to confusion and disorder. It is unreasonable to expect men to be fair judges in their own cases when they believe someone to have transgressed the law of nature because they will undoubtedly be influenced by self-love, partiality, passion ,revenge et al (Locke, 1967, p293). Furthermore, confusion may arise in the differing perceptions and applications of the law of nature. It is argued therefore, that men enter civil society because, in order to effectively preserve property, there is a need for “established, settled, known law allowed by common consent to be the standard of right and wrong” (Plamenatz, 1992, p340). The principal aim of men in entering civil society is to ensure security of property and eradicate the inconveniences of each man applying the law of nature in the state of nature to achieve this security. `Locke argues that the law of nature is an “eternal rule” (Plamenatz, 1992, p341) and therefore people always retain the right to remove or alter the sovereign (in Locke’s case, a legislature) should they find it not acting for the good of society. Consequently, according to Locke and in stark contrast to the absolute sovereignty described by Hobbes, subjects do have some recourse should they believe that their property rights are being violated. `In conclusion, for Hobbes the principal motivation for men to escape from the state of nature into political society is the desire for self-preservation. Although this is likely to result in greater security of property, this can by seen merely as a by-product. Property in political society is secure against other subjects but, given the fact that sovereignty must be absolute in Hobbes’ political society, it is not protected from the whims of the sovereign. However, this is the maximum level of security one is able to achieve for property according to Hobbes’ theory. For Locke, a large degree of security of property exists before entering political society. The inconveniences of the state of nature though and the desire to more fully secure their property under a universally accepted and uniformly applied set of rules motivates men to enter into political society: “Men put themselves under government to preserve their property – that is, their lives, liberty and estates” (Plamenatz, 1992, p340). It is possible therefore that, although they believed that one could attain differing levels of protection, both Hobbes and Locke did suppose that a political society was essential to provide the maximum security of property attainable.`Bibliography`J. Locke, Two treatises of Government, 1967, Cambridge University Press J. Plamenatz, Man and Society, Vol. 1, 1992, Longman M. M. Goldsmith, Hobbes’ Science of Politics, 1966, Columbia University Press T. Hobbes, Leviathan, 1909, Clarendon Press (first pub’d 1651) L. C. McDonald, Western Political Theory: The Modern Age, 1962, Harcourt, Brace & World Inc. A. Rapaczynski, “Locke’s Conception of Property and the Principle of Sufficient Reason”, Journal of the History of Ideas Vol. 42, 1981



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