Absolutism And Limited Government Essay, Research Paper
Absolutism and Limited Government
Thomas Hobbes and John Locke set up the basis for the two major forms of government in the 17th century. Hobbes believed that the only successful government would be an absolute monarchy. Locke believed in a limited monarchy form of government. Both of these systems were practiced over many years preceding their writings. The purpose of their writings was to explain why those forms of government are legitimate. Both theories begin with the same basic assumptions, however their conclusions differ greatly. Their opinions were heavily influenced by the general felling of people towards the government of that time.
The foundation of both of these theories is identical. Man without government will never prosper. They differ in that Hobbes seems to have believed that man by nature is constantly in a state of war. He believed that men need government in order to feel safe. He explains that without government there is no justice and injustice. Locke has a less severe opinion on human nature. He believed that man needs government in order to accumulate wealth. Fundamentally both of these theories claim that man needs to be governed. They then continue by explaining that government is formed out of people?s agreement to form a covenant. This covenant takes away their absolute freedom in exchange for their safety. In order for the covenant to be valid and its laws to be
followed, power must be abdicated to some greater power. It is on the matter of what form this greater power should take where these two theories diverge.
Hobbes was concerned with restoring peace and order to England. He believed that the only way to do this was through absolute monarchy. He believed that distributing the power among several leaders would not solve the problem. This would simply put them at war with each other. Abdicating all the power to one sovereign who remains in the state of nature elevates the situation of the population.
The problem with Hobbes? theory is that there is no real check on the sovereign. The sovereign remains in the state of war. There seems to be nothing to stop him from taking advantage of his subjects. Hobbes? solution to this problem is that the sovereign would understand that acting morally would be better for everyone. The problem is that man will never feel safe under an absolute monarch unless he has a way to control the monarch to some extent.
Locke believed that the formation of a limited monarchy form of government is the only way that man can insure his safety. He believed that everyone has to have one common rule to live by. It follows from this that the sovereign must also be under the rule of the government. To achieve this, a complex system of checks and balances must be erected. This guarantees the safety of the people.
Hobbes compared man to the animal kingdom and in doing this, came up with certain standards about man. Man?s competition for dignity and honor ultimately leads to hatred and war. Because man has reason, many think that they would be more able to
govern than others. Man agrees with man through covenants and they need a common power. Hobbes believed that ?The only way to erect such a common power which may be able to defend them from invasion of foreigners and the injuries of one another ?is to confer all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men that may reduce all their wills, by plurality of voices, unto one will?to appoint one man or assembly of men to bear their person; and everyone to accept and acknowledge himself to be author of whatsoever he that so bears their person shall act or cause to be acted in those things which concern the common peace and safety, and therein to submit their wills every one to his will, and their judgments to his judgment.? Every man gives the power to govern to one sovereign. This was visible with Louis XIV in France. He had counselors from the Catholic Church but he was a divine right absolute monarch. The king is the highest person, but he is chosen by God.
Locke did not believe that there should be one sovereign that had power over all other men. ?Men being, as has been said, by nature all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate and subjected to the political power of another without his own consent.? ??tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to. And this is making use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private separate advantage – when the governor, however entitled, makes not the law, but his will, the rule, and his commands and actions are not directed to the preservation of the properties of his people, but the satisfaction of his own ambition?? Locke believed that if there were one sovereign, he would take advantage of all the men he ruled over. He believed that there should be
limited monarchy ? between the king and the parliament. In the time of Charles I of England, there was a civil war between parliament (the Puritans in the House of Commons) and the monarchy. Locke was on the side of the parliament. The Puritans won and abolished the monarchy. Oliver Cromwell was the leader in England until his death. After this, England looks for a leader that will accept the crown along with the new Bill of Rights, which greatly limits the power of the king. William and Mary accept the crown and accept the limited monarchy.
In practice both absolute monarchy and limited monarchy are flawed. An absolute monarchy has no protection for its citizens. A complete democracy in the hands of the people is too weak to attain necessary goals. The major problem with the theories is that they take both concepts to the extreme. The solution seems to lie within a compromise of the two.