Hobbes And Locke On Natural Rights Essay

Hobbes And Locke On Natural Rights. Essay, Research Paper

According to the natural right theory, the state of nature is the original condition of human beings in regard to any common authority. In the state of nature, according to Thomas Hobbes, each individual has a right to everything, even the body/life of the other. The state of nature can lead to the state of moral chaos. Moral chaos produces physical chaos or war, thus the state of war, the war of all against all. The reason this is because no one has any connection to the other, everyone has the right to everything, just to satisfy his or her appetites. There is no rational rule to resolve conflict, in order to get around this you have to get an agreement, thus the need for a social contact. The social contract is how governments are legitimated, or given the political right to rule. The social contract is the establishment of a sovereigns right to rule over subjects, you have to give up your right to everything except the right to life, that’s the only thing you retain when you make an agreement with other subjects. The sovereign is above the social contract; it’s not a party to it, but an enforcer of the rules that it applies. The agreement is useless unless there is a sovereign to govern the will of an agreement. We decide what we give our rights to, and then the sovereign carries those rights out, without the interference of the people as a whole.

According to John Locke, the government is legitimated in a similar means. Except that in the state of nature not everyone has the right

to everything. For Locke you can’t just go into the state of nature and just kill someone; unlike Hobbes, you have to preserve your neighbor unless it’s your life at stake, then you must preserve your self. It’s not automatically the state of war, for Locke. Thus government like, just as it is for Hobbes, can exist only by consent. To get out of the state of nature we need to retain our natural rights, the rights to liberty (self-preservation and preservation of others) and the right to property. The same rules that apply to liberty also apply to property for Locke. Property rights are prior (in principle) to government, you have a right to life and property without government. It’s settling your disputes that may make it hard to do without government. The state of nature becomes the state of war when enforcement problems occur, disagreements; thus the reason for government is to preserve pre-existing rights. To get out of the state of nature government can exist only by consent and you cant consent for anyone else, unless of course they are children. There are two major elements of Locke’s social contract. Phase #1 is the bare agreement to agree. People have to realize the need for government, the need for something to solve problems of the people. For Hobbes this is like a bare leap into government. For Locke, there must be societies were people agree to communicate and talk in order to unanimously agree on a government. And if someone decides that they don’t want to join, well,

you cant do any harm to them, or compel them to join your society. Unlike Hobbes, for Hobbes if you don’t join the society and agree to the establishment of a sovereign then everyone else has the right to either force you to join your social contract or they have the right to do harm to you. The reason being is because that one individual that still resides in the state of nature has the right to everything and this by its self threatens yours and every ones safety. For Locke’s phase #2, it is the establishment of a government, society consents to form government, when they agree to establishment there is next a constitution established, rules that determine government of the day. For Hobbes the sovereign is above the social contract. If the sovereign was part of the contract then there was a dispute, you would be back in the state of nature, thus the sovereign is above to make it work. The members of society are the contract. For Locke the members of a society are parties of the contract. Government is an agent for society, government still is not part of society, but society is above government. This is the exact opposite for Hobbes, as I said earlier. Hobbes fears anarchy, thus he wants government/sovereign to be above society. For Locke if an agent acts unaccordingly then the agent’s right to act as your agent is dissolved; it has acted outs side your trust and on your behalf, thus this means it is dissolved.

In terms of looking at our current political system, I feel that natural rights are bases for our system, at least to a certain extent. If you look at Locke and his ideas about the right to life and right to property, then yes, there is that part of his theory in our system today. In contrast though, I don’t necessarily remember ever signing into this system we have today. I don’t remember actually agreeing to a social contract, although, I suppose that our system has to work on implied consent. Which means that there is a silent consent to agree to that form of government, if you don’t disagree then there fore you must agree.

I think that Hobbes and Locke’s view of social obligation is simple. Hobbe’s feels that as long as government is doing its job for you then everything is going good. You don’t worry about your neighbor or anyone else. If their life is being threatened then that is their problem, your worries only go as far as your family. As for Locke, he is more logical I think; he says that if government is threatening someone else then what is stopping that government from threatening you. Locke is more worried about tyranny, were Hobbes is more worried about anarchy. They both say that if your government is doing its job you don’t have the social authority or obligation to dismiss it, don’t fix what is not broken. I think that Hobbes has a much more strict idea of social obligation, after all he doesn’t want a revolt of any kind, unless its you directly or your family

that is being harmed. As for Locke, his whole theory is based on the idea of a right to revolt. He still doesn’t want you to revolt if the system is working, but on the other hand when it is not working. The people have the right to throw out government if it misbehaves and reestablish a new government.

I think the strongest point to the natural right theory is this idea that you have a right to life and property. You can see these ideas in many societies today. These concepts of no one can take away your life or property, they were directly used in our government, Jefferson put them right smack in the middle of the bill of rights. And in my view that is one of the more important documents our government was founded on, but what do I know. As far as weak points, I still don’t like this idea of implied consent. I just don’t see how it is that anyone can actually consent without doing it physically. I understand the concept behind it; I just don’t like it. I never agreed to anything, I like forced consent better, if you think about it. I never had any other choice, it’s either use this form of government or be forced to live your life in back of a jail cell. But I guess Hobbes and Locke would say why disagree with the government if it working.


A 5page report on the Natural rights of humans from a Hobbsian and Lockian point of view. It discusses the state of nature and the natural property rights ect.



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