Hobbes And Locke: Differing Views Essay, Research Paper
What justifies the authority of government? Under what conditions is revolution against that government justified? How does Locke’s answer to the previous differ from Hobbes’s? What difference in their “social contract” theories results in that difference? Each of these questions will be addressed in order to further understand the governmental philosophies of the “Dynamic Duo” and their implications.
Citizens of the United States have enjoyed long-standing protection courtesy of their governmental system. In fact, we as citizens may take this system for granted, or not fully realize why we have it. Luckily, Thomas Hobbes has a view that may bring to mind the alternatives of government and show us why we have a system to provide organization, authority, and protection. Hobbes first points out that we always do what is in our best interest, whether it be killing an intruder, lying in order to gain an advantage over another person, or worse, all of which add up to a state of continual war, fear, and chaos. Similarly, in the sense that we do what is in our best interest, Hobbes says that at one point in time we decided to voluntarily and mutually transfer our rights to another person or group in an attempt to get out of that miserable state of war. Hobbes also contends that if there is not a power to keep people in awe, they will continually be in war against each other. In other words, there is no security without a system such as our own, with consequences for actions that infringe on the rights of others. The crucial part of this system is thus enforcement of policy. Hobbes explains this as, “And covenants, without the sword, are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all.” This makes sense that, without something for people to fear if they go against the laws, they will naturally infringe on the rights of others simply because it may be in their best interest.
Hobbes saw government as a single governing body, made up of the power given to it by the masses; a “Leviathan,” or giant sea monster that gains it’s power from the sea of individuals. According to Hobbes this Leviathan may, in very specific conditions, be rightfully overthrown or at least revolution may be attempted. Hobbes reasons that no rational person would harm themselves, and being that the Leviathan is made up of each and every one of us, no one should harm the Leviathan. Exceptions are granted by Hobbes if the masses are at war with the Leviathan, or basically themselves. At this point, rules go out the window and each is forced to preserve their own rights by any means nessicary.
In contrast to Hobbes, the position held by Locke on viable revolution circumstances is much less strict. Locke and Hobbes agree that both a state of war with the legislature justifies revolution, and the majority will never endanger itself. Locke goes further and states that a legislature that endangers the majority is not actually representing the will of the majority, and should be replaced with a legislature that will represent the will of the majority. Thomas Jefferson took special interest in this rationality when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, and even borrowed ideas and phrases from Locke such as, revolution is justified if there is a “long train of abuses” by the government against people’s rights. Locke also theorized that a revolution would be justified if the government consistently did not protect the property of the subjects. Hobbes on the other hand would argue that revolution was only justified if we were in a state of war with the government.
The differences between Hobbes and Locke’s positions on revolutionary circumstances varies directly according to their idea of why we have social contracts, and what the state of nature without social contracts would be. Hobbes argues that without a social contract, we would be in a state of chaos, fear, and war; circumstances that are not very favorable to survival by the greatest number of individuals. The basis for this belief is that each will do what is best for them. Locke on the other hand, asserts that the state of nature, despite each acting in self-interest, is relatively peaceful based on the fact that men don’t want to risk their lives all the time by fighting constantly. Basically, Locke contends that naturally, man would work to maintain at least a coexistence of some sorts. Although not as favorable to mass survival as government, man would still be somewhat protected, and simply makes his social contract to improve things–not to save them. Hobbes’s theory seems to put much more at stake. Continual war is inevitable if there is no government. Thus protection of that government is essential; his rational being that, until we are in a state of war with the government, the government still has something to offer us. Locke on the contrary finds the chances involved in revolution, worth taking, if the rights and property of the majority are not being protected. Based on their views of the state of nature and reasons for social contract, it is understandable why Hobbes is more conservative and Locke is much more active when it comes to beginning a revolution.
Implications of following the Hobbes model could be that we would still be under British control. Think if our “founding fathers” agreed with Hobbes and found Locke to be too risky, the America in which we live today would not be present. The differences pointed out may seem small on paper, but if you follow them through courses of action, they can lead to substantially different results, whether either is good or bad is not a decision to be made my myself, but personally, I am glad Jefferson et.al. chose Locke.