Hobbes and Enlightenment Ideas

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Thomas Hobbes contribution was the suggestion that the social order was made by human beings and therefore could be changed by human beings. Hobbes looked on the individual as selfish, concerned with self-preservation, searching for power, and (potentially at least) at war with others. For Hobbes, in the state of nature, there was a war of all against all and life is nasty, brutish, and short. Since individuals are rational, they agree to surrender their individual rights to the sovereign in order to create a state whereby they can be protected from other individuals. Locke and Rousseau further developed this idea of a social contract, although in a somewhat different form than Hobbes.

Contributions of Hobbes include the recognition of the existence of the individual and individual rights along with the concepts of rationality, self-interest, competitiveness, and calculation as individual attributes. Adams and Sydie also point out (p. 14) that Hobbes did not consider the ruler or monarch to be ordained by God (as monarchs often claimed in the divine right of kings) or some external force, but by the people themselves since "authority is given by the subjects themselves." This is important in the development of ideas of political democracy in western Europe and North America.

Enlightenment writings demonstrate a shift away from the view that society and estates (ranks of nobility and the common people) are the basic unit of social analysis and toward the view that the individual is the basis. In this approach, individuals have inherent qualities, abilities, and rights and society emerged and developed as the result of a social contract among these individuals. Those writers who supported an earlier social order would have viewed Locke's notion that the state is the result of "individuals consenting to be governed" to be unacceptable – supporters of an earlier order viewed society as the basic unit, with people having to fill their place in this structure....
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