Hobbes' Leviathan and Locke's Second Treatise of Government

Topics: Government, Political philosophy, Thomas Hobbes Pages: 8 (3013 words) Published: October 8, 1999
Hobbes' Leviathan and Locke's Second Treatise of Government comprise critical works in the lexicon of political science theory. Both works expound on the origins and purpose of civil society and government. Hobbes' and Locke's writings center on the definition of the "state of nature" and the best means by which a society develops a systemic format from this beginning. The authors hold opposing views as to how man fits into the state of nature and the means by which a government should be formed and what type of government constitutes the best. This difference arises from different conceptions about human nature and "the state of nature", a condition in which the human race finds itself prior to uniting into civil society. Hobbes' Leviathan goes on to propose a system of power that rests with an absolute or omnipotent sovereign, while Locke, in his Treatise, provides for a government responsible to its citizenry with limitations on the ruler's powers. The understanding of the state of nature is essential to both theorists' discussions. For Hobbes, the state of nature is equivalent to a state of war. Locke's description of the state of nature is more complex: initially the state of nature is one of "peace, goodwill, mutual assistance and preservation". Transgressions against the law of nature, or reason which "teaches mankind that all being equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty and possessions," are but few. The state of nature, according to Locke's Treatise, consists of the society of man, distinct from political society, live together without any superior authority to restrict and judge their actions. It is when man begins to acquire property that the state of nature becomes somewhat less peaceful. At an undetermined point in the history of man, a people, while still in the state of nature, allowed one person to become their leader and judge over controversies. This was first the patriarch of a family, then the wisest or fittest militarily of a tribe. These leaders ruled by wisdom and discretion, though neither they nor their followers were subject to any ratified laws. These rulers represented the earliest signs of an emerging hierarchical order, yet did not constitute a government in the formal sense. A formalized system of government became necessary with the introduction of money, and the subsequent conflicts which arose. The introduction of money, transcended the spoilage constraint, and encouraged unlimited accumulation. Previously, the accumulation of perishable items was unreasonable primarily because of spoilage. The introduction of money, however, permitted perishable items to be exchanged for currency. Thus, money rendered the opportunity for accumulating property without the associated risk of resulting waste. The profits of this exercise were invested in the means by which they were generated – the land. It was the land, when mixed with man's labour offered the means of turning that outcome into money. Since land ownership is a prerequisite to making money and money is a pre-condition to owning land, the two became inexorably linked. In short, the introduction of money led to unlimited accumulation, scarcity and, ultimately, conflict. Although the sufficiency limitation remained intact, there was no longer "as much and as good" land for everyone and, as a result, a visible disparity between "owners" and the "wage makers" appeared and conflict between them arose. Locke commented on the problems inherent in accumulation of property in the state of nature; …and though in the state of nature he hath such a right, yet the enjoyment of it is very uncertain, and constantly exposed to the invasion of others: for all being king as much as he, every man his equal and the greater part no strict observers of equity and justice, the enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe, very insecure.

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