Hobbes vs. Locke: Development and Expansion of Political Thought
Comparing and Contrasting
Hobbes Leviathan and Locke’s Second Treatise of Government
This essay will compare and contrast several of the political theories on natural law, the need for government and structure thereof, as expressed in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. Similarities and differences of political theories are found in these two works, posing the question of whether Locke’s thesis is fundamentally different than Hobbes. A thorough examination of these two influential political thinkers demonstrates that Hobbes and Locke both provide significant development in political theory by investigating human beings in the state of nature and the consequential need for a sovereign. The two authors discuss the institution of the Commonwealth, the powers granted thereto as well the powers they suggest be retained by the governed. Although Hobbes insight is interesting and poses some valid theories, his pessimistic view of the state of nature, combined with excess power granted to the sovereign, makes his work understandably controversial. Locke discovers a similar need for a sovereign power but limits his power to rule by consent for the public good. Additionally, Locke’s characterization of the human beings in the state of nature establishes an optimistic and welcoming contrast to Hobbes. While Locke’s book certainly offers some parallels to Hobbes, Locke cultivated his own unique political philosophy, substantially distinct from that of Hobbes.
On equality, Hobbes indicates that as a law of nature “all men are equal.” He suggests that because all men have equal faculties of the body and mind, that any man has the power to kill any other man. Furthermore, as a result of these equal abilities, men also retain equal hope to gain something only one may possibly attain, thus they become enemies seeking to destroy each other. Locke recognizes that as all men are created equal, no one man should have power over another. He further states that “equality of men by nature” establishes the foundation for “love amongst men” which gives rise to principles of justice and charity. On human nature, Hobbes cites that the three primary reasons men clash is competition for personal gain, mistrust due to concerns of safety and glory due to concern of reputation. According to Locke, it is man’s human nature to be a social animal, driven into society. Both Hobbes and Locke recognize a tendency in human nature for men to have a partiality toward their children.
Hobbes defines the state of war as the condition where men live with no common “power to keep them all in awe.” According to Hobbes, there is a continual battle of every man against every man as it is their very disposition to fight. In the State of Nature, Hobbes argues there is no industry, culture, art, luxuries, improvement, navigation, knowledge of time, no letters or society and “worst of all continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and harsh. Furthermore, Hobbes contends in the State of Nature there is no propriety, no ownership of property, and no right or wrong, as there is no law because justice and injustice only exist in society. Locke distinguishes the differences, which he notes often go unnoticed, between the State of Nature and the State of War. Locke indicates that the State of Nature is peace, good will, mutual assistance and preservation. There exists a perfect freedom both in actions and disposition of possessions as they are unbound by law. Locke defines the State of Nature as “men living together according to reason without a common superior.” In the State of Nature man has the right to criminal recourse “proportionate to transgression.” In the event there is no common superior of which to appeal relief, Locke indicates that the State of War exists. This State may exist...
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