Hobbes vs. Rousseau

Topics: Political philosophy, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, State of nature Pages: 6 (2320 words) Published: November 8, 2005
For one to be a good citizen, there are certain expectations a person must follow to achieve this goal. While many people have their own ideas of what makes a good citizen, there is little consensus to exactly what this would be. Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in their books The Leviathan and The Social Contract, create a system of political governing where the citizen plays a certain role and has certain expectations to carry out this role for the governmental system to work properly. In this paper, I will discuss what each of the men believed to be the role of the average citizen to support the state. Both men have quite different opinions in regards to the roles of citizens. While both are good theories, and create a strong case for government, neither is applicable in the real world because what is demanded of the citizen in these systems of government is based on certain assumptions. The assumptions made by these men, both good and bad, are not evident in the every day person. Thomas Hobbes believes, that all men are egocentric, by nature. This is to say that men spend their whole lives looking for what makes the happiest as an individual. Even when men socialize, it is not for the benefit of building strong ties between each other, but simply for personal benefit. Hobbes argues that man is self- centered in nature because he desires power. This arises from the fact that man, unlike animals, may seek things that are not tangible. Hobbes argues, not only are men egocentric, but also equal. Hobbes believes that even though every person may have different levels of strength, intelligence or character that all men are equal. "For such is the nature of men that, howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty or more eloquent or more learned, yet they will hardly believe there be so many so wise as themselves, for they see their won wit at hand and other men's at a distance." (Leviathan, 98) More importantly in dealing with equality, Hobbes believes no matter what power, strength or intelligence one possesses, his vulnerability to be killed is the same. Because man is egocentric, a man's ego, for the most part, will drive his actions. Because of this, a cycle of competition will begin. This cycle of competition can be summed up as the state of nature. In the state of nature, where the strong survive, life is not very good. In the state of nature, man is trying to fulfill certain needs, such as safety or life. Because of these common needs, Hobbes believes man searches for peace. Peace is then achieved through a social contract among the members of the society. Before the social contract to even begin, man must find others willing to go along with it. This becomes difficult because man is very untrusting in the state of nature. This distrust, however, is overcome by the fear of death. A fear of death and of equal vulnerability to it is common with all men and the driving force behind men coming together to form a social contract. To create the social contract, every person must give up the right to judge themselve's, and hand this power over to a third party, the state. The state is founded on a common belief system held my all the people in the new commonwealth. "The only way to erect such a common power, is, to conferre all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men, that may reduce all their wills, by plurality of voices, unto one will." (Leviathan, 227) The state is all-powerful and cannot be challenged because the contract would then be broken. The only people that can break the contract are those who agreed to it, therefore the state cannot break the contract, because the state is a result of the contract. Now the Hobbes's social contract has been created and agreed to by the citizens, there are several things the citizens must do to support the state. The demands are simple. A good citizen must obey the state and the laws the state makes. Hobbes believes that citizens have...

Bibliography: 1. Hobbes, Thomas, Leviathan. First Touchstone Edition 1997. 2. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, Social Contract. University of Oxford Press, London, 1947. 3. Mill, John Stuart, On Liberty. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1978. Word Count: 2252
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