- Thomas Hobbes
, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau developed theories on human nature and how men govern themselves. With the passing of time, political views on the philosophy of government gradually changed. Despite their differences, Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, all became three of the most influential political theorists in the world. Their ideas and philosophies spread all over the world influencing the creation of many new governments. These philosophers all recognize that people develop a social contract within their society, but have differing views on what exactly the social contract is and how it is established. Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau each developed differing versions of the social contract, but all agreed that certain freedoms had been surrendered for society’s protection and that the government has definite responsibilities to its citizens. Each philosopher agrees that before men came to govern themselves, they all existed in a state of nature. The state of nature is the condition men were in before political government came into existence, and what society would be if there was no government. Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau created a revolutionary idea of the state of nature. They did not believe government should be organized through the Church, therefore abandoning the idea of the divine right theory, where power of the King came directly from G-d. Starting from a clean slate, with no organized church, they needed a construct on what to build society on. The foundation of society began with the original state of nature. Hobbes’s perception of the original state of nature is what would exist if there were no common power to execute and enforce the laws to restrain individuals. In this case, the laws of the jungle would prevail where only the fittest survive. Man’s desires are insatiable. Since resources are scarce, humankind is naturally competitive, inevitably creating jealousy and hatred, which eventually leads to war. This constant state of war is what Hobbes’ believes to be man’s original state of nature. According to Hobbes, man cannot be trusted in the state of nature. Limits must be put on freedom and inalienable rights. Hobbes lived in the 17th century, and wrote during the time of the English Civil War. His political views were influenced by the war. Hobbes perceived that by bringing back the monarch, there would be an end to the civil war. On the other hand, John Locke believes the original state of nature is a state of perfect freedom where men do whatever it is in their will and ability to accomplish. Every man has the liberty to arrange his life in the manner he chooses, however no man has the liberty to kill himself. Unlike Hobbes’ nature of constant war, Locke’s state of nature is peaceful, based on the fact that men do not want to risk their lives by constantly fighting. All men desire the right to live and respect that everyone is after the same thing. Locke has these views because he has more faith in people than Hobbes. Man, according to Locke, is governed by reason in the state of nature. Locke was influenced by the revolutionary upheaval in a different way than Hobbes. The war caused Locke to dislike violence and extremes. Stability was the central assumption of his thinking. Hobbes’ era started its reasoning from the assumption that man was naturally vicious or wicked, while Locke’s era was more optimistic about man’s nature and reasoning. The original state of nature, according to Rousseau, is the perfect state for man, where he is free. In the original state, man lives alone in innocence where he is virtuous. Rousseau does not agree that man is an aggressive and greedy being in the original state of nature as Hobbes suggests. He argues that men are truly happy in the state of nature. Only when men become sociable, they become wicked. In Rousseau’s Social Contract, man is depicted as a “stupid and unimaginative animal.” Man has no reason or conscience when in contact with others. Possessions begin to be claimed, but the inequality of skill lead to inequality of fortunes.
Just the idea of claiming possessions excites men’s passions, which provoke conflict, leading to war. Rousseau believes men are not perfect in their original state, but have the ability to live in a more perfect society with guidance of laws. Rousseau has the impression that if people believe they are part of the government, they will work, fight, and build, without complaining in the belief that what helps the good of all people is going to be beneficial to them. Rousseau was self-educated and based some of his theories on Hobbes and Locke. Preservation of mankind is the law of nature established by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. In order to abide by this law, man enters into an agreement, forming the social contract. The social contract is a theory that view’s the foundation of morality being founded solely on uniform social agreements that serve the best interests of those who make the agreement. It is an agreement by which men are said to have abandoned the “state of nature” in order to form the society in which they now live. Hobbes believes that people surrender their natural rights and submit to the absolute authority of a sovereign, who attained power through the collective submission of the people. Even though the power of the sovereign is accumulated from the people, the sovereign has absolute power. Locke argued that agreement to absolute political power is irrational. A government where the power is limited and used to secure individual rights is necessary. The government is run by the people. Locke is opposed to Hobbes’ view of royal absolutism. Rousseau, on the other hand, believes people should enter into a social contract where the individual must give up personal freedom to the general will, which is the sum of all private interests of the general people. Rousseau agrees with Locke in the sense that the government should be democratic, and he agrees with Hobbes that it should be absolute. Men are conditionally in competition for honor and dignity, according to Hobbes, from which envy and hatred arise, eventually causing war. With this view that humans are motivated only by selfish interests, Hobbes argues that people are better off living in a world with moral rules than without. Rules ensure the safety of everyone’s property. Locke believes men make a social contract in order to preserve their natural rights, including that of property. Rousseau, on the other hand, believes that only possession exists in a state of nature. Property is acknowledged only when laws are made and abided by. In Rousseau’s social contract, people convert their liberty from independence in the original state, into political and moral freedom. Rousseau does not agree with Hobbes’s belief that war prevails among men in the state of nature because of pride, but says that war is a product of conflicts about property. Since property does not exist in the state of nature, neither does war. The state of nature, according to Locke, lacks impartial judges, precise laws, and sufficient power to uphold moral laws protecting both people and their property. The social contract is formed to improve things and create order. A government is formed with the basic purpose to serve the rights of the common good of the people. Locke justifies revolution if the government is not protecting the rights of the subjects. The job of the legislature is to represent the will of the majority. If the rights of the people are not protected, the legislature is not representing the will of the majority and should be replaced. This form of a government is representative of a democracy, which is prevalent in the United States. According to Hobbes, continual war is inevitable if there is no government. Since individuals in the state of nature do what is in their best self interest, at one point they decided to voluntarily and mutually transfer their rights to another person (the sovereign) in an attempt to get out of the miserable, constant state of war. Hobbes interpreted government to be a single governing body, made up of the power of the masses. Hobbes contends that if there is no power to keep people in awe, they will continually be in war against each other. For this reason, the power of the sovereign must be absolute. His idea of government is typical to that of a fascist regime. Revolution was only justified if the people were in a state of war with the government. In Rousseau’s social contract, the individual must give up personal freedom to the general will, which is the sum of all private interest of the general people. Rousseau has the impression that if people believe they are part of the government, they will work, fight, and build, without complaining in the belief that what helps the good of all people is going to be beneficial to them. He believes men are inclined to be stupid creatures. If they believe they are part of the government, then they will not doubt anything. Doubting, according to Rousseau, will only hurt society. ‘Man’s participation in society must be consistent with his existence as a free and rational being.’ Society cannot be legitimate if subjects are enslaved. For this reason, man cannot be governed by a sovereign as Hobbes claims; instead, democratic institutions providing for civic freedom of subjects and their equal participation in legislative deliberation and decision is the necessary form of government. Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau constructed their own versions on what kind of government should prevail within a society in order for it to function properly. Each dismissed the divine right theory and needed to start from clean slate. They all agree that before men came to govern themselves, they all existed in a state of nature, which lacked society and structure. The three philosophers developed differing versions of the social contract, but all agreed that certain freedoms had been surrendered in order to improve the way of life
Political Ideologies from this great men play a big role in our current political structures. More awareness on the nature of a structured society should be considered all the time
by Nelson Matoke