Menu

Contrasting the Hobbesian and Lockeian Social Contracts

0 Comment

John Locke’s The Second Treatise of Government and Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan both present theories for the construction of social contracts that would enable the sanctioning of a sovereign force to protect the whole. Where Locke takes a more liberal perspective, inviting the ideal that people can function by accepting a ruling authority for the greater good, Hobbes takes a similar yet opposing stance that while a ruling authority is key in the success of protecting the human race, people cannot accept such influence without giving up certain inalienable rights including their own personal sovereignty. With that said, a closer look will be taken into the contract theories of both Hobbes and Locke to determine how their different assumptions yield two distinct forms of social contracts and illuminate which political thinker’s ideal holds more value today. To begin with, John Locke has long been thought to be one of the most archetypal theorists in all of American political thinking. His ideas are so fundamental in the political landscape that it has been understood that his beliefs backed the foundations of the American Revolution in 1776. In his essay entitled The Second Treatise of Government: An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent, and End of Civil Government, Locke details his theories for a distinct form of social contract in which he states that people would be bound by a moral code to uphold a certain dignity when dealing with others. By this code, people would do no harm to others or the property of others, but this could only be regulated by a governmental force that could provide protection from the inherent fear that not everyone would abide by the moral code set forth. Moreover, it is because of this need for protection from those of wavering morality that people would come together and form a state-sanctioned force which would umbrella a safety net upon their lives. It is important to note, however, that since this governmental faction is elected in a pseudo-democratic fashion for the need of the many that faction is only in place as long as the legitimacy of freedom remains intact. Moreover, the governmental faction is there for the protection of the whole, as an impartial judge, and will not persecute anybodyfor protecting his land or family. On the other hand, Hobbes’ Leviathan: Or, the Matter, Form and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil theorized that life was an anarchic mess, where people were unable to act for the good of the many and instead only focused on their own selfish needs. His moral code is similar to Locke’s only in the realm that people come together for a fundamental purpose – but that is where similarities end. Hobbes believed that people had to give up something to be part of the whole. It was regulatory without leadership, a constant realm of chaos and anarchy unless the social contract could be enforced which would essentially require everyone to act in the greater interests of the whole by giving up their own individualized sovereignty. Further, in Hobbes’ contract, people are inherently selfish beings. Unable to share the vested interests of others, people lived in an anarchic state that teetered between the needs of the one and the sacrifice of the many to achieve that fact. In this, Hobbes is almost the complete opposite of Locke in that people are unable to declare a sovereign ruling force without giving up their individualized sovereignty. People are unable to become part of the state without asserting that they no longer need any sort of individualism. Hobbes details that therefore before the names of Just, and Unjust can have place, there must be some coercive Power, to compel men equally to the performance of their Covenants, by the terror of some punishment, greater than the benefit they expect (Hobbes 97). Essentially, for the social contract to function in the ways Hobbes has detailed, people must be compelled by some