Hobbes Leviathan and Lockes 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 Lockes 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 rulers 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. Lockes 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 Lockes 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 mans 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.
The acquisition of property greatly increased the insecurity of people in nature; it was the need to protect property that essentially necessitated the establishment of government. Fear was coupled with the need for protection and at this point people were willing to give up some of their natural rights and establish a ruling structure. One could assume then that not establishing government would lead to a state of war, in other words, that government becomes a prerequisite for maintaining peace and protecting the propertied class.
Locke writes that the peoples insecurity stemmed from the lack of an established law to appeal to for injuries, and of impartial judges with the power to enforce their decisions. The people were no longer emphasizing mutual assistance, but were rather, in an ill condition.As the state of nature deteriorated due to a progressive rise in crime, people gave up some of their natural rights in order to establish a formal government, subject to settled standing laws as a means of resolving differences.As the unbiased arbiter of conflicts, government is established for no other end but the preservation of property. Thus, it is apparent that the introduction of money and the unlimited accumulation of property generated a conflict spiral which necessitated the introduction of government as a conflict resolution mechanism.
To Locke, despite the potential of humans to commit acts of unjust force an overriding state of peace still exists. For Hobbes, however, the natural character of man in the absence of a common superior authority dissolves into a state of war. As long as there is insecurity and danger and the potential for unpunished aggression. In the sate of war there is no reprieve from the incessant danger to ones life. Since death is the summu malum which humans try to avoid, the law of reason or nature commands them to seek peace. As long as people are in the state of nature there can be no assurance of peace because all promises or contracts can be easily broken unless fear of omnipotent government is established to provide stability.
Since war prohibits humans from satisfying their desire for commodious living, knowledge and honour, people are willing to lay down their right to all things and be content with as much liberty as they would allow others against themselves.Hobbes asserts that the establishment of an absolute government with unlimited powers marks the beginning of peace. In order to secure lasting peace the government must be interminable, that is the sovereign, whether it be a monarch or an assembly and must have the right to dispose of the Succession. Otherwise sovereignty remains with the people and civil war will erupt every time a new Sovereign has to be chosen.Government is established through a contract whereby the individuals rights are transferred to the sovereign.
This one-way transfer of rights by rule of the majority makes the recipient of the peoples authority the sovereign and everybody else his subject. It obliges all people to obedience as long as his power to protect them lasts, or until he voluntarily renounces his rights. The contract made is one of every man with every man. The sovereign himself remains outside this contract and is not bound by any obligation to his subjects. Since every person is author of the sovereigns actions, none of his actions can be considered an injury to his subjects or be punishable, as according to Hobbes laws of nature, nobody can injure or punish himself.Subjects can appeal to the law for controversies with the monarch but the sovereign is not bound by this law. Locke, by contrast, proposes that it is up to the people to decide how far the rights of sovereigns should extend and whether or not the prince or legislature acts in their interest. Any controversies that arise, on matters where the law is silent or ambiguous, must be decided by the body of people. Refusal to submit to this arbitration puts the government in a state of war with its people.For Hobbesian subjects, only the fundamental rights of nature to self-preservation remain valid. A Subject thus retains his right to defend his own, but only his own, life even against lawful execution. Even the execution of an innocent person at the whim of the sovereign, however , can never be considered an injury to the Subject, but only to God.
The Hobbesian sovereign thus enjoys absolute arbitrary power over his subjects. Although humans have, by nature, the right to preserve themselves, and the duty to avoid any self injury, they can grant absolute arbitrary power over their lives to the sovereign. To Locke, this is logically impossible, whereas to Hobbes it is not only possible, but necessary because his absolute sovereign is the only form of government which is capable of maintaining peace.
Locke agrees that absolute power is necessary in some cases, for example, in military command. He insists that this absolute power can, however, not be arbitrary, but must be limited by the ends and reasons for which it was instituted.Absolute monarchy is inconsistent with a civil society which was established to remedy the inconveniences of nature, by setting up a known authority to which every member can appeal to upon injury or controversy A government which remains above or outside the law remains in a state of nature with respect to the citizens in its dominion because there is no security against violence and oppression.The exercise of arbitrary power puts the absolute government in a state of war with its people because, as Locke writes,
He who attempts to get another man into his absolute power, does
thereby put himself in a state of war with him; it being understood
as a declaration of design upon his life.The injury and the crime
is equal, whether committed by the wearer of a crown, or some petty
Locke describes this absolute arbitrary power to take away somebodys life whenever one pleases despotical. Subjection to a despotical power is the equivalent of being in slavery which is nothing but being in a state of war between slaves and their master. Slaves are not masters over their own life and do not have the authority to enter into a contract or agreement.It is only when the slave becomes master of his own life, that he can have a right to the means of self-preservation. With a compact between citizen and government, slavery ceases and the state of war ends. It is made clear that people in nature are free and cannot, by definition, voluntarily submit themselves to slavery, as;
this freedom from absolute, arbitrary power, is so necessary to,
and closely joined with a mans preservation, that he cannot part with
it, but by what forfeits his preservation and life together: for a man,
not having the power of his own life cannot, by compact, or his own
consent, enslave himself to any one, nor put himself under the absolute,
arbitrary power of another, to take away his life, when he pleases.
The legislative power or government can have no more power than what humans had to give up. Government ought to be exercised by established and promulgated laws. If people were able to transfer arbitrary power over their lives, it would not be reasonable because they would be in a worse condition than in the state of nature where they had the right to defend themselves against injuries on equal terms, for then mankind will be in a far worse condition than in the state of nature.
In Hobbess view, people can never be worse off under a system of government than they were in the state of nature. For, any form of government is better than that of the state of nature. Since the sovereigns strength depends on the vigor of his subjects, he can have no interest in inflicting great damage upon them. Hobbes admits that people will be subjected to the lusts and passions of his absolute sovereign but contends that the life of humans can never be without some inconveniences and he comments that, the greatest, that in any forme of Government can possibly happen to the people in general, is scarce sensible, in respect of the miseries, and horrible calamities of Civill Warre.
For Locke, government is established for no other end but the preservation of property and can thus not have the right to enslave, destroy or impoverish its subjects. If the legislature or the sovereign act contrary to the peoples interest, either by invading the subjects property, or by corrupting the representatives with money or offices, they put themselves into a state of war with the people.If the sovereign either hinders the assembly of legislators, or arbitrarily changes the elections, or sets up his arbitrary will instead of the legislative, he is using power beyond his right and so becomes a tyrant. Where the law is exceeded, tyranny begins. When the tyrant ceases to act with authority, he puts himself in a state of war with his people and can be opposed by anybody else who the peoples right.In each case government effectively ends and the power that every person gave up upon entering society reverts back to the people, who have the right to erect a new government.
To Hobbes, the limited form of government which Locke proposes can never bring peace, only a state of cease fire, for those that are so remissely governed, that they dare take up Armes, to defend or introduce an Opinion, are still in Warrre; and their condition not Peace, but only a Cessation of Armes for feare of one another, and they live as it were, in the procincts of battaile continually.For Locke, the opposite is true: people who are ill treated under an absolute arbitrary power will be ready to revolt easily, whereas mistakes made by a government under laws will be tolerated. If an injured person can appeal to the law there is no pretense of force. Force is only to be used when he cannot appeal. The right to resistance, even in the face of continuously manifest acts of tyranny will not immediately usher in revolution, because resistance remains on an individual level. Only when illegal acts extend to the majority, or are perceived to be a threat to the majority, will collective defense result. Collective defense against the government is equivalent to civil war. It is the legislators who act contrary to the trust put in them, however, that are guilty of rebellion and thus of introducing the state of war. Civil war can be avoided by good government.
At the international level, governments are in the state of nature for both Hobbes and Locke.For Hobbes, they might not always be in battle, but they are always in a state of war until the establishment of a world government, which would have to be as absolute as the national government he proposes. Lockes interpretation is that these sovereigns are in a state of peace, which might be interrupted by occasional wars. Should one leader invade anothers countryunjustly, as an aggressor: he puts himself in a state of war with that other country. Victory on part of the aggressor does not end the war unless he withdraws and allows the conquered nation to reestablish its own government. The defending sovereign can justly enslave all those who participated in the unjust aggression against him, because they have thereby forfeited their lives. This slavery, however, is nothing but the state of war continued.
No conqueror has a right to rule an entire population unless the people consent to it voluntarily. Consent extorted by force is invalid because it is only made out of fear. Without proper consent the state of war continues.To Hobbes, contracts made out of fear are perfectly valid. It makes no difference whether people institute commonwealths out of fear of each other, or out of fear of the one who is to become sovereign. The allegiance of the subjects is transferred to the victor and peace begins.Only if the subdued monarch is actually a slave of the victor and possesses no bodily liberty, the subjects are bound to their original ruler. In this case the state of war between the people of the conquered nation and the conqueror continues, until the defeated monarch is at liberty to give away his rights of sovereignty.
Leviathan promises that only absolute government can effect peace. If people do not give up all their rights except the right to individual self-defense they continue to live in their natural conditionwar. Collective defense against the sovereign is an attempt at civil war. Under Hobbes ideal government, that is a hereditary monarchy, revolution, the introduction of civil war should not be possible. A sovereigns inability to provide protection is the only occasion on which the sovereign power reverts to the people, and this marks a return to civil war.
According to Locke the government for which Hobbes argues cannot be established by consent. This is impossible, firstly, because people have no arbitrary power to transfer. Secondly, a government which is not bound by standing laws is really no government at all because it remains in a state of nature with its citizens. Thirdly, the Hobbesian sovereigns right to take away his subjects property makes the establishment of this form of government absurd, because the purpose of government is primarily the protection of property. Absolute arbitrary government comes about when the legislature exceeds its authority. A legislature that abuses its power against its subjects interests is guilty of rebellion.In essence then, the government which Hobbes proposes to exit the state of war, would, for Locke either directly introduce or set the stage for civil war.
In Lockes Treatise, the social contract binds citizens to a government which is responsible to its citizenry. If the government fails to represent the interest of its citizens, its citizens have the right and obligation to overthrow it. By contrast, Hobbes Leviathan refers to people as subject rather than as citizens, indicating an absence of a reciprocal relationship between the ruler and the ruled. Absolute arbitrary government invests all rights in the sovereign.