Compare and contrast the views of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke
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Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and John Locke (1632-1704) greatly disagreed on many key issues of their day; issues such as human nature, political authority, and the right of people to rebel. Hobbes studied before the Enlightenment, whereas that influenced John Locke’s views immensely. Hobbes’s ideas are also derived from his pessimistic view of human nature. He viewed people as selfish and greedy. To the contrary, Locke viewed people as good and intelligent.
Hobbes often described people as selfish and, because of this; he believed that a strong state was necessary to keep them in line. Hobbes also stated that life is “every man, against every man”. This meant that humans will always compete even when they would be better off cooperating. According to Hobbes, people are selfish, even when it would benefit them to cooperate with each other; because it is passion and not reason that governs people’s action. Hobbes states in his book, Leviathan, that life is a “war of all against all” because humans are always fighting for the limited recourses on the earth. Locke disagreed with Hobbes about virtuallyevery aspect of human nature. Locke believed that humans could be well-behaved and civilized and therefore a dictatorial or overly strong state is not needed. Locke also believed that people gain knowledge by experience; meaning that the more you live through the better decisions you will be able to make.
According to Locke, a ruler’s political authority is derived from the people who give the ruler his authority. Therefore, a state is in place for only one reason, to help those people who gave the state its power. Locke also believed that people have certain basic rights that cannot be taken away and any ruler who violates those rights is out-stepping his realm of power. These beliefs translated to his idea that religious tolerance was necessary in order for the state to be successful. The safest way a state could hold authority is to split the state into branches; giving each branch only as much power as needed to achieve its purpose. This he stated would stop one person or group from gaining excessive power and possibly abusing that power to the harm of the people.
Hobbes held quite different beliefs regarding political authority. He believed that people are inherently selfish and greedy, and thus must have rulers with absolute power. If the ruler of a state does not have supreme and absolute power, Hobbes believed that the state will fall apart and descend into civil war. Hobbes who was living through the English civil war believed that civil war was the absolute worst thing that could happen to a state. While Hobbes believed in an absolute political power, he also believed that, unless the people were harming each other, the monarch should not bother them and should keep to himself.
A long disputed topic is whether in certain circumstances humans have a right to rebel against an unjust state. Hobbes believed that the only time rebellion is justified is if the state threatens the life of the populace. Further, Hobbes believed a state should be obeyed even when it violates the law of God. Locke, on the other hand, believed that humans are born with natural rights including life, liberty, and property. Locke stated that, if any of these natural rights were violated by a state, the people had the right and reason to rebel. Power, according to Locke, came from the people and, therefore, they had the right to take it back. Locke was not encouraging rebellion, but he was trying to show rulers that the best way to prevent rebellion is to keep the trust that the people have given them and use it wisely and fairly.
Obviously, Locke and Hobbes disagreed with many key issues including human nature, political authority, and right to rebellion. Locke believed humans are basically good, while Hobbes believed them to be selfish. Locke believed political authority rested with the people, while Hobbes believed an absolute monarch should have complete authority. Hobbes and Locke agreed that there were certain times when rebellion was righteous but Locke believed this to be far less frequent than Hobbes.