Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau came up with theories to explain the state of nature in different ways, and this helped shape political philosophy. Understanding the state of nature was important in order to understand how life was before the first government emerged. It also explains the reasons that necessitated the emergence of government. Locke’s claim that men are naturally free is justifiable because it is evident from the way rights to liberty, property, and life are upheld, and the government is only used to ensure the security of these rights. This paper will discuss the theories of the three individuals and support the most convincing idea.
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Political Theories of Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau
The state of nature is an imaginary situation that is believed to have existed before the emergence of societies. It is believed that there was a time that organized societies did not exist. This has led to several arguments about how life was during that period. It has also led to arguments about how the first government was developed. Hypothetical reasons have been provided to explain how the state of society was established. Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau are among the well-known theorists who attempted to solve the issue of political authority in their different ways.1
Hobbes believed in the monarchical government as the absolute form of government.2 His theory spoke to different audiences, including distinguished scientists. His argument was based on his belief that human beings were naturally selfish individuals. He strongly believed that individuals would never be at peace with each other if they were to be placed in a state of nature. He believed that they could not contain themselves without the existence of a form of government. The events that took place during the English Civil War mainly shaped the theorist’s beliefs about human nature. The English government failed miserably during the period between 1650 and 1660.3 For this reason, Hobbes had every reason to believe and defend his argument.
With this in mind, Hobbes believed that only a strong form of government could manage to contain cruelty among human beings. He strongly advocated for absolute monarchy as the ideal government. In such a government, the king was supposed to be supreme, and his powers were not to be checked or questioned. Hobbes supported the social contract theory. However, he did not believe in people having any rights to defy the leader’s orders.4
Locke also believed that man was naturally wild. This was the same position that Hobbes held. However, these two theorists differed in their perceptions about the state of nature. Locke mainly spoke to the contemporary audience. He believed that it was peaceful and pleasant. In that state, no individual was more superior.
He argued that people respected a fellow man’s life, liberty, and belongings. He claimed that humans are naturally free. They only transfer some rights to the government in order to secure them. For this reason, the government was developed only after obtaining consent from the people. Therefore, its main role was to protect the rights and freedoms of the citizens. In the event that a government was not performing, it was to be replaced with a new one.5
Locke was strongly against the use of force by a ruler in order to make people follow a particular religion. In addition to this, he also disagreed with the coercion of church members by leaders. These issues were highlighted in his Letter Concerning Toleration.6 He used the examples of Jesus and the story in the Bible. Force was not used in order to make people accept salvation. For those people who were quick to judge others for small religious differences, he called them hypocrites. Locke provided several reasons why governments did not have the right to force people to adopt particular beliefs. He argued that it was not commanded in the bible and that people did not give consent.
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He also argued that acceptance of a religion required inward persuasion. On the contrary, the government only used force and could not lead to true religion. Rousseau mainly targeted the scholars as he argued that individuals in the state of nature enjoyed absolute freedom.7 He believed that man was free because he was not controlled by other men. Spiritual freedom was also experienced since this state was not similar to that of modern society. He argued that man was a slave of his own needs. This explained why several individuals suffered from depression and poor self-esteem. This was also responsible for societal ills and exploitations.
Support for the Author’s Claims
Locke’s argument that people have rights to property, liberty, and life is justifiable and reflects the situation in the current society. People were naturally free and only transferred some of their rights to the government in order to ensure that they could continue to enjoy their rights and liberties. For this reason, the government was only formed since it was desirable and accepted by the people. Governments that failed in their role were to be replaced with others. In modern society, government officials are elected by the citizens with the hope that they would help promote the public good.
These individuals can continue to hold office only if they perform their duties effectively and serve the people. In the event that they fail to honor their obligations, they are voted out of the office and replaced by other individuals with potential. This theorist also supported the principle of majority rule. In the modern world, the will of the majority is usually uplifted. The will of the majority may be realized through elections whereby the will of the greater number of individuals is supported.
Locke’s argument against the use of force to ensure support of particular religious beliefs demonstrates a position supported by various societies in the modern world. There are several religions in modern society, and people have freedom of worship. Every individual has the freedom to choose a religious system to join. Locke argued that the choice of true religion was an individual decision. For this reason, the force could not be used to bring people to true religion.
Locke believed that the human mind is one that develops from its blank state at birth to its complex form in adulthood. He believed that individuals learned about things from their superiors through teachings. For this reason, he supports tolerance. He believes that individuals should enjoy the freedom of understanding because this is how they can inform their belief systems. In addition to this, the state was obligated to respect the people’s understanding and choice of true religion.8
What the Authors Would Say In Response
Hobbes would be quick to defend his position by giving an example of the everyday situation in regards to how people relate to each other. Some individuals, especially the successful, usually think more highly of themselves and look down upon those who are not. Such individuals are misled by their passions that leads them to make poor choices. For this reason, he believes that conflicts arise, and war breaks out among such individuals. He termed this as ‘a war of every man against every man9 Therefore, Hobbes would stick to his idea of people transferring their rights to sovereign power.
He would argue that this would be the only insurance against the war.10 His idea is one of having a ruler who would have unchecked power and subjects who would not rebel whatsoever. Although I agree with Hobbes’ argument that some individuals go to great lengths to pursue their self-interests, I do not agree with the appointment of an all-powerful leader to solve the issue. As Locke argues, human beings are rational and have an understanding of what is lawful and unlawful. This understanding gives them the ability to resolve conflicts.11
Hobbes would also reiterate that the sovereign power would be responsible for determining what every individual would own and which individual would hold a public office. He would also argue that the sovereign power would be the body that provides interpretation of the law. This would also mean that the ruler would also determine which actions are crimes and the punishments that offenders would receive.
I disagree with his argument because every human has the right to own property and hold any public office. Such absolute power would only lead to corrupt dealings such as nepotism since the ruler would only appoint individuals well know to him or related to him. The idea of having a leader that determines the property that an individual can have is also unwelcome. This would lead to rebellion.
Rousseau, on the other hand, would support the idea of the general will. He would argue that what is good for each person is good for the entire population. He assumes that all individuals can anonymously agree on the same thing and lead to the enactment of laws that reflect the population’s common interest. However, I do not support this idea. For his idea to be realistic, it would mean that everyone’s situation is similar. This is not possible because the world has individuals of diverse cultures, lifestyles and occupations. The high degree of economic inequality would also contribute to the diversity of needs.
Significance of the Debate
Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau make different contributions concerning political theory and point out important ideas. Hobbes’ argument about the need for a powerful leader to provide a system of checks and balances is valid.12 Certain morals in the society can only be realized if proper laws and forms of leadership are put in place. In the modern world, different types of punishments are provided for different crimes.
Rousseau’s idea of general will is also worth considering. Despite the fact that people have different personalities, lifestyles and occupations, people usually have the same feelings towards certain ideas or situations. Therefore, their general will can be used to shape certain aspects of the political environment.13 However, certain viewpoints are controversial and may require research to ascertain the correct position.
This is particularly so because some of the ideas of these theorists helped shape the modern civilization as certain countries borrowed from these ideas. For example, Locke’s ideas were used to shape the Constitution of the U.S. The ideas helped provide the policy of checks and balances. Rousseau was also a contributor of the Romantic Movement.14 He made significant contributions to philosophy. Therefore, this means that the theories have shaped several areas of the modern world and are relevant to contemporary issues.
Locke argues against the use of force to ensure support of specific religious beliefs.15 This particular idea is interesting because some countries deny their citizens the right to worship. For example, some Arabic states force the citizens to worship only Allah. Christianity is strictly prohibited and individuals who defy the order can be killed. Locke argued that individuals needed to have an inward conviction and belief in order to realize true religion. However, some Arabic countries ensure that Christian leaders do not get the opportunity to influence their citizen’s beliefs. Another example is the United States. Christian education is not allowed in the classrooms. Although no specific religious beliefs are encouraged, the gospel is not to be preached in class. Therefore, this provides an interesting twist.
Rousseau, Locke and Hobbes provided strong arguments about the society that existed before formation of government. Hobbes argued that the use of a monarchical government was the only way to tame the animal nature of humans. Rousseau advocated for absolute freedom and argued that selfish motives led to the societal ills. However, Locke’s argument is most convincing because he highlights areas that are relevant to the modern world.
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Dunning, William. “The political Theories of Jean Jacques Rousseau.” Political Science Quarterly 24 (1909): 377-408.
Harrison, Ross. Hobbes, Locke, and Confusion’s Empire: An examination of seventeenth-century political philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Riley, Patrick. The social contract and its critics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
- Ross Harrison, Hobbes, Locke, and Confusion’s Empire: An examination of seventeenth-century political philosophy, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
- Harrison, Political philosophy, 236.
- Harrison, Political philosophy, 245.
- Harrison, Political philosophy, 240.
- Patrick Riley, The social contract and its critics, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 347.
- Harrison, Political philosophy, 239.
- William Dunning, “The political Theories of Jean Jacques Rousseau,” Political Science Quarterly 24 (1909): 377.
- Harrison, Political philosophy, 240.
- ‘ Harrison, Political philosophy, 238.
- Harrison, Political philosophy, 236.
- Harrison, Political philosophy, 237.
- Riley, Social contract, 353.
- Dunning, “Theories of Jean Jacques,” 391.
- Dunning, “Theories of Jean Jacques,” 389.
- Harrison, Political philosophy, 241.