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Politics A: Analysing Theories of the State and Individual - Hobbes and Locke

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Introduction

Gordon Daniels Politics A: Analysing Theories of the State and Individual Hobbes and Locke John Locke and Thomas Hobbes were two political theorists and philosophers alive in the seventeenth century. Europe had seen the thirty years war that ended in 1648 and was followed by a period of civil wars and revolts in many countries. Most famously in England where a republic was declared and the king executed, war and revolution became a major concern of political theorists. Out of this period came John Locke's Treaties of Government 1689 and Thomas Hobbes Leviathan 1651. Two theories regarding the role of the state and individual that shared much the same theoretical methodology. The discussion of a hypothetical state of nature and the idea of a social contract in order to achieve a civil society, but despite this their views could not have been more diametrically opposed. John Locke would be considered a liberal and liberalism was considered a middle class or bourgeoisie movement for freedom from feudal and monarchial control. They were concerned with freedom legal and economic and supported the idea of civil liberties. Locke argued that sovereignty should not reside with the state but with the people. The state had supreme power but only if it was bound by civil law what he called 'natural law'. ...read more.

Middle

He envisaged a "state of peace, goodwill and mutual assistance and preservation" Thomas Hobbes unlike Locke was an absolutist, absolutism being a political theory made popular by Hobbes. An absolutist system being one where there is no limitation on what a legitimate government may legally do, where authority is absolute and unchecked. This is not to say that a legitimate government can do anything whatsoever and get away with it, but rather an assertion hat a duly constituted government has the right to absolute authority. Hobbes did not see a state of nature as a state of plenty he saw it as a state of war. He imagined a fictional state were no government existed, and he had a bleak image where everyone would be fighting over scarce resources it would be a state of war. Man would not be required to have some social responsibility; he thought self interest would be man's main motive the pursuit of passion, power and wealth. Hobbes concluded that in nature, when all men would act on the basis of their unstable beliefs, there would be an equal instability in their actions. Men would rightly or wrongly conclude that all other men represented a danger to them the life of a man Hobbes said would be 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short'. ...read more.

Conclusion

Locke like Hobbes appreciated the need for government to regulate the relations between men. The contract envisaged by Locke was very different from Hobbes. The Lockean individual only gave up as much of his power as was necessary for the sovereign to leave for him the right to "life, liberty and property". The sovereign was granted a trust by which he governed to safeguard the natural rights of individuals. If a sovereign should prove to be in breach of the trust granted, then the subjects had the right to rebel against the sovereign authority and regain their own power as executors of the law of nature. Both Locke and Hobbes rely heavily on the notion that individual nationality can determine the transition from their hypothetical state of nature to a legitimate political or sovereign authority. Many believe this to be a contrived basis on which to construct the legitimate foundations of government. The detached autonomous individuals Locke and Hobbes viewed as the primary units of a legitimate political society have been seen by some thinkers as an adequate basis for the proper construction of the state. Both were concerned with the security necessary for the individual's existence. However theories of both did to some extent introduce the notion that men had some sort of say in their political destiny, even if it meant sacrificing much of their natural freedom. ...read more.

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