Does Hobbes Sovereign or Locke's civil government provide better protection for the citizen?

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Student Number:    020544162                                                                    26-11-2003

Does Hobbes Sovereign or Locke’s civil government provide better protection for the citizen?

      Both Thomas Hobbes and John Locke were political philosophers of the seventeenth century, and their works ‘Leviathan’ and ‘the second treatise of government’ were written at a time of great political turmoil.  Hobbes and Locke both used the ‘state of nature’ to demonstrate the temperament of mankind as the start of their texts.  After describing the state of nature they were able to interpret core problems within politics to provide better protection for their citizens.  Hobbes tries to demonstrate this through an absolute sovereign whereas Locke adopts a civil government.

      The state of nature is the starting point for both texts and is therefore an ideal place to start to critically analyse, which text provides the best protection for its citizens.  The state of nature for Locke is a state of perfect freedom, however Locke makes it clear this is “a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of license”.  Whereas Hobbes approaches the state of nature, using natural equality, he suggested “nature hath made men so equal in the faculties of body and mind”, however Hobbes does accept differences in speed and reactions.  Hobbes continues with the theme of equality in his state of nature, “the difference between man, and man is not so considerable”.  Meanwhile Locke turns to preservation and natural laws, the following quote shows Locke’s belief in God and all things natural “God, has given the earth to the children of man”.  Therefore it is the duty of mankind to uphold natural law in the state of nature.  The reason behind this was that Locke believed natural law to come from the heart and more importantly from God.  Locke’s views were simple, they were fundamentally based around “be like, you’d like to be done by”.  In Locke’s state of nature he recognises the law of reason where there is no subordination, more compromise, co-operation and the chance for self-preservation (“liberty not license” you don’t have the right to destroy yourself).  One of the main differences between Locke and Hobbes is their view of property in the state of nature.  Hobbes makes it clear that he believes you can’t have property without a sovereign because “everyman has a right to everything, even to one another’s body”.  The explanation for this is because “everyman is against everyman”.  In contrast in Locke’s state of nature you can have property, as it’s a natural right.  This right would also be observed because Locke believed mankind to obey natural law and a combination of cooperation and respect will be observed.  

      The beginning of both states of nature is totally different from how they both emerge from the state of nature.  They both emerge in a state of war and for Hobbes this comes about due to equality, this means competition arises and when two people are competing for the same thing they both cant have it.  The result of this is they “endeavour to destroy or subdue one an other”.  From my understanding of Hobbes, my interpretation of this view is that it derives from the political turmoil of the time.  The situation in England was that of a civil war between the Catholics and the Protestants, they both wanted to be the dominant belief in England and as they both couldn’t have it they fought for it.  Hobbes believed with no protection and everyone against each other, life wouldn’t be prosperous; everyone would be watching their backs and constantly worried about their security from both fellow citizens and from invasion.  “There is no way for any man to secure himselfe, so reasonable, as anticipation”, this emphasises the point that citizens in the state of nature are always anticipating an attack and are always on their guard.  He concludes that without a sovereign they will inevitably end up in a state of war, “during the time when men live without a common power to keep them all in awe”.  A state of war for Hobbes is bleak, with no future.  Life is of poor quality there can be no progress or industry, “in such a condition there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain”.  My interpretation of Hobbes formed quite early on in his text I saw him as a realist, he believed mankind would follow each other like sheep, in contrast it took longer for my opinion of Locke to form.  I came to the conclusion that Locke gave mankind a better chance to succeed, giving them a clean slate and therefore can be classed as a liberalist.  Hobbes conclusion that a state needs a sovereign to prevent a return to the state of nature derives from the competitiveness of man and the problems he discovered.   The state of nature was bad there was “no mine or thine”, and “nothing can be unjust”, this was because “where there is no common power there is no law; where no law, no injustice”.  Therefore the right of nature prevails for Hobbes the right of preservation, “liberty each man hath, to use his own power as he will himselfe for the preservation of his own nature; that is to say, of his own life”.  Hobbes remains adamant about preservation “first and fundamental law of nature, which is to seek peace and follow it”, “the second is to defend ourselves”.  Hobbes suggested, “the passions that incline men to peace are feare of death”, therefore the state of nature directs the citizens to seek peace and protect their lives.

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      Problems occur for Locke in a different way to that of Hobbes, which changes his opinion on mankind.  The main difference in outcome is that Locke adopts a civil government whereas Hobbes selects an absolute sovereign.   Locke’s change in opinion stems from the ‘right to punish’, which Locke lays out early on.  The problem is that everyone has the executive right to uphold the law of nature, “everyman has a power to punish the crime, to prevent its being committed again by the right he has of preserving all mankind”.  Therefore what Locke suggests is ...

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