Term Paper: Thomas Hobbes and John Locke

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[. . .] Hobbes does believe in the rights of the individual, which at first examination seems contrary to the notion of conservative authoritarianism. Hobbes also promotes the ideal that all humans are equal, in the sense that all humans live a terminal existence.

Hobbes believed that authoritarian governments were necessary however to keep men from destroying themselves. Though no one is naturally superior to another, Hobbes argues that when two people desire the same object, each naturally would have a claim to it; thus people in pursuit of limited goods often turn to conflict or struggle to acquire those goods. One might argue that Hobbes biggest desire was to preserve human beings as individuals (Wiser, 2003); as such authoritarianism serves to keep law and order in a society where the destruction of human beings might be made possible. The rights of the individual should always be upheld when they do not oppose the will of the sovereign government.


Hobbes and Locke share the common idealism of preserving the rights of individuals, but go about it in completely different manners. Locke supports that notion that man is born with natural rights, from which natural law can logically be derived. Locke's ideals are closely tied to democracy and the purpose of the constitution, which was to uphold the liberty, rights and personal freedoms of the people of America. Locke believed that a government for the people, elected by the people would be best suited to protect the best interests and natural rights of the people. Should the people decide that the government is failing in this endeavor, and then the people have a right to overthrow the government. The division of government into three branches however, serves as a check and balances system, to prevent one school of thought from becoming too powerful or dominant.

Hobbes like Locke believed that the rights of man and individuality were in need of protection. Hobbes believed however, in the idealisms of conservative authority, where the law of the government usurps the rights of individuals in certain circumstances. Hobbes theories stem from a desire to protect the individuality of citizens. He strongly believed that in a state where all men are equal, men will seek to differentiate themselves whether through acquisitions or power gains. To prevent war from breaking out constantly, Hobbes believed that an authoritarian government system would be the most effective at deciding what was best for itself and for the people. Hobbe's ideas are far less democratic at first glance than Locke's, but equally important and influential to the Constitution.

Hobbes recognized the need for representation. When the people in a democratic nation elect officials to represent them, the representatives or governing authority is then given jurisdiction to make decisions on behalf of those people. Hobbes set up the notion that law was needed outside of the scope of natural law, because humans by nature do not always act naturally and logically, but rather passionately. Because of this there is always the potential that man will harm himself, thus it is important that someone look out for his best interests. The Constitution sets up a framework for doing this, but without total authority.


Thomas Hobbes and John Locke have developed philosophies that at first glance seem completely opposed related to the nature of man and governments. Interestingly however, both set out with the intention of protecting the rights of individuals. Hobbes believed that firm authority was necessary to establish peace and order, whereas Locke suggested that to preserve the natural rights of man, a democratic state is warranted. The government has a duty to protect the rights of people by representing the people. Locke's ideas may be considered closer to the constitution than Hobbes, though Hobbe's influence and importance are significant historically.


Works Cited

Arneil, Barbara. "John Locke and America: The Defense of English Colonialism." Clarendon Press, 1996

Green, M.S. "The Paradox of Auxiliary Rights: The Privilege against Self-Incrimination and the Right to Keep and Bear Arms." Duke Law Journal, Vol. 52: 2002

Henry, John F. "John Locke, Property Rights and Economic Theory." Journal of Economic Issues, Vol. 33: 1999

Mayer, R.

Is There a Moral Right to Workplace Democracy?" Social Theory and Practice, Vol. 26: 2000

Nelson, D.N. "After Authoritarianism: Democracy or Disorder?" Praeger: 1995

Uzgalis, B. "John Locke." {Online}. Retrieved June 7, 2003. Available: http://c2.com/cgi/wiki-JohnLocke


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