Giving Up Freedom For Freedom


Giving Up Freedom For Freedom Essay, Research Paper

Thomas Hobbes and John Locke were two English philosophers who both had the idea of a “social contract” present in their political ideologies. Both Hobbes and Locke believed that people would eventually, voluntarily give up some of their freedom in order to leave the “state of nature” and form a society. However, Hobbes and Locke had different views regarding what type of government to instill after the social contract. These views were largely shaped by how the two philosophers viewed the state of nature and the different conclusions they came to regarding the relationship between freedom and authority.

Hobbes believed that the state of nature was not a pleasant existence for humanity. Hobbes described his vision of the state of nature in his book Leviathan. “In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (Thomas Hobbes Leviathan pg.100) Hobbes believed that this unpleasant vision of human existence was a result of people being self-interested rational egoists. Hobbes saw humans as inherently competitive creatures, rationally trying to better themselves through whatever means possible.

In Hobbes eyes, humans as rational egoists were driven to make choices by two main definitions of what humans valued or disliked. The first definition was desire. Hobbes defined desires as things people enjoyed or agreed with. In Hobbes eyes desires included self-preservation, favorable political opinions and the acquisition of power. The second definition was aversion. Hobbes defined aversion as things people didn’t like. In Hobbes eyes aversions included fear of death, unfavorable political opinions, and loss of power. Hobbes believed that people were in a constant quest to maximize desires and minimize aversions.

Hobbes believed that this quest to maximize personal benefits and minimize costs was a lifelong quest and would only end in the death of the individual. This meant that people were constantly looking for ways to improve their immediate situation via whatever mean they had available to them. This in Hobbes eyes, meant that people would often cause harm to others in order to better there immediate standing. This resulted in people living with a constant fear of a violent death. One major reason why this fear of death was so prevalent in the state of nature is Hobbes idea of human equality within the state of nature. Hobbes believed that all people were equal in this state of nature. This did not mean that there were not some people that were better than other people, but rather that every person had the ability to kill one another. This meant that although one person could be smarter than another person, that other person could possibly be stronger and thus have the ability to kill the smarter person utilizing his or her strength. Although people in the state of nature were completely free to pursue their interests, Hobbes believed that the constant warring, manipulation and bloodshed in the state of nature did not make it a viable forum for human prosperity let alone existence.

Hobbes believed that eventually people would realize the flaws of this type of existence and voluntarily give up some of their rights in order to better preserve their existence. The idea of voluntary giving up of rights in order to form a government is known as social contract theory. Hobbes felt that the people would unite and consent to the authority of an absolute sovereign known as the “Leviathan”. Hobbes believed that once the people consented to the sovereign they could not renounce their consent. This was important because Hobbes was in effect saying that the people under the Leviathan did not have the right to revolt. Hobbes believed that the Leviathan must have absolute sovereignty in order to be able to adequately protect people from themselves. People would not go against the sovereign because of fear of punishment by the sovereign. Also, most people would have a great fear of returning to the state of nature and would remain loyal to the sovereign.

In addition to this Hobbes believed that the sovereign must be absolute in order to make sure that men did not swear allegiance to other forms of authority within the state. “Hobbes did not mind much whether Charles or Cromwell was sovereign what mattered was that the sovereign should be absolute, so that there could be no other authority (e.g. a religious one) to which might appeal to justify a rebellion”. (Richard S. Peters Leviathan, Introduction pg.11) Hobbes believed that the sovereign was to be the mouthpiece of god. Hobbes believed that the sovereign was in a far better position to interpret God’s will than the people of the state and that allowing the sovereign to do so would help insure that society would run smoothly. Although the people who consented to the absolute sovereign had obligations to the sovereign, the sovereign had no obligations to the people. The reason there was such great power vested in the sovereign was to protect people from themselves while allowing them to pursue their own personal interests. Hobbes believed that people in their apparent, immediate self-interest, might attempt to break to the social contract and return to a state of nature if not watched upon by an all-powerful ruler.

This extensive blanket of authority was designed to allow humans to freely better themselves in an environment conducive to prosperity. “The passions that incline men to peace are: fear of death; desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living; and a hope by their industry to obtain them”. (Thomas Hobbes Leviathan pg. 102) Hobbes realized that people were still the rational egoists that they were in the state of nature and believed that people would still attempt to seek power in any way they could. However Hobbes believed that underneath the absolute authority of the sovereign, people would find different ways to acquire power besides killing their competitors. Hobbes believed that wealth and the amount one could sell their labor for was a measure of a person’s power. “The value or worth of a man is, as of all other things, his price; that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his power, and therefore is not absolute, but a thing dependent on the need and judgment of another”. (Thomas Hobbes Leviathan pg.73) Hobbes believed that instead of killing each other in the state of nature, people would now try to acquire power by obtaining wealth and possessions and engaging in trade. This industriousness Hobbes believed, would increase the general welfare for everyone and help make society prosperous.

Locke had similar ideas to Hobbes regarding the state of nature, however; there were some key differences. Locke like Hobbes believed that all humans were born equal. However, Locke did not derive this equality from the fact that everyone was capable of killing each other. Rather, Locke believed that humans were equal in the sense that all humans were born with certain natural rights. Locke believed that every man was equal not in the sense that some were not better than others rather “the equal right each man has to his natural freedom, with out being subjugated to the will or authority of any other man.” (John Locke Leviathan pg. 288) Although Locke agreed with Hobbes that humans were for the most part, rational egoists, Locke believed that god placed a limit on the extent of human ferocity towards one another. Locke saw humans as being inherently compassionate and altruistic towards one another as long as their own interests were not directly threatened. However, Locke believed that when ones own interests were threatened interests via a transgression from an outside party, the person threatened might not be the fairest judge against the transgressor. Hobbes believed that “Ill nature, passion and revenge will carry them to far in punishing others”. (John Locke The Second Treatise of Government pg. 267) On the other side of the coin Locke also saw humans as being to easy on themselves when they were the aggressors against another party. “I doubt not but it will be objected that it is unreasonable for men to be judges in their own cases, that self-love will make men partial to themselves and their friends”. (John Locke The Second Treatise Of Government pg. 267) Locke saw this perpetual injustice between people snowballing into a massive chaos that Locke dubbed the “State of war”. (John Locke The Second Treatise Of Government pg. 269) Locke envisioned the state of war similarly to how Hobbes envisioned the state of nature. Although humans were still bounded by god from engaging in the complete cataclysm of Hobbes state of nature, human existence in Locke’s eyes could be vastly improved. In Locke’s state of war humans were more concerned with losing their property or becoming enslaved than dying a brutal death. Locke similarly to Hobbes, believed that people living in the state of nature would eventually unite to form a government in order to avoid a state of war and protect those interests most important to them.

Although Locke came to the same conclusion as Hobbes did in that humans would eventually relinquish some of there freedom in order to preserve there interests, Locke had different ideas about what those interests were and the proper form of authority to protect those interests. Locke believed that limited authority in the form of a limited government was the best way to protect human freedom from the inevitable chaos of the state of war. In Locke’s eyes the absolute authority already rested in God and the fear of punishment from god. In the sense god played a similar role to Hobbes idea of an absolute sovereign at least conceptually. Locke believed that a limited government was God’s answer to humanities troubles on earth stemming from the state of war.

Locke’s government’s main job was to protect a number of key freedoms necessary for what Locke believed to be a proper human existence. Locke believed if these freedoms were protected, that there would be an increase in the general wealth of a nation. As professor Euben said it, “Locke believed the poorest Englishman would be better off than the richest Indian”. (Peter Euben Lecture Date Unknown)

One of the most important freedoms this limited government was supposed to protect was the right to property. Locke believed that the right to property was derived from the right to self-preservation and the idea that a person’s labor was their property. Locke believed that labor was an extension of the individual and must thus be looked upon as an individual’s property. “Though the earth and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself. ” (John Locke The Second Treatise Of Government pg. 274) Locke then proposed that when one when mixed his labor onto something in nature with no previous claims that object or land becomes his or her property. (Whatsoever, then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it some thing that is his own property” (John Locke The Second Treatise Of Government pg. 274) Locke saw the world as being given to men by god in order to aid them in there quest for self-preservation but also to allow them to live more comfortably. Although Locke believes that god gave the world to man in common Locke also believed god had provided the earth for use by industrious hardworking people. “God gave the world to men in common; but since he since he gave it to them for their benefit, and the greatest conveniences of life they were capable to draw from it, it cannot be supposed he meant it should always remain common and uncultivated. He gave it to the use of industrious and rational not to the fancy and or covetousness of the quarrelsome and contentious.” (John Locke The Second Treatise Of Government pg. 277) Locke saw that the ownership of property was the best way to insure that the nature’s resources were most efficiently used. Locke believed that it was only in liberal society that men could be industrious. There were however, limits to the acquisition of property in Locke’s eyes. Locke believed that land should only be acquired if it was not to be spoiled. Locke believed that the spoilage of land was a very bad thing and was the antithesis of the industrious rational human being. Although there was no provision in Locke’s limited government to prevent spoilage of the land, Locke believed that God, being the absolute sovereign would know and would punish men accordingly when spoilage of land occurred.

Another important freedom developed by Locke was the idea of religious toleration. First off, Locke did not believe it was the states job to impose a specific religion. Locke believed that religion should remain a distinctively private affair and should play a very limited role in government. This idea of separation of church and state was a very radical one at Locke’s time when the majority of nations had the church and the state infused as whole. However, separation of church and state went on to become one of the key principles the United states was founded upon and Locke’s introduction of the concept to western political thought was very important in that regard. Locke also saw religious tolerance as an important means to increase the peace between nation states. Locke believed that religious intolerance was a major cause of conflict between states and that limiting a government’s involvement with a specific religion would limit the bloodshed.

Even though Locke saw religious toleration as being important, Locke still did believe that belief in a God was a very important thing even if it was not the traditional Judeo-Christian god his contemporaries placed so much faith in. Locke believed that if humans believed in god, that that in itself would place a limit on the ability of humans to lie, cheat and steal because of fear of being punished by God. Because of the importance of god in his political philosophy Locke did not extend toleration towards atheists.

Another important freedom presented in Locke’s political philosophy was the right to revolution. Locke believed that the government should be accountable to the majority of the people of the state. Locke believed that government was putting itself in a “state of war” with the people when it did not respect there wishes and tried to put them underneath an absolute authority. (John Locke The Second Treatise Of Government pg. 374) Contrary to Hobbes’s idea of an unquestionable, absolute sovereign, Locke believed that if a government was not working in the favor of the people the people had a right to replace the dysfunctional government with one more suited towards their needs. Following this train of thought, Locke believed that people had a “right to resume their original liberty, and by the establishment of a new legislative, (such as they shall think fit), provide for their own safety and security, which is the end for which they are in society”. (John Locke The Second Treatise Of Government pg. 374) This idea of government being accountable to the people and the subsequent rebellion that could follow if government broke its contract with the people was radically different from Hobbes’s absolute sovereign and offered the people protection against the absolute authority of a potentially corrupt and unjust government.

This collection of freedoms protected by Locke’s government painted a radically different picture different picture than Hobbes’s authoritarian government. Although both Hobbes and Locke both argued from similar premises, the conclusions they arrived at regarding the relationship between freedom and authority in their political ideologies were vastly different. These differences however, do not take away from the fact that both Hobbes and Locke have had a profound influence on Western political discourse and that this influence will probably continue for many years.

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