Differentiate between Hobbes and Locke’s theory of social contract and the political obligation generated. - Sleepy Classes Skip to main content

Differentiate between Hobbes and Locke’s theory of social contract and the political obligation generated.

Ques. Differentiate between Hobbes and Locke’s theory of social contract and the political obligation generated.

Answer

  • Social contract theory propounds that persons’ political obligations are dependent upon a contract or agreement among them to form the society and polity in which they live.
  • Unlike ancient theorists like Plato and Aristotle who viewed State as a natural institution necessary for the moral development of people, the contractualist tradition led by modern thinkers like Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau attempted to justify and delimit State as an artificial political authority on the grounds of individual self-interest and rational consent.
  • However, despite being pre-eminent contractual thinkers there are a number of distinguishing features between Hobbes and Locke:
    • Human Nature:Rational human nature was the base of analysis for both the thinkers. However, while Hobbes develops a pessimistic view of human nature which is fearful, self-interested and power seeking, Locke is more optimistic, balanced and has reason to control his passions.
    • State of nature:The differences in their perception of human nature reflected in the state of nature as well. For Hobbes, State of Nature State was one of fear and selfishness. Life in the State of Nature was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Locke’s view about the state of nature is not as miserable as that of Hobbes It was a state of peace, goodwill, mutual assistance, and preservation with presence of Law of Nature.
    • Contract:Hobbes’ contract creates both civil society and political authority for it is both a social and political contract. The contract is irrevocable and perpetual. Furthermore, the Sovereign is not party to the contract. On the other hand, Locke has two contracts- the first causes the creation of a civil/ political society while the second contract establishes a political authority/ government. Moreover, the political sovereign here is made party to contract.
    • Political Authority:Through the contract, Hobbes creates an absolute sovereign, Leviathan who is the sole source, interpreter and executer of laws. Hacker underlines the powers of the sovereign- universal jurisdiction and citizens must render obedience to him, even those who did not sign the agreement as they are bound by majority. Locke’s sovereign notes Sabine is limited by protection of natural rights, separation of power and idea of popular sovereignty.
    • Political obligation: Hobbes create an absolute sovereign requiring unquestioned obedience from citizens. The subjects have a duty and obligation to obey the sovereign since it is the result of their social contract. All private and social associations, including the Church are subordinated to the Sovereign. Oakeshott views it as mixed obligation consisting of physical, rational and moral obligations:
      • Moral obligation arises from obedience to the Sovereign whose basis is consent of those who are governed;
      • Physical obligation is derived from the fact that the Sovereign represents power with consequences for disobedience
      • The rational obligation is based on self-interests and the individual’s desire for peace and order
    • A government based on consent, is the fundamental principle of Locke’s theory of political obligation. Locke insists that a government can’t be arbitrary and is bound by the general laws including ensuring the good of people. In the last two chapters of Second Treatise, Locke argues repeatedly for the right of the people to rebel against a government which fails in preserving their life, liberty and property.
    • Right to revolt and removal of political authority: Hobbes does not provide for a right to revolt and the removal of sovereign leads to return to state of nature. On the other hand, Locke permits revolution against unlawful government with end of political authority not coinciding with end of civil society.
  • Despite the varying differences between the contractarian tradition of Hobbes and Locke, both thinkers’ theory was a challenge to the idea of divine rightas put forth by thinkers like Filmer. Laslett writes that Filmer and not Hobbes was the main antagonist of Locke.
  • Furthermore, while varying in limits on authority both thinkers provided for the start of a tradition of political authority serving the cause of its people, not vice versa and society as a voluntary association of rational individuals,thereby providing impetus to the further development of liberal theory of state.
  • Social contract theory propounds that persons’ political obligations are dependent upon a contract or agreement among them to form the society and polity in which they live.
  • Unlike ancient theorists like Plato and Aristotle who viewed State as a natural institution necessary for the moral development of people, the contractualist tradition led by modern thinkers like Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau attempted to justify and delimit State as an artificial political authority on the grounds of individual self-interest and rational consent.
  • However, despite being pre-eminent contractual thinkers there are a number of distinguishing features between Hobbes and Locke:
    • Human Nature:Rational human nature was the base of analysis for both the thinkers. However, while Hobbes develops a pessimistic view of human nature which is fearful, self-interested and power seeking, Locke is more optimistic, balanced and has reason to control his passions.
    • State of nature:The differences in their perception of human nature reflected in the state of nature as well. For Hobbes, State of Nature State was one of fear and selfishness. Life in the State of Nature was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Locke’s view about the state of nature is not as miserable as that of Hobbes It was a state of peace, goodwill, mutual assistance, and preservation with presence of Law of Nature.
    • Contract:Hobbes’ contract creates both civil society and political authority for it is both a social and political contract. The contract is irrevocable and perpetual. Furthermore, the Sovereign is not party to the contract. On the other hand, Locke has two contracts- the first causes the creation of a civil/ political society while the second contract establishes a political authority/ government. Moreover, the political sovereign here is made party to contract.
    • Political Authority:Through the contract, Hobbes creates an absolute sovereign, Leviathan who is the sole source, interpreter and executer of laws. Hacker underlines the powers of the sovereign- universal jurisdiction and citizens must render obedience to him, even those who did not sign the agreement as they are bound by majority. Locke’s sovereign notes Sabine is limited by protection of natural rights, separation of power and idea of popular sovereignty.
    • Political obligation: Hobbes create an absolute sovereign requiring unquestioned obedience from citizens. The subjects have a duty and obligation to obey the sovereign since it is the result of their social contract. All private and social associations, including the Church are subordinated to the Sovereign. Oakeshott views it as mixed obligation consisting of physical, rational and moral obligations:
      • Moral obligation arises from obedience to the Sovereign whose basis is consent of those who are governed;
      • Physical obligation is derived from the fact that the Sovereign represents power with consequences for disobedience
      • The rational obligation is based on self-interests and the individual’s desire for peace and order
    • A government based on consent, is the fundamental principle of Locke’s theory of political obligation. Locke insists that a government can’t be arbitrary and is bound by the general laws including ensuring the good of people. In the last two chapters of Second Treatise, Locke argues repeatedly for the right of the people to rebel against a government which fails in preserving their life, liberty and property.
    • Right to revolt and removal of political authority: Hobbes does not provide for a right to revolt and the removal of sovereign leads to return to state of nature. On the other hand, Locke permits revolution against unlawful government with end of political authority not coinciding with end of civil society.
  • Despite the varying differences between the contractarian tradition of Hobbes and Locke, both thinkers’ theory was a challenge to the idea of divine rightas put forth by thinkers like Filmer. Laslett writes that Filmer and not Hobbes was the main antagonist of Locke.
  • Furthermore, while varying in limits on authority both thinkers provided for the start of a tradition of political authority serving the cause of its people, not vice versa and society as a voluntary association of rational individuals,thereby providing impetus to the further development of liberal theory of state.

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