Hobbes and Locke Popular Sovereignty Essay

  • Length: 6 pages
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  • Subject: Government
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #85697615

Excerpt from Essay :

Hobbes, Locke, And Democracy

There once was a time when kings ruled and their people were subject to the absolute authority of that king. The king literally was the law, whatever he said became law. All of his subject had an obligation to be loyal to their king simply because God had appointed him king. Kings claimed their authority from God, and therefore possessed the ultimate authority. However, beginning in the 1600's in England, the people began to see the relationship between king and subjects a bit differently. A new ideal emerged, the idea that a king's authority came from the consent of the people, not from God. It was Thomas Hobbes, in his book Leviathan who first broached the subject that the relationship between the king and the people was a two way relationship. The king and people formed a "social contract" and each had it's responsibilities to the other. Later, John Locke, in his Two Treatises of Government further defined the "social contract" between ruler and subjects, limiting the power of the Monarch and turning the focus of the contract toward the benefit of the people. While Hobbes specifically denounced democracy as an untrustworthy form of government, and instead promoted a strong centralized benevolent ruler, Locke's ideas of limited government, while not specifically promoting democracy, were much more democratic in nature and focused the role of government on to the benefit of the people.

Thomas Hobbes wrote his book Leviathan in the middle of the English Civil War, which raged between the forces of the king, who were attempting to impose his absolute authority, and the forces of the Parliament, who were attempting to limit the authority of the king. Hobbes wrote Leviathan as an attempt to explain the social contract between the King and his people, to define exactly what each part of the contract was, how it came to be, and what each person involved in the contract owed to each other. Hobbes then went on to define the "Laws of Nature," which described the three laws governing the state of things in nature. His first law stated "Every man ought to endeavor peace; as far as he has hope of attaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek use all helps an advantages of war." (Hobbes, 87) (part 1: Chapter 14) His second law stated that while each human may be naturally free, they must give up some of that freedom, along with others, and be content to have only as much freedom to do to others as you would give them to do to you. (Hobbes, 87-88) (part 1: Chapter 14) In effect, people are born free but must give up some of that freedom in order to live in a safe and secure society. This is often regarded as the beginning of what would be termed the "social contract." Hobbes' third law of nature was rather brisk, injustice is the failure to comply by the terms of the social contract. (Hobbes, 88) (part 1: Chapter 14)

Hobbes' purpose was to define the rights and responsibilities between a king and his people, not to attempt to promote democracy. In fact, he believed that because people put their self-interest first, therefore, democracy could never work Hobbes believed in a strong ruler who could establish law and order, but he also stated that the ruler had responsibilities to the people and the country; something Hobbes called the 12 principal rights of the sovereign. (Hobbes, 115-121) (part2:ch18)) While stating what the rights of the king were toward his people, he also discussed the idea that the origin of his authority came from the people themselves. Sovereign power, Hobbes wrote, "is when men agree amonst themselves, to submit to some man, or assembly of men, voluntarily, on confidence to be protected by him against all others." (Hobbes, 115) (part 2:ch 18) According to Hobbes, the people willingly submit to the authority of the king in order to be protected by him.

While Hobbes did not specifically promote democracy, he did discuss it as one of the forms of Commonwealth; a popular commonwealth governed by a group of representatives. (Hobbes, 123) (part 2:ch 19) However, Hobbes rejected this form of government and preferred the sovereignty of a single Monarch over that of a group of representatives, stating that the difference "consisteth not in the difference of power; but in the difference of convenience, or aptitude to produce the peace, and security of the people, for which end they were instituted." (Hobbes, 124) (part 2:ch 19) In other words, a single Monarch was much more convenient and could establish peace and security better than a group of representatives. A group of representatives, Hobbes felt, would not be capable of speaking with a single voice, and therefore, could lead to the creation of different factions fighting for the people's loyalty. (Hobbes, 124-126) (part 2:ch 19)

It was a few decades later when another great thinker, John Locke, revisited the idea of the social contract. At this time another despotic king was overthrown and replaced by new king brought in from overseas. Needless to say the British, having decided to bring in a new king, were keen to the idea of limiting his power. The British needed to clarify the relationship between this new king and his people. Out of this came John Locke who, in his Two Treatises of Government, attempted to define the exact nature of the relationship between sovereign and subject. Firstly, Locke rebuked the idea of an absolute monarch making it absolutely clear that the king ruled only with the consent of the people. When speaking of the idea of Commonwealth, Locke stated "In all Kingdoms and Common-wealths… whether some few or a Multitude Govern the Common-wealth: yet still the authority… is the only Right, and natural Authority of a Supream Father" (Locke, 239) (part 1: Chapter 11-134) Therefore, when people form governments, whether they be a monarchy, democracy, republic, etc., that government must have the authority of a supreme father which maintains the ultimate authority of the government.

In his second treatise, Locke began by defining the state of nature and the natural state of human beings as free. Locke stated & #8230;we must consider what State all Men are naturally in, that is, a State of perfect Freedom." (Locke, 269) (part 2: Chapter 2-4) He went on to explain that "The State of Nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law. Teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions" (Locke, 271) (part 2: Chapter 2-6) And thus, according to John Locke, people should live in a natural state of peace. Unfortunately, while the natural law stated that humanity should live in peace and freedom, not many actually learn from "consulting" the natural law, and therefore, governments were necessary to protect the people and their property. While people are born into a state of natural freedom they also must willingly give up some of this freedom in exchange for peace and security for themselves and their property.

Like Hobbes, Locke did not specifically promote democracy, he also was attempting to define the relationship between the king and his people. But unlike Hobbes, Locke did not specifically avoid democracy is incompatible with sovereignty. Locke presented his idea of "Popular Sovereignty," or an idea that people can willing submit to the sovereignty of an individual, or group of people, in order to maintain a stable and peaceful society that can ensure the security of the people and their property. (Locke, 343) (part 2: Chapter 8 112-114) This, however, must predicated on the idea that the sovereign, whether an individual or group, derived this power from the consent of the people and can only maintain that consent as long as they acted for the benefit of the people and their property as a whole.

Hobbes felt that democracies were an unacceptable form of government as individuals would always put their self-interest first and the good of the people second. He also felt that a Monarchy was a better form of government, if the Monarch remembered he ruled for the benefit of the people, implying that the King ruled with the consent of the people. Groups of representatives were acceptable to Hobbes, but only in a form which could advise and guide the Monarch, not regulate his authority. Locke, on the other hand, believed that the government must have the consent of the people and act strictly for the benefit of the people. Secondly, the governments work best when they have different branches of government with limited powers. To Locke, a Monarchy was an acceptable form of government if it's power were balanced with that of a Parliament for instance. However, both Hobbes and Locke were very stern in their belief that the government needed to be…

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