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Thomas Hobbes and John Locke: Perspectives on Governance and Power
Though John Locke's theory of natural law and natural rights at first glance seem to oppose the conservative authoritarianism of Thomas Hobbes', both men set out to establish a framework for governance that would protect the rights of individuals. John Locke takes the approach that a democratic nation with a system of checks and balances was an essential ingredient to protecting man's natural rights. Hobbes was also interested in protecting the interests of individuals, but having grown up during tumultuous times, believed that a strong hand was necessary within a governing body to prevent man from destroying himself. Each of these idealisms is important influences to the Constitution of the United States, setting up a framework for a governing authority that protects the rights of people while maintaining a state of peace and order. These ideas are explored in greater detail below.
Analysis: Hobbes vs. Locke
Henry (1999) points out that Locke's theory of natural law "gives every man a title to so much out of another's plenty, as will keep him from extreme want, where he has not means to subsist otherwise (p.1, cited from Locke 1967, 188). That said the right to subsistence according to Locke is a premise underlying Locke's theories. Man has a right to live and to subsist; this right may be considered a natural right. Taking Locke's position, one would side with an economic program that argues the case for workmanship as the ideal standard through which people's rights should be measured. Lock supported productive labor more so than simple ownership (Henry, 1999). Lock suggests that rights should be grounded in theories that involve human nature. Humans by nature are laboring creatures that have a right to reap the rewards of what they sow. They have a right to own property.
Arneil (1996) suggests that Locke would describe America as the beginning of civilization, "to the extent that it reveals civil society's natural origins." Locke's theory of natural law follows his idealisms regarding natural rights, stemming from the idea that man has the right to defend himself and his property because that is the nature of man. Man is born with natural instincts, and these instincts provide a platform for logical governance and order. True law or natural law derives from the right of man to carry out these basic functions rather than subjective decisions made from divided governments. Logically and by definition one might describe natural law as law which follows the "spontaneous order of nature" in the absence of governmental authorities. John Locke firmly believed that law should derive from a man's right to defend himself and his property not power delegated to him by the state
On the same note as this, Locke points out that the right to own property results in many other rights including for example the right to privacy and security. The constitution is moulded on principles such as this, that man has a right to certain freedoms and liberties, and it is the duty of a government to represent a people and ensure that they realize their natural rights.
Thomas Hobbes however, proposed a model of government based on the philosophy of a conservative authority. Nelson (1995) notes that Hobbes observed in the absence of government that human beings would fall into a state of war; these theories likely derived from witness he bore to the political disorder that occurred during his time (p.161). Because of this belief, Hobbes supported a model of government that was absolute in nature. Hobbes would argue that citizens should not oppose a government unless they infringed on the rights of human beings illegally, according to Hobbes in his work Leviathan, Part I Chapter 13 (Nelson, 1995). Interestingly, Hobbes noted that even if government acts on behalf of human's in a seemingly unjust manner, as long as the government perceives its manner to be just, then it is rightly so.
Locke's governmental theories were widely accepted by early authorities looking to assert control and power over the people. Whereas Locke proposed limits on political authority, suggesting that government representatives might be limited by "those natural moral rights that individuals reserve against the government" (Green, 2002:1), Hobbes promoted authoritarianism. Locke's theory according to Hobbes might compel society to fall into a state of anarchism. Under the idealisms of natural law and natural rights, the government would essentially lack the ability or as Green (2002) notes the "authority" to "compel the civil disobedient to abide by its laws" because the person resisting might claim the government was violating their personal and moral rights. This is why Hobbes believed it was important to establish an authoritarian system. Locke would argue in opposition to this however, that a division of government would ensure that the government would not violate personal and moral rights by establishing a system of checks and balances.
The philosophy of authoritarianism is much more severe that that of a true democracy. Hobbes theories acted to enable a governmental authority in an unlimited capacity, where the limits of governmental authority are set by the government itself. Such a system provides little in the way of checks and balances, and may allow the power of one body to become overwhelmingly stronger than the power or will of the people.
The American system is more reflective of Locke's idealisms, where governments do not have absolute power and control over the people, but rather serve to act as representatives of the people. In a democracy, a government in some sense does act to protect the natural rights of people. There is however, more room for civil unrest and vocalization, because in such a system authorities do not have absolute power that overrides the rights of individuals.
According to Green (2002) the Founders of the Bill of Rights believed that authority held by the government was contingent upon the consent of the people being governed. Thus, it could not possibly be unlimited in nature. The Founders were more likely men following Locke's philosophies than those of Hobbes. Citizens subjected to the authority of the state must under circumstances "retain natural moral rights" which the Bill of Rights protects.
Hobbe's idealisms are the complete antithesis of those of Locke in many respects. Hobbes believed in essence that government had no responsibility or duties toward its citizens. Green (2002) notes that Hobbes states that a government could not be accused of injustice even "for putting the innocent to death." This goes along with the idea that a government that is authoritarian is all knowing and powerful in nature, capable of suppressing unrest and chaos.
American constitutionalism claims to provide American's with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet Mayer (2000) points out that a decline in opportunities for Americans in "an increasingly industrialized economy result in a capitalist enterprise that is more authoritarian than liberal in nature." Mayer (2000) notes that the workplace is "authoritarian in organization." Decision making power is almost universally considered top down, rather than shared among workers who contribute labor to the success and profitability of an enterprise.
Mayer (2000) points out that a more democratized workplace is advantageous, and that many workers like Locke would claim, a "moral right of employees." Authoritarian patterns should be considered unjust as they deny employee rights. Further, Mayer suggests that the nature of a right is that in which a person has a valid claim to something by someone against others. Mayer does argue though, that subjection to "managerial authoritarianism" does not violate rights of autonomy, because employee's exercise their right to choose to work in a given situation. Hobbes may have had the upper hand here though. In a workplace environment, the interests of individuals are important, but more important are the absolute authority of the governing body, or the organization. Thus conservative authoritarianism might be better placed in an organizational setting rather than within the primary government of a country.
John Locke's arguments center on the idea that people have the ability to reason or think, and thus have the natural ability to govern themselves. According to Locke, "The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which treats everyone equally" (Uzgalis, 2003). Locke supported democracy by believing that governments were formed to protect individuals rights to life, property and freedom, and that government should be elected by the people. Locke also supports the notion of a government divided into three equal branches so that "politicians will not face the temptation to grasp at absolute power" (Uzgalis, 2003).
Much unlike Hobbes, Locke opposed the notion that man should be controlled against his will. Hobbes like Locke does attempt a discussion of the principles of human nature in his work Leviathan published in 1651. Wiser (2003) would point out that Hobbes believed that Humans are "set into motion by their appetites." Hobbes would argue that naturally, people have a tendency to move away from things that are harmful or…[continue]
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