Aristotle, Locke, Hobbes and the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence
It has been said that authors such as Aristotle, Locke and Hobbes greatly influenced the "Founding Fathers" of the United States Constitution. The purpose of this paper is to explore the writings of these authors as well as review the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution and to form an opinion as to whether or not it is believable that the above statement is correct.
Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke have long been considered as Political Science writers. Aristotle's works were recorded as being around 350 B.C.E., John Locke, in 1619 and Thomas Hobbes in the year of 1689 to 1690. The insight which they show evidence of gives a clear picture that long has man contemplated freedom and written eloquently of liberty.
Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was signed July 4, 1776. This was a declaration which preceded the writing and signing of the U.S. Constitution. In the Declaration of Independence the following excerpt was penned:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
It is very clear that the "Founding Fathers" of the U.S. were making as a foundation for the government of the U.S. To be infused with the power of the people and not of their own volition. Further those men were created with God-given rights that could not be taken from them by a governing body. In exploring the writings of Aristotle we find that the Declaration of Independence most certainly does contain the essence of what Aristotle wrote in the year 350 B.C.E.
The following is an excerpt from the essay "Politics":
The previous remarks are quite enough to show that the rule of a master is not a constitutional rule, and that all the different kinds of rule are not, as some affirm, the same with each other. For there is one rule exercised over subjects who are by nature free, another over subjects who are by nature slaves. The rule of a household is anarchy, for every house is under one head: whereas constitutional rule is a government of freemen and equals."(Aristotle 350 BCE)
Clearly, the "Founding Fathers" were students of Aristotle. Government is regulated not just in the Declaration of Independence but also in the work of Aristotle as an institution which is in service to the people. The government is not a thing of power in and of itself, but has no power except that which the people give to it.
III. John Locke
The following is an excerpt of the writing of John Locke:
The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but to have only the law of nature for his rule. The liberty of man, in society, is to be under no other legislative power but that established by consent in the commonwealth, nor under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what the legislative shall enact, according to the trust put in it."
How familiar the writings of John Locke sound to the ears of the reader. Surely one can assume that the "Founding Fathers" were indeed, if not students of the works of John Locke, at least had read his works with great attention to what was penned concerning government rule over individuals and the basis for freedom and liberty being an inalienable right to all people.
IV. Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes, although he sounds as though he agrees with the principles of freedom, in actuality was of the belief that without government that man in his "self-seeking" state, or what Hobbes calls "The State of Nature" would be highly uncivilized and ruthless. Hobbes use of words can easily bring the reader to believe that he is in agreement with Aristotle and Locke if the words that he writes are not read carefully as to their meaning. Hobbes seems to believe that man is only as free as he allows the governing body to decide for him, while at the same time, stating that man needs to be ruled over in order to experience freedom in any capacity due to man's innate selfish nature. Hobbes states the following in his work "The Leviathan":
But as men, for the attaining of peace and conservation of themselves thereby, have made an artificial man, which we call a Commonwealth; so also have they made artificial chains, called civil laws, which they themselves, by mutual covenants, have fastened at one end to the lips of that man, or assembly, to whom they have given the sovereign power, and at the other to their own ears. These bonds, in their own nature but weak, may nevertheless be made to hold, by the danger, though not by the difficulty of breaking them.
V. Aristotle, Locke and Hobbes
Although Aristotle and Locke seem to overall have the same belief system when it comes to freedom, liberty and government, Hobbes does not adhere to the same school of thought for the larger part. Even Aristotle and Locke doe not always agree in their philosophy.
However, there is one common theme throughout the writings of Aristotle and Locke that is a connecting factor in their beliefs, that being the theme of man being born with God-given rights that are not subject to any governing body, legislation, rule or command except that which citizens give to the government the right to govern.
No more and no less power is available to the governing body than what the people consent to and infuse that governing body with.
Having established the fact that there is no denying that the Founding Fathers were influenced by Aristotle and Locke in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence for the United States, the United States Constitution will be explored as compared to the works of these writers and also to Hobbes.
The United States Constitution addresses the freedom of religion, press, expression and speech in the first amendment of the Bill of Rights as follows:
VI. Bill of Rights: 1st Amendment:
Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression, Speech
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
In Thomas Hobbes "Leviathan" he writes the following:
But it is an easy thing for men to be deceived by the specious name of liberty; and for want of judgment to distinguish, mistake that for their private inheritance and birthright which is the right of the public only... In these western part of the world we are made to receive our opinions concerning the institution and rights of the Commonwealths from Aristotle, Cicero, and other men, Greeks and Romans, that, living under popular states, derived those rights, not from the principle of nature, but transcribed them into their books out of the practice of their Commonwealths, which were popular, as the grammarians describe the rules of language out of the practice of the time, or the rules of poetry out of the poems of Homer and Virgil."
Clearly Hobbes sees through the delusion of governments who grant freedom by "legislation" and "rules" as he states his belief that citizens cannot know whether or not they are truly free unless they have a true grasp of freedom innately. However, at the same time he seems to hold the belief that man has chosen to be ruled because man seems to know without government that he is doomed to live in a lawless and decadent society due to his natural state of "self-centered" instincts. Hobbes seems to believe that freedom is only the illusion that the ruling power allows citizens to believe that they have the right to possess.
Hobbes does not seem to think that a ruling power actually allows freedom to exist in the real meaning of the word. In other words, the freedom that the ruling power tells the citizen he is in possession of, the written words to guarantee these freedoms are just that; written words with no substance. However, Hobbes does not seem to believe that there is any reason for man to be upset with the arrangement.
VII. Bill of Rights: Amendment XIII
Slavery Abolished. Ratified 12/6/1865.
1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction..
2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.