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Compare and contrast theories of Thomas Hobbs and Karl Marx as they relate to political philiosphy.

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Hobbes believed that human nature was fixed, that it never changed irrespective of differences in time, place, and culture. It was the immutability of human nature that allowed Hobbes, in his political philosophy, to treat human beings as if they were objects to be studied in minute detail.

As Hobbes was convinced that human nature never really changed, he felt confident in making sweeping assertions—not always backed-up by well thought-out arguments—about the essential selfishness and rapacity of humankind. According to Hobbes, humans were fundamentally selfish and were therefore in need of an all-powerful sovereign to rule over them. This was the only way, thought Hobbes, to prevent people from being at each other's throats all the time. We can see, then, that there is an indissoluble link between Hobbes's conception of human nature and the specific political arrangements he endorses.

Marx, on the other hand, did not believe that human nature was fixed. On the contrary, he thought that what passed for human nature was really the product of the prevailing social and economic system at any given time. Man was, to a considerable extent, shaped by his environment, which also determined the precise contours of society and relations between the classes. If man appeared greedy and self-centered it was because of how society had evolved, not because of any innate defects in human nature.

Marx argues that if we want man to be less selfish and more cooperative, then we need to change society, and the way we do that is by changing the economic system on which the class system is ultimately based. By abolishing capitalism and replacing it with a communist system, Marx is convinced that we will come to see a different side of human nature, one characterized by cooperation and common endeavor instead of acquisitiveness and greed.

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Thomas Hobbes believed we needed a strong government, preferably an absolute monarchy, to protect the people from their own brutish and violent instincts. Karl Marx envisioned the "withering" of the state and a "dictatorship of the proletariat."

Hobbes, who wrote Leviathan in 1651, a period of civil war and instability in England, thought that only the power of an absolute monarch could keep chaos in check. He wrote that people will live in a state of ungoverned anarchy until constant warfare and instability gets to be too much. Then they will—or in his opinion, should—give themselves to an absolute monarch, who will make all the decisions in the state and even have absolute power over the life and death of the citizens. This would be good, according to Hobbes, because it would bring peace and security. 

Marx witnessed the abuses of the Industrial Revolution, in which more and more people went to work in factories with no protections on the hours they worked. In his time, there was no minimum wage, no minimum work age, and no safety regulations—all of which allowed the factory owners to become very rich, as they paid the workers next to nothing and thus made huge profits. Marx thought the only way the people could become free was to revolt against the owners. Like Hobbes, Marx had a dark view of human nature, especially when it was subject to and influenced by capitalism (he was more likely to think of people as innately good when free of capitalist ideology): however, he thought it was impossible for workers to actually negotiate with the owners, because the owners would betray them every time. He thought armed revolution was the only way for the workers to obtain the economic resources they needed to be free.

Marx's perspective is a bottoms-up view of history. He believed justice could only come when the people at the lower end of the economic ladder had control of the means of production. His ideal state was run by the workers, and eventually all forms of governance would disappear as private property was abolished and everyone produced and consumed according to their abilities and needs. People needed a period of re-education, but could then function without a state. Hobbes, on the other hand, had a top-down view of government. He believed everybody, including the poor, would fare better under an absolute monarch and strong centralized state control.

The lessons of modern history have shown that dictatorships of any sort, be they of the masses or a messianic leader, tend to not work out very well, and a happier political state comes somewhere between the poles of Hobbes and Marx.

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Thomas Hobbes believed that human beings were basically selfish and self centered; he also believed that in a state of nature, each person was entitled to any property which he could possess. This lack of political control resulted in that which Hobbes called the "war of all against all," a situation in which there was

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

Hobbes believed that a strong government was necessary to prevent human beings from utterly destroying each other. He believed that human beings must of necessity surrender certain basic rights to prevent utter destruction. This could only be accomplished by means of a strong government structure.

Karl Marx believed that there was also a struggle, but rather than between individuals, it was a struggle of classes, in which the capitalist class abused and exploited the working class which he called the proletariat. He also saw greed and the desire for property as the ultimate cause of the ills of mankind:

Under private property ... Each tries to establish over the other an alien power, so as thereby to find satisfaction of his own selfish need. The increase in the quantity of objects is therefore accompanied by an extension of the realm of the alien powers to which man is subjected, and every new product represents a new potentiality of mutual swindling and mutual plundering.

To Marx, this situation resolved itself in a violent struggle in which the workers overthrew the business class, whom he called the capitalists. At that point, private property would be abolished, and each person would by his very nature be compelled to work for the good of all; a situation in which the good of the majority was more important than the rights of the individual. In this situation, government (which Hobbes saw as a necessity) was unnecessary and would gradually wither away.


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