Thomas Hobbes was a major proponent of the consensus perspective of law, which held that law serves a necessary social function. Hobbes argues that law and government are necessary to prevent individuals from acting solely in their own self-interest without regard to how their actions affect others and society as a whole. Therefore, according to Hobbes, individuals enter into an agreement, a consensus, with the state, in an attempt to work for the common good at the expense of one’s self-interest. In other words, we give up individual desires by choice for the common good of society. Hobbes believes that law reflects a need for order in society, that law protects public rather than private interests, and that law is an effective means of conflict resolution between individuals.
Austin Turk is a proponent of the conflict perspective of law, which challenges consensus perspective. Turk rejects Hobbes's idea of society being composed of equal individuals pursuing their own self-interest. Instead, Turk claims that individuals in society are not equal, and in fact, the imbalance of power characterizes our legal justice system. The conflict perspective draws on the ideas of Karl Marx and asserts that law is a set of resources that people struggle to use in order to promote their interests against the interests of others. Conflict exists when people vie for those resources in order to gain advantage, and according to Turk, the ruling elite maintains the advantage because they have the resources available to manipulate the legal process.
Like Hobbes and Turk, John Stuart Mill believed that the actions of individuals are motivated by their self-interest. However, Mill believed that not all actions are equally motivated by self-interest and that hedonism alone cannot explain human behavior. He believed that people weigh their actions based on reasonable calculations of their effect on one’s self and on society as a whole. Thus, while Hobbes thought that a strong government was necessary to prevent people from acting in their own self-interest, Mills was a defender of individual liberties and small government. He believed that people relied on rational reasoning to balance their interests against society’s. In Turk's view, people always act in their own self interest, and the ruling elite always wins.