What are the major similarities and differences between Thomas Hobbes' and John Locke's conception of the state of nature and the social contract? Which of these two offers the best social contract...
What are the major similarities and differences between Thomas Hobbes' and John Locke's conception of the state of nature and the social contract? Which of these two offers the best social contract theory for modern politics and why?
Hobbes argued that despite natural equality and liberty amongst individuals, the anarchy of pursuing survival made life "nasty, brutish, and short." Without the social bonds that emerge as the product of a state-constituted society, the free individual lives a solitary life in constant fear of violence and death. Therefore, he suggests the establishment of a supreme sovereign power (e.g. King/state) would be the only way to create order and peace as well as secure the natural rights of equality and freedom. This supposedly rational decision, by the people, to acquiesce power (freedoms) to an absolute sovereign in exchange for laws and enforcement that make life possible is understood by Hobbes as an implied agreement, which he calls the "social contract."
In contrast, Locke argued that despite the anarchy and insecurity of a state (of nature) in which each individual rights the wrongs perpetuated against them, because man is a social animal, he mostly honors his obligations and thus the state of nature maintains relative peace. Locke did not view the people as acquiescing any of the natural rights of life and liberty to the sovereign ruler in this agreement -- but merely exchanging individual retribution for the new right of (supposedly) impartial protection of property backed by force. Thus for Locke, the sovereign ruler is not the master but the arbiter and can never hold absolute power since the natural rights of individuals check any abuse of authority. Whereas Hobbes argues that once the agreement was made to establish a sovereign ruler one must obey without the liberty to revolt, Locke argued that if the sovereign violated any natural right, the individual, or the people had the liberty (and obligation) to depose the ruler. This is because, for Hobbes, the contract was only amongst the people themselves - hence once the agreement was reached the sovereign was held to no limits (e.g. the sovereign can never violate the contract). Yet for Locke, the social contract was between the people and the ruler.
Modern politics is deeply influenced by both Locke and Hobbes. Locke, however, is more favorably viewed as the precursor to classic liberalism versus fascist or totalitarian regimes, which have been more closely associated with the legacy of Hobbes. Although, given that many modern (even liberal) 20th and 21st century states have arguably violated their citizens' natural rights (as most citizens' grievances are with the abuse of state power in itself), and yet persist without being overthrown, Hobbes may de facto have more relevance today than Locke.