Philosophy / Hobbes &Amp; Locke
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In recent articles on Hobbes and Locke I pointed out that both thinkers believe in human rights. Despite this similarity, their conceptions of government are very different. Hobbes advocates a monarchy that has absolute power to enforce contracts and maintain morality. His is a state that awes its members into submission; if they defy the state, they could be destroyed. Locke advocates something closer to the liberal state, where freedom is important and state power has checks. Put differently, for Hobbes rights are enforced by the state, while for Locke rights protect us from the state. The difference is both subtle and drastic.
The subtle part of the equation is that the rights advocated are basically similar. Both Hobbes and Locke believe people have a right to self-preservation. They have a right to freedom as well, though for Hobbes that freedom must be partly relinquished to the state in order to be enjoyed in any reasonable way. Without the state, we would have total freedom, but no ability to exercise it without fear of being trampled by other people. For Locke, the state creates freedom by enforcing rights. Where it fails to do so, revolution is appropriate.
This is where a drastic difference emerges. There is no room for outright revolution in Hobbes's state. His state is immense and relatively all-powerful. Citizens have no chance of defeating it, even if they combine forces. That's how the state maintains the power to enforce contracts. Locke seems to see such a state as a terror, and most of us today would agree with him. If we the people cannot overturn the state, then we feel unsafe and more than a little trapped.
At least part of the difference between Hobbes and Locke can be attributed to their historical circumstances. Hobbes witnessed the English Civil War, which destroyed every opportunity for happiness for many people. His all-powerful state must have seemed like the lesser of two evils, since it would at least be stable and life would not devolve into anarchy. Locke, however, witnessed the Glorious Revolution, where the government was completely changed without bloodshed. For him, revolution must not have seemed like such a terrible thing. Most likely, both views are too extreme. Revolution is usually a costly endeavor, since those in power rarely relinquish it willingly. However, the possibility or revolution is a key part of maintaining rights, since an all-powerful government could suppress our rights without fear of repercussion.
Locke versus Hobbes
Locke and Hobbes were both social contract theorists, and both natural law theorists (Natural law in the sense of Saint Thomas Aquinas, not Natural law in the sense of Newton), but there the resemblance ends. All other natural law theorists assumed that man was by nature a social animal. Hobbes assumed otherwise, thus his conclusions are strikingly different from those of other natural law theorists. In addition to his highly unconventional conclusions about natural law, Hobbes was fairly infamous for producing numerous similarly unconventional results in physics and mathematics. The leading English mathematician of that era, in the pages of the Proceedings of the Royal Academy, called Hobbes a lunatic for his claim to have squared the circle.
Issue Locke Hobbes
Human nature Man is by nature a social animal. Man is not by nature a social animal, society could not exist except by the power of the state.
The state of nature In the state of nature men mostly kept their promises and honored their obligations, and, though insecure, it was mostly peaceful, good, and pleasant. He quotes the American frontier and Soldania as examples of people in the state of nature, where property rights and (for the most part) peace existed. Princes are in a state of nature with regard to each other. Rome and Venice were in a state of nature shortly before they were officially founded. In any place where it is socially acceptable to oneself punish wrongdoings done against you, for example on the American frontier, people are in a state of nature. Though such places and times are insecure, violent conflicts are often ended by the forcible imposition of a just peace on evil doers, and peace is normal. 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.
Knowledge of natural law Humans know what is right and wrong, and are capable of knowing what is lawful and unlawful well enough to resolve conflicts. In particular, and most importantly, they are capable of telling the difference between what is theirs and what belongs to someone else. Regrettably they do not always act in accordance with this knowledge. Our knowledge of objective, true answers on such questions is so feeble, so slight and imperfect as to be mostly worthless in resolving practical disputes. In a state of nature people cannot know what is theirs and what is someone else's. Property exists solely by the will of the state, thus in a state of nature men are condemned to endless violent conflict. In practice morality is for the most part merely a command by some person or group or God, and law merely the momentary will of the ruler.
Epistemology The gap between our ideas and words about the world, and the world itself, is large and difficult, but still, if one man calls something good, while another man calls it evil, the deed or man referred to still has real qualities of good or evil, the categories exist in the world regardless of our names for them, and if one man's word does not correspond to another mans word, this a problem of communication, not fundamental arbitrariness in reality. It is the naming, that makes it so. Sometimes Hobbes comes close to the Stalinist position that truth itself is merely the will of the ruler.
Conflict Peace is the norm, and should be the norm. We can and should live together in peace by refraining from molesting each other's property and persons, and for the most part we do. Men cannot know good and evil, and in consequence can only live in peace together by subjection to the absolute power of a common master, and therefore there can be no peace between kings. Peace between states is merely war by other means.
Issue Locke Hobbes
The Social Contract We give up our right to ourselves exact retribution for crimes in return for impartial justice backed by overwhelming force. We retain the right to life and liberty, and gain the right to just, impartial protection of our property If you shut up and do as you are told, you have the right not to be killed
Violation of the social contract If a ruler seeks absolute power, if he acts both as judge and participant in disputes, he puts himself in a state of war with his subjects and we have the right and the duty to kill such rulers and their servants. No right to rebel. The ruler's will defines good and evil for his subjects. The King can do no wrong, because lawful and unlawful, good and evil, are merely commands, merely the will of the ruler.
Civil Society Civil society precedes the state, both morally and historically. Society creates order and grants the state legitimacy. Civil society is the application of force by the state to uphold contracts and so forth. Civil society is a creation of the state. What most modern people would call civil society is "jostling", pointless conflict and pursuit of selfish ends that a good government should suppress.
Rights Men have rights by their nature You conceded your rights to the government, in return for your life
Role of the State The only important role of the state is to ensure that justice is seen to be done Whatever the state does is just by definition. All of society is a direct creation of the state, and a reflection of the will of the ruler.
Authorized use of force Authorization is meaningless, except that the authorization gives us reason to believe that the use of force is just. If authorization does not give us such confidence, perhaps because the state itself is a party to the dispute, or because of past lawless acts and abuses by the state, then we are back in a state of nature. The concept of just use of force is meaningless or cannot be known. Just use of force is whatever force is authorized
The Grolier encyclopedia contrasts Locke and Hobbes as follows:
Locke's considerable importance in political thought is better known. As the first systematic theorist of the philosophy of liberalism, Locke exercised enormous influence in both England and America. In his Two Treatises of Government (1690), Locke set forth the view that the state exists to preserve the natural rights of its citizens. When governments fail in that task, citizens have the rightÐ’â€”and sometimes the dutyÐ’â€”to withdraw their support and even to rebel. Locke opposed Thomas Hobbes's view that the original state of nature was "nasty, brutish, and short," and that individuals through a social contract surrenderedÐ’â€”for the sake of self-preservationÐ’â€”their rights [...]
Locke addressed Hobbes's claim that the state of nature was the state of war, though he attribute this claim to "some men" not to Hobbes. He refuted it by pointing to existing and real historical examples of people in a state of nature. For this purpose he regarded any people who are not subject to a common judge to resolve disputes, people who may legitimately take action to themselves punish wrong doers, as in a state of nature.
Second treatise, Section 14
It is often asked as a mighty objection, where are, or ever were, there any men in such a state of Nature? To which it may suffice as an answer at present, that since all princes and rulers of "independent" governments all through the world are in a state of Nature, it is plain the world never was, nor never will be, without numbers of men in that state. I have named all governors of "independent" communities, whether they are, or are not, in league with others; for it is not every compact that puts an end to the state of Nature between men, but only this one of agreeing together mutually to enter into one community, and make one body politic; other promises and compacts men may make one with another, and yet still be in the state of Nature. The promises and bargains for truck, etc., between the two men in Soldania, in or between a Swiss and an Indian, in the woods of America, are binding to them, though they are perfectly in a state of Nature in reference to one another for truth, and keeping of faith belongs to men as men, and not as members of society.
Second treatise, Section 17, 18, 19
And hence it is that he who attempts to get another man into his absolute power does thereby put himself into a state of war with him; it being to be understood as a declaration of a design upon his life. For I have reason to conclude that he who would get me into his power without my consent would use me as he pleased when he had got me there, and destroy me too when he had a fancy to it; for nobody can desire to have me in his absolute power unless it be to compel me by force to that which is against the right of my freedom- i.e. make me a slave. To be free from such force is the only security of my preservation, and reason bids me look on him as an enemy to my preservation who would take away that freedom which is the fence to it; so that he who makes an attempt to enslave me thereby puts himself into a state of war with me. He that in the state of Nature would take away the freedom that belongs to any one in that state must necessarily be supposed to have a design to take away everything else, that freedom being the foundation of all the rest; as he that in the state of society would take away the freedom belonging to those of that society or commonwealth must be supposed to design to take away from them everything else, and so be looked on as in a state of war.
This makes it lawful for a man to kill a thief who has not in the least hurt him, nor declared any design upon his life, any farther than by the use of force, so to get him in his power as to take away his money, or what he pleases, from him; because using force, where he has no right to get me into his power, let his pretense be what it will, I have no reason to suppose that he who would take away my liberty would not, when he had me in his power, take away everything else. And, therefore, it is lawful for me to treat him as one who has put himself into a state of war with me- i.e., kill him if I can; for to that hazard does he justly expose himself whoever introduces a state of war, and is aggressor in it.
And here we have the plain difference between the state of Nature and the state of war, which however some men have confounded, are as far distant as a state of peace, goodwill, mutual assistance, and preservation; and a state of enmity, malice, violence and mutual destruction are one from another. Men living together according to reason without a common superior on earth, with authority to judge between them, is properly the state of Nature. But force, or a declared design of force upon the person of another, where there is no common superior on earth to appeal to for relief, is the state of war; and it is the want of such an appeal gives a man the right of war even against an aggressor, though he be in society and a fellow-subject. Thus, a thief whom I cannot harm, but by appeal to the law, for having stolen all that I am worth, I may kill when he sets on me to rob me but of my horse or coat, because the law, which was made for my preservation, where it cannot interpose to secure my life from present force, which if lost is capable of no reparation, permits me my own defense and the right of war, a liberty to kill the aggressor, because the aggressor allows not time to appeal to our common judge, nor the decision of the law, for remedy in a case where the mischief may be irreparable. Want of a common judge with authority puts all men in a state of Nature; force without right upon a man's person makes a state of war both where there is, and is not, a common judge.
Hobbes, on the contrary, asserts that without subjection to a common power, men are necessarily at war:
Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man.
In on this issue, and also on the meaning of civil society, Hobbes position is the same as the fascist position: Peace is actually war in disguise. This is why Hobbes argued that corporations should be suppressed and replaced by the direct exercise of state power. This is why Hitler thought that declaring war on America was merely a meaningless trivial symbol.
It was not merely a symbol. Peace is not merely maneuvering preparatory to predatory attack.
Unlike the communists and the fascists Hobbes had no specific concrete plan for suppressing competition and the pursuit of conflicting goals, and he might well have disapproved of the details of the fascists plans, but he clearly regarded their objectives as a desirable and popular part of any good state
Locke was the seventeenth century precursor of classic liberalism, and Hobbes was the seventeenth century precursor of modern totalitarianism, particularly fascism.
Hobbes argued that what we today call civil society should exist only by the power of the state, and to the extent that it existed independent of the state, for example private associations, corporations, and political discussion, it should be suppressed. This measure is the distinctive characteristic of modern totalitarianism, both communist and fascist, though Hobbes reasoning in favor of this measure is fascist, rather than communist.
Chapter 29 of Hobbes leviathan:
For men, as they become at last weary of irregular jostling and hewing one another, and desire with all their hearts to conform themselves into one firm and lasting edifice
I observe the diseases of a Commonwealth that proceed from the poison of seditious doctrines, whereof one is that every private man is judge of good and evil actions.
Another infirmity of a Commonwealth is the immoderate greatness of a town, when it is able to furnish out of its own circuit the number and expense of a great army; as also the great number of corporations, which are as it were many lesser Commonwealths in the bowels of a greater, like worms in the entrails of a natural man. To may be added, liberty of disputing against absolute power by pretenders to political prudence; which though bred for the most part in the lees of the people, yet animated by false doctrines are perpetually meddling with the fundamental laws, to the molestation of the Commonwealth, like the little worms which physicians call ascarides.
Hobbes's theory has far more in common with fascism, than it does with Locke's theory. To say that they were both social contract theorists is like saying that Adam Smith believed in the labor theory of value and Karl Marx believed in the labor theory of value, therefor Smith was a Marxist or Marx was a Smithian.
Locke's social contract had as much in common with Hobbes's social contract as Ricardo's labor theory of value had with Marx's labor theory of value.
Fascism is largely corporatism, indeed many fascists argued that fascism simply was corporatism, that race theory was irrelevant. Certainly Mussolini and Franco held this view. Corporatism derives from "one body" (corpora=body), not from corporation. Same metaphor as Hobbes Leviathan, and the cover of Hobbes book, and, in the case of fascism, the same rationale. The race, the nation, the folk, or whatever, are to be welded into a single entity, by the application of whatever force necessary
Hobbes favored unlimited power for the state, and he favored it for the purpose of ending all conflict and contention. He saw all non-state society as simply bad happenings that should be suppressed.
If people go about their material lives freely they will come in conflict, and Hobbes regards it as the duty of the state to prevent such conflict.
Locke argues that government is legitimate, but only legitimate in so far as it acts within the limits of this implied contract.
Like any unwritten contract, it is not at all clear just what precisely the limits of Locke's contract are, and Locke clearly considered that his contract could stretch a long way, but is equally clear that modern twentieth century governments are substantially breaking it, for the majority of disputes that an ordinary citizen finds himself involved in are disputes with the state, and in these disputes, for example with the IRS, the state acts as judge in its own cause, a clear violation of the Lockean contract. A state cannot be as large and intrusive as modern states are without finding it necessary to substantially violate Locke's implied contract in many ways.
Locke's contract was for a judge. Hobbes's contract was for a master. While in some situations the distinction between these two roles may be a little fuzzy, it is clear that vast majority of people today encounter the state in role of master, rather than judge, thus the modern state is far more Hobbesian than Lockean, though it is still very far from the absolutist government that Hobbes commended.
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