Essay: The Difference Between Locke and Hobbes

John Locke and Thomas Hobbes were both social contract theorists and natural law theorists. They were philosophers in the sense of Saint Thomas rather than Sir Issac Newton. Locke can rightfully be considered once of the founding fathers in the philosophy of liberalism and had a gigantic influence over both Great Britain and America. Locke believed that man was a social animal by nature while Hobbes believed that man was not a social animal and that society would not exist were it not for the power of the state. Locke, on the other hand, said the state exists to preserve the natural rights of its citizens.

Thomas Hobbes spent a good part of his life dealing with and creating theories on how society could and would function without rules. Many other theorists during Hobbes lifetime called him a lunatic and crazy. Probably his most famous quote on the state of natures was this, “life is brutish, short and harsh, in the state of nature.” In other words, what he seemed to mean was that people would use any means to accomplish that which was in their own self interest. Regardless of what it was, food, money or shelter, people were in competition, always. Government according to Hobbes was there to protect the citizens from themselves through force and intimidation.

John Locke was much more passive and positive in outlook. He posited that in general, people were innately more peaceful and willing to coexist rather than compete. Locke believed in the contractual relationships of the people and government. Contracts such as the United States Constitution, for example. In Locke’s theory any elected official who does not adhere to the contract should be removed from office, by any means necessary, and replaced with someone who will honor all legal contracts between people and government.

Another difference between the two philosophers was in their thoughts on how people should act. Hobbes believed life was amoral rather than immoral in a state of nature. In other words, there is no moral difference between killing someone or letting them live. This is because by his way of thinking, literally anything goes when there is no government as in a natural state. According to Hobbes the only function of government is to tell people how to act. But Locke thought citizens should have limits imposed upon them as to what they may or may not do. For instance, people have a right to practice any religion as long as they don’t harm anyone else in order to witness to their god.

Despite their contrasting opinions and styles, both men are seen as influential in shaping people , government and society in general. Thomas Hobbes was born in 1588 and lived most of his life in England. John Locke was in 1632, also in England. Hobbes spent most of his life flourishing under a monarchy and believed that only the king should rule, and make laws. Locke, however, felt the people should have say in choosing their rulers.