Political theory - Hobbes and Locke

Leviathan or a limited government?

Essay 2001 6 Pages

Politics - Political Theory and the History of Ideas Journal


Leviathan or a limited government?

It is interesting that some philosophers write books not to express the beliefs that they are strongly convinced of but just to give a reasonable explanation of the happening events and adjust their deliberations to the appropriate place and time. However, what is more fascinating is when two political thinkers living at the same century and at the same country perceive things in different ways. That is understandable as everybody has his/her own life experience, thoughts, and ideas. Anyways, let’s analyze works of Thomas Hobbes “Leviathan” and “The Second Treatise of Government” of John Locke to distinguish main points that made those philosophers come to the different conclusions even if they both began their discussions from the same point. Both political thinkers start from the idea that all people live in a state of nature until they come to the point when they voluntarily create a social contract among themselves giving some power to the central authority for some purposes. For Hobbes that authority is an absolute monarchy, for Locke that is a limited government. Why?

First, the history itself influenced the political thinkers and made them look at the happening occasions form the different perspectives, then beginning from the state of nature they followed the same paths but with the slightly different purposes and came to the unlike conclusions.

“Leviathan” was published in 1651 and “The Second Treatise of Government” in 1690. This difference of 40 years of history played its important role and influenced the political thinkers in different ways. First, while Hobbes was working on his piece of work the Thirty Years War took place as well as the civil wars which mainly resolved the conflicts between the monarch Charles I and English parliament, taking away some power from the first and giving to the second so that to limit the power of the monarch. Besides, scientific revolution was speeding up and many scientists and thinkers tried to provide ideas of how the world was established according to the rules of physics, geometry, mathematics, and in some cases of medicine. That’s why the introduction of “Leviathan” Hobbes dedicates to making comparison of body politic to human body. “For by art is created that great Leviathan called a Commonwealth, or State, which is but an artificial man…” (Hobbes, p. 3) Later on, he always refers to laws of physics and nature, for example, explaining the creation of social contracts or even imagination making an emphasis on the cause-effect relations. As to Locke and his work, it was published in 1960 right after the end of the Glorious Revolution. The changes in politics of England, which began from the civil wars, were sweeping in the late 90s and the explanation of these events was very urgent. Thus, Locke responded with “The Second Treatise of Government “ as a justification of the occasions that have made radical changes in England. He did it very carefully and with the great caution. It is quite interesting if a book would have been different if he had written it in the different time and in the different country. However, from the preface of his books it seems that he was quite sincere, “…there cannot be done a greater mischief to prince and people, than the propagating wrong notions concerning government”. (Locke, p.6) Come to the point, Hobbes and Locke have different conclusions partly because Hobbes mostly supports his arguments with the laws of physics and nature, while Locke pays more attention to the reality, the situation of 1690s, when he constructs his points of view so that to make a convincing justification for the Glorious Revolution.



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American University of Central Asia
Political Hobbes Locke Leviathan



Title: Political theory - Hobbes and Locke