Tue 22 Nov, 2011 03:18 pm
I jound a small article in socials class a while ago about Locke and Hobbes, and I've been thinking... "who is right?" Both of them, stripped down to their core components (in my mind, at least...) are contradicting themselves.
Here's what I think these components are...
Hobbes: does not like human nature, and thought it would be, if left to it's own, "short, nasty, and brutish". He believed in absolute monarchy, and that humans, when being governed, signed over their rights in a kind of contract in return for protection. he believes that they have no right to rebel under any circumstance.
Locke: more positive view of humanity. believed that if a ruler becomes a tyrant who imposed on the rights of the people, the people are "obligated" to have him/her/it step down.
If hobbes thinks that humans would be bad, why have a bad person rule absolutely? if locke thinks people are good, then why have a government? and when the leader steps down, who orchestrates the shift?
I think you're giving Hobbes too short a shrift. Yes, he believed in the absolute right of the sovereign but he also introduced the concept of the"social contract" under which this absolute "divine right" exists only because the governed accept the government. Thus, it does not rule out the possibility -- and, indeed, propriety -- of rebellion against an excessively opressive government. It was Hobbes who first developed the concept of"society" as something distinct from the "government" of a given georgraphic location. I don't know if he ever expressed his view in quite these terms but it would not be unfair to say that he believed that a government exists only by consent of the governed and that any government should be representative of the interests of the governed.
I don't know that Locke ever said that peope are innately "good" in some sense. He merely said that the mind of the newborn is a tabula rasa
, a blank slate, which will be filled with ideas as the human mind matures. This was in distinct oposition to the Cartesian view of pre-destination, so popular at the time.
One can't really understand Hobbes without the context of the English civil wars in the 17th century. Hobbes description of life in a state of nature was: "In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; 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." This came after the turmoil which lead to the civil wars, but before they had taken place. Charles had been in a state of political war with Parliament since the very beginning of his reign in 1625, had prorogued Parliament in 1628, and then had been obliged to call a new Parliament in 1639, because he was broke and wanted money for what was known as "the Bishops' War" with Scotland. What he got was first the Short Parliament and then the Long Parliament, and the Long Parliament fought the civil wars--first with Charles, then with the Scots and royalists after Charles had his head cut off. Hobbes fled to the continent in 1641 after the publication of his treatise, fearing for his life. In 1651, he expanded his treatise, and published Leviathan, from which the quote is taken.
He also wrote Behemoth in 1668, but it was not published until he and King Charles II (son of the King Charles whose head was cut off) were both dead. Leviathan describes how ideal government would be formed--the parts which seem cynical and despairing are only descriptions of what the life of man is without good government, and he goes on to elucidate the nature of and the need for a social contract to secure the good of the people. Behemoth is difficult to read because it is in the form of a dialogue between two unnamed and actually non-existent individuals who discuss the civil wars, the Long Parliament and the consequences of the sundering of the social contract. Hobbes was not essentially pessimistic, and both works were intended to show how man could govern himself effectively--Leviathan being the theoretical description of how governments arise, why there is a social contract, and how a social contract can best be ordered. Behemoth describes what happens when that all goes horribly wrong.
Hobbes' support for monarchy was simply an artifact of his times. There was no such thing as a Prime Minister in Hobbes' lifetime. There would not be a Prime Minister until generations had passed after his death. Therefore, he saw a monarch as necessary because a head of state is needed, and the operation of the social contract was as between that head of state and the voice of the people, embodied in his society and times in the Parliament. One can never know, but i suspect that he would have happily accepted the notion of England as a crypto-republic with a figurehead monarch, which is what it is now.
Ok. This makes some more sense now...
Lustig Andrei wrote:
I think you're giving Hobbes too short a shrift. Yes, he believed in the absolute right of the sovereign but he also introduced the concept of the"social contract" under which this absolute "divine right" exists only because the governed accept the government. Thus, it does not rule out the possibility -- and, indeed, propriety -- of rebellion against an excessively opressive government.
Quite right. Hobbes held open the possibility that the rulers would break the social contract, which would recreate the conditions of the state of nature -- bellum omnium contra omnes
. That, of course, is a situation that everyone should desire to avoid, so the people had to be really
sure that the ruler had broken the contract, or else the rebellion would be unjustifiable.