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Locke, Hobbes And The Good Life: The Proper Role And Extent Of Government

1792 words - 7 pages

The political philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke revolve around the proper role and extent of government. Their two philosophies have extensive similarities but in the end are wholly different when it comes to the quality of life they provide for their subjects. The differences lie in whether they provide mere life or the good life for their subjects. Aristotle laid out the basic ideas of mere life versus the good life when he stated: "When several villages are united in a single complete community, large enough to be nearly or quite self-sufficing, the state comes into existence, originating in the bare needs of life, and continuing in existence for the sake of a good life (Politics, 1252b28)." Using Aristotle's basic idea of the progression of society, it can be seen that the initial need and intent of civil society is to provide mere life while its ultimate goal should be the good life. While both Hobbes and Locke provide the mere life for their subjects, only Locke allows for the attainment of the good life. A government that offers the mere life to its subjects only offers the protection from outside invasion and from other subjects. This is the initial intent of any civil society, simple protection. After the society is established the natural tendency is to provide for the good life, a life where pleasure and happiness are attainable. The good life can only be guaranteed when there are restrictions and limitations on the ability of government to encroach upon the lives of its subjects. Following this idea, one might claim that civil liberties are necessary to maintain certain minimal guarantees against severe iniquity, or that there ought to be more to civil liberty than mere silence of the law, and so properly allow for the good life. Absolute power is not compatible with this end, however, by its very nature. Absolute power has no checks against it, therefore it may act however it desires and still be acting justly towards the subjects. These ideas will be the basis for a greater analysis of the societies created by Hobbes and Locke and what kind of life they provide for their subjects.The political society imagined by Hobbes is bred out of and perpetuated through fear, putting it at odds with the creation of the good life. According to Hobbes, life without civil society is "... continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short (Pg 89)." Life in nature is so awful the people in a Hobbesian society must enter into civil society in order to be free of the fear of an awful death, and in doing so alienate all but one of their rights to a sovereign power that is absolute in its power. The vesting of al power on the sovereign is necessary for Hobbes because distribution of power leads to perpetual war. Once Hobbes' "Leviathan" is created the people of the society are subject to the power of the sovereign, whom they do not have the right to remove, make accountable, or...

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