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Thomas Hobbes Vs. John Locke: Who Is The True Liberal?

1685 words - 7 pages

Thomas Hobbes and John Locke are often referred to as the premier liberal philosophers, a label which is actually misleading. The political philosophies of Hobbes and Locke are only similar in their methodology, not in their conclusions or in the form of government they advocate. In fact, the ideologies of Hobbes and Locke are so dissimilar they should not even be counted in the same category. Hobbes and Locke both begin with a theoretical "state of nature," which they use to explain how and why governments are formed and what purpose they should serve. This leads many people to place them in the same category of thought, even though the basic structure of their respective states of nature are very different from one another, and the conclusions they draw from these theoretical states are wholly different. Liberals are characterized by their belief that humans are rational, self-interested beings, and by their desire for a new form of government in which all people are free to pursue their own individual interests. John Locke should be considered the real liberal, because he is the only one of these two writers to truly believe in the rationality of all men, and he is the only one to advocate upholding individual freedoms above all else.A major tenet of liberal philosophy is the belief that men are inherently rational. Thomas Hobbes claims to believe that men are rational beings, yet his writing on the subject is so full of contradictions that it is difficult to discern what he actually believes. In Hobbes' state of nature, men are in a constant state of war. He describes this state in The Leviathan as a state of "continual fear, and danger of a violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. (Ball 2002, 68)" Hobbes' writing implies that men are actually irrational, incapable of living together in peace without a sovereign man (or body of men) watching over them, ensuring that they do not harm each other too much. Hobbes portrays men as brutal, instinctual beings who would indeed require a benevolent monarch to curb their passions and restrain them from destroying each other. Hobbes' men are irrational, animalistic beings, who resort to constant warfare when not under the rule of some great man.Hobbes' view is very different from Locke's version of the state of nature, in which men are portrayed as the rational beings both Hobbes and Locke claim they are. In Locke's state of nature, men are free to do as they choose and to exercise their own judgment of what is right and wrong, moral and immoral. Each man has the right and obligation to enforce the law of nature as he sees fit; each man is judge, jury and executioner of this law (Fuller et al. 2000, 28). In Locke's view, this state of nature is a state of perfect freedom, rather than a state of perpetual war. This view promotes the idea of men as rational beings, by showing that men can live pleasant and peaceful lives even without the watchful eye of a sovereign...

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