John Locke (1632-1704) vs Thomas Hobbes (1558-1679)

The writings of famous philosophers Hobbes and Locke have had a significant influence on contemporary political science. The popular compact, in which the people provide the government the authority to rule, is supported by both philosophers. There are several areas where the political philosophers disagree, despite the fact that they may both endorse the social compact between the government and the people. For instance, Locke believed that man is a social animal who is also concerned with the survival of society while discussing human nature. On the other hand, Hobbes sees that a man’s state of nature is at war and the interaction of two men at a narrow path leads to one bashing the head for another to make his way.

The two also have common grounds like the idea of government necessity. Therefore, while they may have differing views on some aspects, they also agree on others. They both advocate for the establishment of government to address violence that may occur if there is no political system in place. Both are social contract theorists that wrote views on different concepts including nature of mankind, capitalism, justice, liberty, revolution, and the relationship between citizen and state.

Thomas Hobbes (1558-1679)

Hobbes is the philosopher that saw the government as a living entity. After the death of his vicar father, his uncle assumed responsibility for his upbringing. Hobbes, however, joined Oxford in his early teen years. According to him, human beings form governments because of fear of their lives. His main focus was political and social order. His interest was on how human beings can live harmoniously and avoid the danger and fear of civil conflict. His view of human beings as egoistic is interpreted my many studies as controversial.

John Locke (1632-1704)

Enrolled in Westminster school and later at Christ Church in Oxford, Locke’s education played a pivotal role in the development of his philosophy. Locke is considered a modern philosopher because of his views on economy and capitalism that are significantly relevant today. He made significant contributions to the fields of liberal governance, educational theory, religious toleration, and theology.

Thomas Hobbes’ views on:

Nature of Mankind:

According to the philosopher, men are governed entirely and solely by their own judgment and reason and by self-directed passions. It is also deducible that it is the view of the philosopher that mankind is sinful. This is because he considers human nature to be rooted in individualism. Given that he considers human beings as selfish creatures, one cannot say he had an inherently good view of the people. This is greatly contrasted with Locke’s view that considers mankind as interested in the survival of the individual and that of the society.

It is also the philosopher’s view that government is a necessary entity. Government comes into place when people agree to obey a common authority. In regards to the legitimacy of the authority, they way it comes to power does not matter. Its ability to protect the citizens is what is important for the continuation of the obedience. However, it is the view of the philosopher that in the case protection ceases, the political obligation ends as well. It is his view that the correct form of government is absolute monarchy. The absolute power that the authority has cannot be limited or divided. Therefore, such power is necessary in order to control mankind’s impulses. Although Hobbes emphases on granting the authority absolute power, it also his idea that the subjects should have the liberty of resisting some of the commands by the government. It is also the idea of Hobbes that men are governed by laws of reason such that there is a consideration of another other person’s rights as well as their own.


According to Hobbes, man is motivated by his desires, appetites, self-interest, and fear. It was his belief that self-preservation is a man’s fundamental natural instinct. He advocated for an environment where a man is allowed to possess his own power to protect what he considers his. It is important to note that Hobbes’ state of war or nature does not give property rights to subjects. However, it is his view that property come into existence when sovereign power with the ability to enforce contracts is created. Therefore, property is the state’s creation. In such case, the self-interest of the citizens should be protected. Given that Hobbes advocates for man to pursue self-interests, it is deducible that he supports capitalism. It is the belief of many scholars that Hobbes’ assertion is the foundation of capitalism.

Hobbes’ combination of cynicism and totalitarianism resonates with the discourses of capitalist control in the contemporary political environment. Therefore, his ideas are applicable in the contemporary world. It is important to note that Hobbes advocated for laissez-faire capitalism. In regards to liberty, it is his view that citizens should be permitted to sell and buy, contract with others, and carry out activities as they deem fit. Such assertions resonate well with capitalism. From these, it is deducible that he does not believe capitalism suppresses or exploits individuals.


Justice is another area that Hobbes opined on. According to the philosopher, the idea of what is wrong or right and what is just or unjust does not exist in the absence of a sovereign power. Since law does not exist, injustice cannot be defined. From Hobbes’ view justice refers to set of practices and rules that would serve the interests of everyone if they all abide by them. Since Hobbes perceives human beings as self-interest creatures, it is difficult to achieve the collective self-interest goals. Therefore, justice can only be achieved if each person is assured that others would conform to its provisions. It is only through sovereign power that such assurance can be guaranteed. Individuals thus cannot pursue justice by themselves. In the absence of sovereign power, individuals fall back to practices that are aimed at self-preservation.

It can be deduced that Hobbes believes equality is necessary in order for justice to exist. This is because, it is his assertion that justice occurs when practices and laws that serves the interests of everyone are adhered to. Such environment is one which equality is present. For this equality to be present, the presence of a sovereign entity is necessary. Therefore, one can say that the philosopher believed that equality is necessary for justice.


Liberty is the absence of impediment to motion. Minimum power state is what was advocated by the philosopher. In this case, this can be achieved when the state has the minimum rights that would allow it to function and the citizens have the smallest number of obligations that would allow functioning of the state. Two kinds of liberty exist according to the philosopher. Legal liberty allows individuals to carry out tasks that are not prohibited by the law. True liberty, on the other hand, allows subjects to engage in acts even though they are prohibited by the law. This is allowed when the life of the subject is in danger. Given that liberty can exist in the absence of law while property cannot, it is deducible that the theorist does not believe that personal property is essential for liberty.

According to Hobbes, laws created by men are artificial impediments to liberty. Since the government formulate the laws, its presence can only exist to suppress liberty. In addition, in the legal liberty there is prohibition of some acts. The subjects can only exercise true liberty when their lives are in danger. Therefore, the presence of government suppresses liberty.


While it is the idea of the philosopher that the government should have absolute authority over its subjects, the subjects have to resist some of the commands by the sovereign power if they put their lives in danger. Therefore, revolution is justified when the lives of the citizens are in danger. In addition, when a person’s honour or that of his family is at stake, he has the right to resist the government’s commands. Given that the sovereign authority has absolute power, it should protect the citizens. However, when the sovereign power fails to protect its citizens, they seek to protect themselves.

According to the philosopher, three things can bring about revolution. They include pretence, hope, and discontent. Therefore, when the citizens are discontented by the authority exercised by the sovereign power, they can rebel against it. In this case, people can come together to rebel against the authority. In regards to pretence, if the men have opinions, they may resist those that have the sovereign power or prevent them from exercising the authority. Such revolution can occur when the command of the government is against laid-down laws. In addition, pretence of right can be exercised when the commands by the authority are hurtful to people or grievous. In regards to hope, the discontent subjects need to possess mutual intelligence, be sufficient in number, have a leader, and have arms. These three conditions are necessary for revolution to take place. With revolution being inevitable, warfare and factionalism destroys sovereignty and other self-interested men stand to rewrite the social contract.

Relationship between citizen and state:

When the state has the sovereign power over its citizens, obedience is necessary. The subjects are obliged to treat sovereign authority as having absolute authority over them. If the sovereign authority is not treated as having absolute power, the horrible possibility of government collapse can happen. In the same way, the government is obliged to provide protection to the citizens in exchange for their obedience. When the protection by the sovereign power stops, so does the obedience of the subjects to the state. The citizens have the right to resist or disobey the sovereign power when their lives are in danger. In addition, since the social contract is voided when the state fails in protecting the citizens, revolutions by the subjects are bound to occur. It is thus clear that for the state and the citizens to exist peacefully, every party has to fulfil its end of the bargain. With absolute power, however, allowed by the philosopher, the rights of the citizens can be limited.

John Locke’s Views on:

Nature of Mankind:

It is the view of the philosopher that man is by nature a social animal. It is also his view that god created man freely in order for him to pursue liberty, health, life, as well as property. Locke’s political philosophy is linked to the liberal secular state. Man should not, therefore, harm others in regards to their lives, property, health, or liberty. When the man does not harm others, his own rights will be respected as well. In this regards, it is evident that he does not view mankind as sinful the way Hobbes does. In fact, it is his view that human beings survive to help one another. In this case, unlike Hobbes who sees human beings as creatures that pursue self-interests, Locke views people as protectors of the interests of the society. Therefore, Locke’s view of state of nature is one where men are independent, free, and equal. In addition, when individuals pursue self-interests, they also seek to protect those of the society.

Government is necessary to control mankind’s impulses. This is the case although the citizens are the one that give the government sovereign power to rule over them. However, when the government oversteps its mandate, or fails to protect the interests and rights of its citizens, the latter are entitled to revolt. In the process, new government that is responsive to the needs of the citizens can be formed to replace the incumbent one.


It is his view that the world has what is necessary for humans to live and enjoy life. From his works, it is clear that he is a supporter of capitalism. Locke’s emphasis on private property and minimal rights spells his support for capitalism. It was his belief that it is appropriate for individuals to own parts of world for their own personal use. In simpler terms, it is alright for one to acquire private property and do with it as one wish. He, therefore, does not believe capitalism suppresses people. In fact, it allows people to own property and prevents government interference with them. It is his view that the government should not have the right to take one’s property and use it for common good. If this has to happen, there must be consent by the owner. It is however, important for the majority to pay tax in order for the government to continue protection of the property. The philosopher thus emerges as a defender of capitalist accumulation that is not restricted. It is important to note that while accumulation of property is allowed by the philosopher, one should not appropriate more than his fair share. In fact, humans are supposed to leave sufficient resources for others to utilize also.


Justice is another aspect that Locke had opinion on. It is his idea that justice and property go hand in hand. Where there is absence of property, there is no justice. Justice according to the philosopher can be looked at from the angle of natural rights. Therefore, from his point of view, there is justice if rights to liberty, property and life are respected. It is deducible that his concept of natural rights bars human beings from enslaving, stealing, and killing others. Therefore, respect of these natural rights means justice exists. However, their violations can be said constitute injustice.

Since the citizens allow the state to have sovereign authority over them, it has to uphold justice. The state achieves this through upholding of the rights described above. It is also Locke’s view that everyone is equal in the law. When the citizens accord sovereignty to the government, they consider its treatment of subjects as equal. Therefore, for justice to exist there has to be equality. Without equality, the consent allowing the government to exercise sovereign authority can be voided. Without the sovereign power, protection of property that is necessary for justice is not possible.


The right to liberty is one of the major focuses of the Locke. It is his belief that property is essential for liberty. This is depicted by his view that those without property labour for others in order to get subsistence wages. Such individuals, therefore, do not have the liberty they had when resources were abundant. Also, since the labourers are poor, their ability to access materials that make products is limited. Such individuals no longer have the liberty they possessed before. However, those with property, have the liberty to access what they need.

In addition, it is the belief of Locke that men have liberty to seek their own delights within the natural law limits. Given that property is essential for liberty, and the government is mandated to protect it, it therefore holds that the sovereign authority exists to protect liberty rather than suppressing it. In addition, it was the belief of the philosopher that men are naturally equal and free. As such, men can pursue activities they deem appropriate. However, since the survival of the society is essential, pursuance of desires should not interfere with how others are living.


Government exists primarily to protect the rights of the citizens. Therefore, it is the view of the philosopher that the citizens can revolt if the government takes away their rights. It is important to note that it is the citizens that initially give power to the government. The citizens, therefore, can take back their initial authority and in the process overthrow the sovereign authority. It is the opinion of the philosopher that such action is justifiable given that when the people are oppressed, they will end up revolting eventually. It is evident that it is Locke’s view that the right to revolution should be upheld. According to Locke, revolution is inevitable when the citizens are oppressed.

Relationship between citizen and state:

The concept of consent plays a pivotal role in his political philosophy. The state is granted the sovereign power to govern the people. Once citizens give consent to the government, they agree to obey it. Individuals relinquish some rights to the government while retaining others. Citizens retain the right to liberty and life and gain the right to have their property protected. The citizens are thus obliged to obey the authority. On the other hand, the state is obliged to ensure justice prevails in all circumstances. It is also tasked with the protection of the citizen’s property. Failure of executing its duties can lead to citizens taking back the sovereign authority.


The works of Hobbes and Locke have had immense impact on modern political science. While the two philosophers agree that the presence of sovereign power is essential for protection of the rights of citizens, they tend to disagree on the nature of man. Hobbes views man as creature in pursuance of self-interests while Locke believes man exists to serve both individual and collective interests. Locke is also not in agreement with Hobbes’ idea of absolute monarchy.

Of the two philosophers, Locke emerges as more persuasive in his philosophy. The idea of man being selfish and only pursuing individual goals seems exaggerated. Locke’s view that human beings seek both individual and collective interests seems convincing. While Hobbes preferred absolute monarchy, Locke’s idea of parliamentary system is relevant particularly in the contemporary society. When the state does not protect its citizens as required, rebellion can take place. Locke’s philosophy, therefore, emerges as more logical and relevant. It is important, however, to note that in their works, both philosophers had a similar goal of ensuring peace exists and the rights of the citizens are protected. Their works have thus been a huge contribution to the field of political science.


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