Thomas Hobbes and John Locke were two of the most influential philosophical andpolitical thinkers of the seventeenth-century. Hobbes and Locke had different ideas on how torun a country and had different views on the natural state of human beings. Hobbes believed thata commonwealth ruled by a sovereign was the only way to run a successful government, while Locke was a defender of moderate liberty and toleration. Both of these have been utilizedthroughout history, sometimes to great effect and other times to the downfall of a nation. Hobbesand Locke were both influenced by the likes of Ren© Descartes and Galileo, and bothincorporated other people’s ideas to formulate their own opinions and thoughts.
To this day, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke have been influential in shaping the way the world thinks aboutphilosophy and politics.Thomas Hobbes was an urbane and much-traveled man who supported the scientificmovement. His first published work was the first English translation of Thucydides’ History ofthe Peloponnesian War. Hobbes viewed humans as self-centered creatures who lacked a master, which derived from Thucydides’ historical analysis. According to Hobbes, human beings areinclined to a perpetual and restless desire for power. He thought that since all people want andpossess a natural right to everything, this equality breeds enmity, competition, diffidence, andperpetual quarreling. His influential work, Leviathan, published in 1651, provided philosophicaljustification for a strong central political authority.
To Hobbes, the original human state is one ofnatural, inevitable conflict in which safety does not exist. Hobbes believed that life in this stateof war was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short and that the only way humans could escapethis was to enter a political contract. This contract was to agree to live in a society that is tightly ruled by a recognized sovereign. The agreement obliged every person to agree to set asidepersonal rights to all things and to live by a version of the golden rule, Do not that to anotherwhich you would not have done to yourself. Additionally, this contract allowed the use of forceby the sovereign to compel compliance. Hobbes did not care whether this was a monarchy or alegislative body, but once one was chosen, it could not be appealed. Hobbes was met with muchcriticism, but his political views sparked conversations about government that had not been hadbefore this time period.
John Locke was a highly intellectual person who was well-read in all the majorseventeenth-century natural philosophers. He was a defender of the rights of the people againstrulers who thought their power absolute and had Puritan sympathies. In 1690, he published twotreatises that detailed his views on government. His First Treatise of Government rejected arguments for absolute government that based political authority on the patriarchal model. HisSecond Treatise of Government presented an argument for a government that must be bothresponsible for and responsive to the concerns of the governed.
Unlike Hobbes, Locke sawhumans in their natural state as creatures of reason and goodwill. Locke believed that humansshould have the natural rights of life, liberty, and property in an unregulated manner. He believedthat humans possess a capacity for living peacefully before they enter a political contract. Lockesaid that the state of human nature is a condition of competition and modest conflict that requiresa political authority to sort out problems rather than impose authority. His government isobviously one of limited authority, and the people reserve the right to replace their politicalauthority if the need arises. Although, Locke did not defend religious toleration among all Christians. Government-imposed religious uniformity could not achieve real religious ends because Locke thought that religious truth must be freely given. Nonetheless, he did not extendtoleration to Roman Catholics, who he believed gave allegiance to a foreign prince (the pope), non-Christians, or atheists in his Letter Concerning Toleration (1689). John Locke established afoundation for the future extension of toleration, religious liberty, and the separation of churchand state.Hobbes and Locke differ on almost every single view and topic related to politics duringthis time. However they have one major similarity: they both believed that all humans arenaturally equal. Religious beliefs aside, both Hobbes and Locke truly thought that everyone intheir natural form was equal. Even with that similarity, Hobbes and Locke were perceived asvastly different. Locke was met with universal praise because his views pleased the people of Europe (despite the religious intolerance), and his political ideals were very similar to manyother countries during this time period. Hobbes, on the other hand, was criticized severely byMonarchists and Republicans alike. Monarchists objected to his willingness to assign sovereignauthority to a legislature. Republicans rejected his willingness to accept a monarchical authority.Many Christians criticized his materialist arguments for an absolute political authority.
Other Christian writers attacked his refusal to recognize the authority of either God or the church asequal or above the sovereign ruler. This meant that Hobbes had little immediate impact, howeverhis ideas have influenced philosophical literature from the late seventeenth-century to this day.Thomas Hobbes and John Locke have been monumental in shaping modern politics sincethe seventeenth-century, and their impact can still be felt today. They were vastly different interms of views and beliefs, but both had the same goal in the end: to create a better government.Whether or not they succeeded remains to be seen, but they put the world on the right track.