The social contract in "Leviathan" by Thomas Hobbes and "Two Treatises of Government" by John Locke

Essay, 2016
13 Seiten



In my first scientific paper, I’m going to compare John Locke’s and Thomas Hobbes’ different ideas about the social contract. The social contract is a theory which should describe the relationship between a government and the individual32. Already in the antiquity, Epicure, Lucretius and Cicero were writing about the theory of the social contract32. In the age of enlightenment, there were again several people such as Hobbes, Locke or Rousseau writing about the social contract32,1,11. Regarding the social contract theories, I would like to answer the following questions.

- How do the social contract theories in “Leviathan” and “Two Treatise of Government” differ?
- Where are Hobbes’ and Locke’s ideas in the presence realized?
- Where were Hobbes’ and Locke’s ideas in history realized?

I’ll work out some points in which these two theories differ and take a look where they are realized nowadays or where they were realized in history.

In Addition, I write a short biography to each of them. Maybe this biography will give us a better understanding about these two political philosophers.

I. Thomas Hobbes curriculum vitae

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It was the year 1588, when a pastor’s wife gave birth to a little boy, later known as Thomas Hobbes1. He started to write and read with four years, the people called him child prodigy[1]. In the age of eight he started visiting a private school[1]. There he got thought in classical languages[1]. As he was fourteen, he started to study at the Oxford university[1]. In the same age, he translated Euripides’ “Medea” from Greek into Latin[1],[2],[3]. After his bachelor, he got hired by the Cavendish’s as a house teacher[1]. This would give him later opportunities to get into contact with leading politicians and philospohers[1]. For a short time, he was the private secretary of Francis Bacon[1],[2]. There he translated some writings of Bacon into Latin[1],[2]. As he went with his students on the Grand Tour (a nearly mandatory tour for the noblemen, through Europe and the promised land4) he met Galileo Galilei[1]. Later on his travels he came also in contact with René Descartes, Pierre Gassendi and Marin Mersenne[1].

In the time from 1629 – 1640 the English king Charles I. governed without the parliament[1],[5]. In this dispute between the king and the parliament, Hobbes favoured the king[1]. This made him flew to France, in the year of 1640[1],[2]. 1642 the conflict between the parliament and the king led to a civil war[1],[5]. Hobbes tried to take influence with his writing “De cive”[1],[6]. He wrote in favour of the king and a strong government[1],[7]. But his arguments displeased a lot of people, including the king Charles II[1]. Hobbes was a materialist, and he offended the catholic church very badly[1],[9],[10]. He began to entitled to fear persecution in France, so he moved back to England in the year of 1651[1],[3]. Also there he had a lot of haters, but with the help of some friends, also the Cavendish’s, he could live peacefully in England until his death in 1679[1].

II. John Locke curriculum vitae

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John Locke was born in the year of 1632, in Somerset, England[11],[12],[13]. His father, a country lawyer, fought in the English civil war for the parliament as a captain[11],[13]. His family was protected by the Prophams, which were part of the upper class[11]. 1652, he went to study in Oxford[11],[13]. Locke made his bachelor of arts 1656, and 1658 he has also received the master of arts[11]. In the next years, Locke taught in Oxford[11]. After the death of his father, he inherited land and some Cottages, which made him to a landowner[11]. Locke became interested in medicine, and began to study it[11]. He also worked for a certain time as a doctor[11]. Locke didn’t want to go too much into politics, because he was sceptical about the tasks in the government[11]. 1668, Locke became a member of the royal society[11],[13]. Later, he received from the earl of Shaftesbury a less important job in the government, but with a high reputation[11]. Shaftesbury was 1677 – 1678 and 1681 sent to jail, because of power fights in politics[11],[14]. In this time, Locke wrote his famous work, “Two Treatises of Government”[11],[13]. The earl of Shaftesbury tried 1683 a coup d’etat, the so called “Rye House Plot”, but he failed[11],[15]. After this plot, Locke and Shaftesbury both flew to the Netherlands where Shaftesbury died in the same year[11],[14]. Locke came 1684 into trouble with his beloved university of Oxford[11]. 1690 he published “An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding”, while he slowly went into retirement[11]. In this time, he became very popular[11]. John Locke died 1704 in Essex, England[11],[13],[16].

III. The comparison of “Leviathan” and “Two Treatise of Government”

In this chapter I try to answer my first question: Thomas Hobbes and John Locke both wrote about the social contract, a theory about the origin of society and the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual[18]. But before you can build up a society, you have to know about the state of nature, meaning, how would men act if a society doesn’t exist. There, Hobbes wrote:” Hereby it is manifest that, during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, and such a war as is of every man against every man.” (Thomas Hobbes 1651, Leviathan; The First Part: Of Man, Chapter XIII). The premise is “Bellum omnium contra omnes” (lat. the war of all against all”)[19]. Thomas Hobbes goes even further: “Justice and injustice are none of the faculties neither of the body nor mind. If they were, they might be in a man that were alone in the world, as well as his senses and passions. They are qualities that relate to men in society, not in solitude. “(Thomas Hobbes 1651, Leviathan; The First Part: Of Man, Chapter XIII). Locke describes in his essay more the needs for a working society, based on the state of nature[20]. But John Locke cites therefore Richard Hooker:” This equality of men by Nature, the judicious Hooker looks upon as so evident in itself, and beyond all question, that he makes it the foundation of that obligation to mutual love amongst men on which he builds the duties they owe one another, and from whence he derives the great maxims of justice and charity. His words are: “The like natural inducement hath brought men to know that it is no less their duty to love others than themselves, for seeing those things which are equal, must needs all have one measure; if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man’s hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire, which is undoubtedly in other men weak, being of one and the same nature: to have anything offered them repugnant to this desire must needs, in all respects, grieve them as much as me; so that if I do harm, I must look to suffer, there being no reason that others should show greater measure of love to me than they have by me showed unto them; my desire, there- fore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant.” (Eccl. Pol. i.) “ (John Locke 1689, Two Treatise of Government; Essay Two, Chapter II: Of the State of Nature, par. 5). But Locke also gives the human in the state of nature a right on self-defence, knowing that there would be people who harm others[20].But this is only possible, if the people can differ between justice and injustice, which Locke assumes that they can[20],[21].

Based on that Information, I conclude:

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Based on those enlightenments about the state of nature, Thomas Hobbes claims: “ (…) every man should say to every man: I authorise and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition; that thou give up, thy right to him, and authorise all his actions in like manner. This done, the multitude so united in one person is called a Commonwealth; in Latin, Civitas. This is the generation of that great Leviathan, or rather, to speak more reverently, of that mortal god to which we owe, under the immortal God, our peace and defence. “ (Thomas Hobbes 1651, Leviathan; The Second Part: Of Commonwealth, Chapter XVII: Of the Causes, Generation, and Definition of a Commonwealth). Hobbes wants that every man subjects to one’s rule, while he compares this great ruler with the Leviathan, a biblical creature, which is able to do everything, only God himself can defeat him[22],[23]. In Hobbes theory, all men should do this to obtain peace. Otherwise, they continue living in the state of war[24].

John Locke also assumes that a rational man prefers living in a society and under the rule of a government, then completely free in the state of nature. Locke writes: „If man in the state of Nature be so free as has been said, if he be absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest and subject to nobody, why will he part with his freedom, this empire, and subject himself to the dominion and control of any other power? To which it is obvious to answer, that though in the state of Nature he hath such a right, yet the enjoyment of it is very uncertain and constantly exposed to the invasion of others; for all being kings as much as he, every man his equal, and the greater part no strict observers of equity and justice, the enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe, very insecure. This makes him willing to quit this condition which, however free, is full of fears and continual dangers; and it is not without reason that he seeks out and is willing to join in society with others who are already united, or have a mind to unite for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name—property. (John Locke 1689, Two Treatise of Government; Chapter IX: Of the Ends of Political Society and Government, par. 123). So according to John Locke, the motivation to be part of a society (and submit to a government) is to protect your property. I conclude:

Thomas Hobbes already gave us an imagination how such a government should look like. All men should be governed by one absolute power, which can be a single man or an assembly of man[27]. This power, which Hobbes calls a Commonwealth, has all rights to govern, and also to judge[26],[28],[17]. The Commonwealth can’t do injustice, because it is justice in itself[26],[28]. Hobbes’ ideas describe an absolute government, which enjoys all the rights, while the governed have to completely submit to this Commonwealth[29].


[1] 15.11.2016

[2] Quentin Skinner 1996, Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes; p.174

[3] 15.11.2016

[4] 15.11.2016

[5] 15.11.2016

[6] 15.11.2016

[7] Thomas Hobbes 1642, De Cive; p.40-41

[8] Jörg Thomas Peters, A report of the Board of Trade to the Lord Justices, respecting the relief and employment of the poor; p.97

[9] Thomas Hobbes 1651, Leviathan; The First Part: Of Man, chapter IV: Of Speech

[10] Laurie M. Bagby 2007, Hobbes’s ‘Leviathan’: A Reader’s Guide; p.113

[11] 17.11.2016

[12] 17.11.2016

[13] 17.11.2016

[14],_1._Earl_of_Shaftesbury 17.11.2016

[15] 17.11.2016

[16] 17.11.2016

[17] Thomas Hobbes 1651, Leviathan; The Second Part: Of Commonwealth, chapter XXI

[18] 17.11.2016

[19] 17.11.2016

[20] John Locke 1689, Two Treatise of Government; Essay Two, chapter II: Of the State of Nature)

[21] Gabriele Wilde 2001, Das Geschlecht des Rechtsstaats: Herrschaftsstrukturen und Grundrechtpolitik in der deutschen Verfassungstradition; p.106

[22] 20.11.2016

[23] Old Testament, Job; chapter 41

[24] Thomas Hobbes 1651, Leviathan; The First Part: Of Man, chapter XIV: Of the First and Second Natural Laws, and of Contracts

[25] Franz Lehner 2013, Vergleichende Regierungslehre; p.23

[26] Arthur Kaufmann & Alfred Büllesbach 2011, Einführung in die Rechtsphilosophie und Rechtstheorie der Gegenwart; p.50

[27] Thomas Hobbes 1651, Leviathan; The First Part: Of Man, chapter XXVI: Of Civil Laws

[28] Alfred Hirsch 2004, Recht auf Gewalt? Spuren philosophischer Gewaltrechtfertigung nach Hobbes, p.153

[29] Thomas Hobbes 1651, Leviathan; The Second Part: Of Commonwealth, chapter XVII: Of the Causes, Generation, and Definition of a Commonwealth

Ende der Leseprobe aus 13 Seiten


The social contract in "Leviathan" by Thomas Hobbes and "Two Treatises of Government" by John Locke
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leviathan, thomas, hobbes, treatises, government, john, locke
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Anonym, 2016, The social contract in "Leviathan" by Thomas Hobbes and "Two Treatises of Government" by John Locke, München, GRIN Verlag,


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