Comparison and Analysis of Democratic Theory of Three Scholars: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau
Faculty of Social Sciences and International Relations
Major: International Relations
Course: Communism, Fascism and Democracy
Lecturer: Professor Stan Starygin
Student’s Name: Chhun Sokha
Academic Year: 2007 – 2008
Topic: Comparison and Analysis of Democratic Theory of Three Scholars:
Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau
+ Objective of the Paper
1. Thomas Hobbes’s Democratic Theory
1.1. Thomas Hobbes’s Background
1.2. Thomas Hobbes’s View on Human Nature and Natural State
1.3. Thomas Hobbes’s View on the Government
2. John Locke’s Democratic Theory
2.1. John Locke’s Background
2.2. John Locke’s View on Human Nature and Natural aw
3. Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Democratic Theory
3.1. Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Background
3.1.2. Jean Jacques Rousseau’s View on Human Nature and Natural State
Comparison and Analysis of Democratic Theory of Three Scholars:
Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau
There were several well-known scholars of the evolution of democratic theory such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean Jacques Rousseau. They had some similar viewpoints on some theories among which, I think, are logical and reasonable. However, other certain theories they made were completely different and are illogical and unreasonable. Some theories had, from my point of view, been created only in order to safeguard their safety and fit the circumstances they live in.
+ Objective of the paper:
This paper is importantly and specifically intended to say briefly about the three scholars’ backgrounds and carry out in-depth analyses of their theories. This paper is composed of three main sections: First, Thomas Hobbes’s view on human nature and natural state, and on the government. Second, John Locke’s view on human nature and natural law. Third, Jean Jacques Rousseau’s viewpoint on human nature and natural state. Some of the strengths and weaknesses of their theories will be relevantly included.
1. Thomas Hobbes’s Democratic Theory
1.1. Thomas Hobbes’s background
Thomas Hobbes, born on April 5, 1588 and dead on December 4, 1679, was an English philosopher, whose famous 1651 book Leviathan set the agenda for nearly all subsequent Western political philosophy. Although Hobbes is today best remembered for his work on political philosophy, he contributed to a diverse array of fields, including history, geometry, theology, ethics, general philosophy and what would now be called political science. Additionally, Hobbes's account of human nature as self-interested cooperation has proved to be an enduring theory in the field of philosophical anthropology.1
1.2. Thomas Hobbes’s view on human nature and natural state
He believed that human beings are basically self-serving meaning that people are selfish. Hence, they would do everything for themselves- they do not think about other people. His thinking is, from my point of view, right for one part because if we think realistically about humans are that their nature is greedy, selfish and aggressive. They could exploit other people or kill other people like their friends or even their relatives because they are jealous of them and want something they do not have. It is not possible for people to think only about themselves without thinking about other people around them because they live in the earth with other people; they do not live in a well or with isolation. Although human nature is believed to be fundamentally self-serving, it is not selfish at all the circumstances, I think as people sometimes are friendly and helpful. They help solve each other’s problems. Additionally, Hobbes also believed that people were rational. However, although they were rational, they were not in control of their own destinies because they were prompted by a vast fear of death. This triggered people to be aggressive toward one another, which meant that the stronger, the winner because they did not want to die soon, they tried to improve the condition of their lives, doing everything even exploit others or take advantages from other people, and so on. This leads them to act aggressively toward each other and sooner or later I think it would lead to the state of nature, which means that it has only human conflict and “war of each against all”.
1.3. Thomas Hobbes’s view on the government
He believed that monarchy was the best possible form of the government. I think his thinking has two aspects of positive and negative sides. Positively, Hobbes used to be a mathematics tutor for the exiled prince so his theory tended to be in favor of king’s side. The reason that he expressed his opinion was possibly because during his life time, the king was the only person who was the most powerful to carry out one task or to lead the country. Consequently, he expressed such an idea because he might want to fit the circumstances he lived in or to safeguard his life because if he did not praise the king, and if he said something against the king, he may have been killed because the king was at that time the most influential and dictatorial person.
Negatively, this theory did not fit the current situation of many countries so much because this theory was very pessimistic about humans as it gave value to only one person the monarch. That is why it is unfair because monarchs are like ordinary people and vice versa- they are human beings. All human beings are not perfect. Leading the country was not, on the one hand, necessary for only one person the monarch, but a person with ability and especially with his or her real will to lead a prosperous country. Thus, leading a country does not depend on whether the monarch or ordinary people but on their real desire and ability. Some monarch could sometimes bring their countries into chaos and destruction more than ordinary people. And, he (monarch) was killed because of their inability and the bringing down of their countries into turmoil, and so forth. If we have a look at some real situations happened in the past, especially in Russia and China, Tsar was killed in Russia. And, China used to have king to rule the country and later was overthrown and now ruled by ordinary person, the president Hu Jintao. His theory was likely to be good upon his life time, but it does not mean that it is good for the present. Consequently, the weakness of Hobbes’s theory was, from my viewpoint, that he praised only the monarch and believed that he or she was the best suited person to rule the country, but in reality, is not. In addition, It is not necessary for a suitable monarch to lead the country, but as I mentioned above the person with ability and strong will to lead the country. For instance, if we look at the leaders of the United States have never had monarchs, they are like ordinary people the presidents. But, they have had real and strong will to lead their country. As we can see now the United States is the world’s superpower country in term of economy and politics so on and so forth. Moreover, if we apply his theory to some current countries in the 21st century, it would discriminate people and it would bring the country down.
I totally agreed with Hobbes’s points of view that he rejected the divine right of kings and believed that royal power came from the people. The reason that I support his viewpoints is because they are logical and reasonable. Actually, the monarchs are humans and vice versa. So, they are not god. That is why we should not consider him/her to be god or give divine right to them. The power is not, on the other hand, a magic for them so it ought to be given to them by the people.
I also agree with another Hobbes’s view saying that human nature was evil and this nature had made their life unbearable. As a result, they gathered together to make an agreement, called social contract. It really means that because humans are greedy, selfish and aggressive, they cannot cope with their nature so they need to give some of their rights to the government through social contract, allowing the government to give them freedom back within the boundary of law created by the government. I think humans are very intelligent at this point because since they know that it was not easy to live their lives in the state of nature in which there were no laws at all. Hence, there was a society with no hierarchy- with only anarchy. Living in such a society is, in my thinking, just like a bird cage. Thus, everybody tried their best in order to win even using bad means and there was no law to judge who was right and who was wrong. On the contrary, people would rather devote their rights to the government and permit the government to provide them with certain freedom back which the law permits. Even though there is no perfect law or a law that serves all individuals equally, but having law is much better than having not. It means that people gave some of their right and freedom to the government was better than living in a state of nature. I think Hobbes’s theory about social contract is logical and reasonable. That is why there is no country in the world having no government in its own country. It at least has government in order to limit some greed and aggressiveness of people and the government provides security, stability and peace to the people and to the society as a whole.
However, Hobbes thought because humans could not deal with their evil nature, they gave their freedom to the government, but the government, which he said, was the monarch through the social contract. However, he did assert that the sole function of the king was to keep order. The weakness of the agreement in the social contract between the people and the king was, in my own opinion, only the ordinary people were under the law but the king could not be bound or limited by it as he himself created the law and if I myself or other people were a king, we like him would not create a law which affected our own interest. In contrast, we would make it in order to strengthen our power or used it as an effective tool to reach our goal to absolute power. For instance the real case in China, during Mao Zedong’s peasant revolution, there was no law at all in the country, but after Mao’s death, his successors Deng Xiaoping and several members of their communist party created a law but the law did not serve all the individual interest- it was created only to strengthen their communist party power because if there was someone expressing something against their party policy, they would use the law as a pretext to find mistakes of who said such things and sooner or later those people would be persecuted and later executed 2. All in all, I support Hobbes’s idea about social contract but make sure all individuals have to be under the law even the king, and if he or she committed something wrong, they could be judged equally before the law. In so doing, the country must be in order and everybody respects the law and the law itself is effective as well.
2. John Locke’s democratic theory
2.1. John Locke’s background
John Locke, born on August 29, 1632 and dead on October 28, 1704, was an English philosopher. Locke is often classified as a British Empiricist with David Hume and George Berkeley, but is equally important to social contract theory. He developed an alternative to the Hobbesian state of nature and argued that government was only legitimate if it received the consent of the people, and protected natural rights of life, liberty, and property. Locke believed consent form of social contract of governance. If such consent was not given citizens had a right of rebellion 3
2.2. John Locke’s view on human nature and natural law
Unlike Thomas Hobbes, John Locke was more optimistic about human nature adding that it was not necessary for the government to put too much restraint on the people. I personally think that people if not put some restraint on, they would have complete freedom, which leads them to act freely and aggressively and eventually might lead to the state of nature- human conflict. That is why social contract was created in order for them to do something within the framework of the law created. People should not be allowed to act what they want with serious guilty without being punished; otherwise, social disorder and insecurity would result in.
2 Almond, Powell, Strom, and Dalton. Comparative Politics Today. Pearson Education, 2004.
Meanwhile, it is not good to limit all people’s freedom as well because humans are not animals, they need the natural law “life, liberty and property”, which are of significant importance for human beings. I agree with Locke’s theory saying that humans need natural law, which consists of “life, liberty and property” because people need those basic things: “life to live”, “freedom of movement or freedom of speech” and “life to private ownership”. These are a few components of democratic theories. Unlike communist countries, people try to work and the property gaining from the work is shared commonly or to the society. I myself hate this theory so much because it goes against human nature, which is selfish, greedy and aggressive and how can we work and share to those who do not work or society without keeping some for ourselves? I mean people have to have the right to private ownership and the harder they work, the more they should get because they make their own great effort- not exploiting, killing or robbing from someone.
In a nutshell, these inalienable rights as “life, liberty, and property” should not be able to be taken away without due process of law.
3. Jean Jacques Rousseau’s democratic theory
3.1. Jean Jacques Rousseau’s background
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, born on June 28, 1712 and dead on July 2, 1778, was a Genevan philosopher of the Enlightenment whose political ideas influenced the French Revolution, the development of socialist theory, and the growth of nationalism. Rousseau also made important contributions to music both as a theorist and as a composer 4
3.1.2. Jean Jacques Rousseau’s View on Human Nature and Natural State
Like Hobbes, Rousseau believes that at one time in the very long past, people used to live in condition which he, liked Hobbes, called state of nature where human lives were so severe and fearful as mentioned above. Unlike Hobbes, who thinks that people are basically selfish and aggressive, Rousseau, on the other hand, thinks that men are naturally simple, shy, and innocent.
Also, He even asserted that men in the state of nature were very timid and tried to avoid any conflict if they can, which is contrary to Hobbes, who strongly believes that men’s natural aggressiveness, conflict are necessarily unavoidable.
I, personally, partially agree with Rousseau’s view which believes that men are naturally shy and simple in the state of nature. First and foremost, I think that in the early stage of human beings in the natural state men would live peacefully and innocently due to the abundance of resources and small population in the area in which they are living in. I think men in the natural state lived their lives just as tribal groups. Normally, resources accumulations and the concept of owning private property are not deeply considered by tribal people. They just live their lives subsistent. In other word, they just want to live from hand to mouth simply without caring about their future because they think that everything is available for them whenever they need. When these people have no ambition of owning private property and accumulating resources, they simply live by just making their lives happy and peaceful without caring of anything. Men are very simple and innocent in this situation.
Secondly, Rousseau’s view on human nature is also right due to the fact that natural resources in the early stage of the state of nature are abundant comparing to the numbers of population. In my point of view, I think that men are greedy and selfish only when resources are scarce, but when things are not scarce and can be found everywhere, then it is unnecessary for men to be greedy. Because of this, Rousseau believed, men are innocent and peaceful in the state of nature.
However, I also disagree with Rousseau that men are necessarily simple and innocent all the time in the natural state. Their behaviors will change at the point when they face scarcity of resources due to the rapid growth of population living in their area. As mentioned above, men are not greedy and selfish only if resources are abundant. When things are scarce, men’s behavior of not being greedy and selfish will be changed. However, resources do not keep the way they are. They are scarcer and scarcer due to the assumptions and activities of men. I also think that the more rapidly the population grows, the scarcer the resources. And when resources are scarce, men’s behavior started to be greedy and selfish then they become aggressive. Because of their selfishness and aggressiveness, as Hobbes believed, they will inevitably create conflicts with the other.
In conclusion, the three scholars have some similar viewpoints about human nature. They think that they are rational but they need to create the government to limit their ambition and greed. However, they think differently about many points like mentioned above. And, Hobbes was the most conservative. Locke was moderate and Rousseau was radical.
1. Baradat, Leon P. Political Ideologies: Their Origins and Impact, Third Edition. Prentice Hall, 1979.
2. Almond, Powell, Strom, and Dalton. Comparative Politics Today. Pearson Education, 2004.