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Enlightenment Thinkers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)


Thomas Hobbes was an English philosopher who wrote Leviathan, which defended the absolute power of
kings. He began Leviathan by describing the state of nature where all individuals are naturally equal. Since
everyone was free to do what he or she needed to do to survive, everyone suffered from continued fear and
danger of violent death; and life of man [was] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
In nature, Hobbes argued, there are no laws or anyone to enforce them. The only way out of this situation
was for people to create a supreme power to impose peace on everyone. Hobbes asserted that the people
agreed amongst themselves to lay down their natural rights of equality and freedom and give absolute
power to the sovereign. The sovereign, a person or group, would make and enforce laws to secure a peaceful
society. Hobbes called this agreement the social contract.
Hobbes believed that the best form of the sovereign was a government headed by a king. Placing all power
in the hands of one person would mean stronger and more consistent use of political authority. The social
contract, he argued was an agreement only between the people, not between them and the king. Once
people have created their social contract and placed a king in charge, they had no right to revolt against him.
To summarize, Hobbes based his ideas about society on his belief that people are naturally selfish and greedy
creatures; everyone was equally so. In this equality of selfishness and greed, competition and violence will
always occur. He thought act in their own selfish interests if they are left alone and therefore they cannot be
trusted to make decisions on their own.

John Locke (1632-1704)
John Locke argued that people have the gift of reason, or the ability to think. He thought that people have the
natural ability to govern themselves and to look after the well-being of society. Locke believed that all
peaceful beginnings of government have been laid in the consent of the people. People approve of the
existence of governments. According to Locke, governments are formed to protect the natural rights (Life,
Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness) of the people. These rights are absolute and belong to all people.
Life, Liberty, and property existed in the natural state of society and could never be taken away or even
voluntarily given up. According to Locke, a social contract was not just an agreement among the people, but
between them and their government. The natural rights of individuals limit the power of the king. The king, in
Lockes world, should not hold absolute power, but should act only to enforce and protect everyones natural
rights. If a king violated these rights, thus the social contract broken, it was the right of the people to revolt
and establish a new government.
Locke favored a representative government, but he wanted representatives to be only men of property and
business. He believed only adult male property owners should have the right to vote. Locke was hesitant to
allow the property-less masses of people to participate in government because he saw them unfit to do so.