Nature of State and Social Contract

The contemporary status of jurisprudence traces its history way back through different stages. John Locke and Thomas Hobbes are the predominant figures in the development of the modern day political theory and philosophy. The two social contract theorists subscribe to the natural school of thought. In their famous works: Two Treatises of Government (1958) by Locke and Hobbes’ Leviathan (1994), the contract theories present an array of resemblances and of differences.

The two theorists take polar ends when the concept of human nature becomes the subject of their discourse. Notably, they both agree that man exists in a society. John Locke takes the position that man is, by nature, a social animal. He quotes Sir Robert Filmer’s great position that “men are not naturally free (Locke, 1958, pp. 9-10).”

On the other side, Thomas Hobbes advances an argument, which negates the possibility of man existing as a social animal. He argues that the society cannot exist save for the power of the state. I buy Locke’s idea. Human beings exist in a setting where they interact, share lives and care for loved ones. This proves that they are animals existing in a special setting called society.

This misunderstanding over man’s existence brews yet another subject of debate that is, the state of nature. They both agree that a state exists. For Locke, the nature of this state is that human beings make promises and form the habit of honoring them. He observes that the state is by nature unsecure. He goes on to aver that despite the state being unsecure, it is bliss: peaceful, pleasant and generally good (Locke, 1958, p. 139).

Locke gives anecdotal accounts of the American frontier and Soldania as some of the states that by nature existed. He recounts how property rights were respected leading to a peaceful state. He mentions that Rome and Venice existed as cities by nature before they were officially founded.

Thomas Hobbes on the other hand rejects the assertion that life as it is in the state of nature is bliss. He describes that life as solitary, poor, brutish, nasty and short (Hobbes, 1994, p. 72). Buying Hobbes idea, I suppose that society in that of nature, before the social contract, was very unsafe. One cannot stop thinking how property rights and general enforcement of rights and duties was.

The state debate takes yet another direction with the emergence the premise of natural law. As a natural law theorist, Locke argues that human beings are guided by the notion of conscience. This is the ability of distinguishing right and wrong. He gives an analogy that man is capable of knowing what is lawful and what is unlawful. With such knowledge, man is capable to solve conflicts, which confronted his conscience. This knowledge is subjective, “I see not then how the children of Adam, or of any man else, can be free from subjection to their parents.”(Locke, 1958, pp. 48-49)

Thomas Hobbes, though a naturalist, takes an argument, which leads to a different end. His assertion is that man’s knowledge is objective. He argues that man’s conscience is so feeble and is so unreliable as to be of no use in resolving practical disputes.

Hobbes continues to state that in the state of nature, man cannot distinguish when his claim concerning property rights ends (Locke 1958, pp. 115-117). He gives the insight how property exist on the will of the state. In this context, man is likely to trap himself in the tragedy of violence. He advances the position that the only practical and moral solution is to install a commanding body and the law that will represent the will of the commander.

The debate becomes more interesting when the premise of epistemology surfaces. John Locke adopts the concept that the difference in man’s conceptions, words and ideas regarding the world and the world itself are determined by the quality of good and bad. He explains how the naming of things as good and evil are guided by the real quality of good and evil. He supposes that the qualities of good and bad exist in the world despite man’s attachment of affection toward things with regard to their naming. He conceives the difference in naming because of communication arbitrariness.

On the other hand, Thomas Hobbes conceives the position that it is the naming that gives a thing then quality of good and bad. Hobbes borrows from the bible “You shall be as gods, knowing good and evil (Hobbes, 1994, pp. 127-131).” In this view, Hobbes justifies that man already knows what is good and wrong so the naming of things give them the quality of right and wrong.

The debate is not over until the introduction of the premise of conflicts. John Locke expounds that man’s state is ruled by peace. That peace is the norm of this state (Locke, 1958, pp. 114-116). That even if it does not rule as the norm, it ought to be the norm. He accounts that men should lead a peaceful life because they ought to lead a peaceful one. One of caring for each other, of sharing love and of condemning molestation and mistreatment.

Thomas Hobbes takes the position that men cannot tell the true meaning of this norm. If all men know the consequence of doing the contrary, for example the strong exerting himself upon the weak thus making them his subjects, wrangles will be inevitable.

The state debate bears yet another debate of the social contract. John Locke takes the position that human beings give up their right in exchange for impartial justice. They surrender their right in exchange of protection of property rights. The rights that are inherent like life, access to justice and liberty survive the exchange.

Thomas Hobbes explains that if one does what he is obligated to do then such a person should not be killed considering that he does not have the right of not to be killed (Hobbes 1994, p. 79). The contract debate is not only interesting but also confusing. If the people surrendered their right to the sovereign, it means they remains subjects of a commander. The question becomes who commands the commander. In any case, the commander turns on his words, where are the subjects- from whom the commander draws legitimacy- to seek redress?

The question of what happens when the social contract is breached leads to yet another debate. Locke avers that if the commander accumulates absolute power, acts as the judge and participant in the disputes he invites a revolution and the subjects are justified to overthrow such rulers.

Thomas negates the efficacy of this position. He holds that the subjects do not have the right to revolt. This is explained in this by alluding from the bible, “Honor thy father and thy mother” (Exod. 20. 12); “Whosoever curseth his father or his mother” (Lev. 20. 9); “Ye shall fear every man his mother and his father” (Lev. 19. 3); “Children, obey your parents” (Locke 1958, p. 126).  He supposes that ruler is the defining figure of what is right and wrong for his subjects. The good or wrong remains reserved as the will of the ruler. As such the subjects are not justified to revolt when the ruler exercises what he deems fit.

Another issue discussed the civil society. John holds that the civil society precedes the state in terms of morality and history (Locke, 1958, pp. 146-151). In this Civil Society, men have rights by their nature. He explains that the society creates order that determines the legitimacy of the state (Locke 1958, p. 128).

On the other hand, Hobbes suggests that the Civil Society precedes the state instead. His explanation is that the application of commands by the state regarding protection of property rights and upholding of contracts is what determines what a Civil Society is. He states that the civil society is the creation of the state (Hobbes, 1994, p. 129).

In the Hobbesian Civil Society, the government concedes men’s rights in exchange of protection of man’s life.

In the Lockean society, the prime role of the state is to supervise dispensation of justice. It is for the state to ensure that justice is done and or be seen as being done. For the Hobbesian society, what the state does is just from the onset (Locke, 1958, p. 89).

Since the society is the creation of the state, the state is justified to exercise its will over the society. In this regard, the state makes rules and applies them to then society. The state expects compliance since that is one way of exerting the rulers will over his subjects.

The approach regarding authorization of use of force invites quite an interesting approach from both sides. Locke propounds that authorization is of no use save for the fact that the authorization explains the reason which convinces man that such use of force is just.

Locke warns that if the authorization does not spark confidence as to its basis regarding just cause, then the society is entitled to grant or allow such use of force.

Thomas Hobbes holds that the concept of just use of force is misleading and cannot be ratified. The just use of force is whatever the force is authorized. He alludes to the Bible that, “Servants obey your masters in all things” (Colossians, 3. 22) and, “Children obey your parents in all things (Hobbes, 1994, pp. 127-129).”

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