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Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau
Wrote Leviathan in 1651, near the end of the English Civil War. Seeing the violence and behavior of people gave him a dim view of human nature.
He posits a State of Nature (SON), a state of affairs in which man is at his most natural.
The SON for Hobbes is a violent place, one of “war of every man against every man.” So the SON is also a state of war.
This state of war isn’t necessarily active fighting. It’s just the inclination to fight and to take preemptive action against others.
In fact, the SON is such that cooperation among people is nearly impossible because nobody will keep their agreements – it’s not in your interests to keep contracts; it is in your interests not to keep contracts; and there’s nobody to keep you honest.
This preemptiveness is often expressed as game theory’s prisoner’s dilemma.
Let’s say there are two prisoners who were accomplices in a crime and they’ve made a pact to stay silent and not rat out the other person. They’re being interrogated separately by the police so neither knows what the other person is going to do.
If he rats out his friend and his friend stays silent, he’ll go free and his friend will do 10 years (and vice-versa).
If both stay silent, they’ll each do six months.
If both rat out the other one, they’ll each do two years.
So if his partner stays silent, his best option is to rat him out. If his partner betrays him, his best option is again to rat him out. Either way, his best (and rational ) move is to betray his partner.
In the same way, in the SON, nobody will ever keep their agreements because it’s in their best interests not to do so.
This can be expressed in the following chart with the left number in each cell being player one’s preferred choice. 1 is most preferred, 4 is least preferred.
2,2 1,4 Don't cooperate 4,1 3,3 Cooperate Player 1 Don't cooperate Cooperate Player 2
In the SON, everyone also has the right of nature, which is that you may do whatever you see fit to protect your interests, especially your life.
Everyone is also roughly equal. Sure there are bigger guys, but they have to sleep sometime. So everyone’s equal in the sense that anyone can kill anyone else.
For Hobbes, the only way to get out the SON is to have a sovereign, somebody who will enforce contracts and punish wrongdoers.
You must form a social contract with others around you in which you collectively agree to give up your right of nature to someone.
This sovereign will exercise violence on your behalf should you be wronged. He will create laws and enforce contracts.
Only when there is a sovereign do you have a commonwealth and is there such things as justice and injustice.
For Locke, the SON isn’t the nasty place it is for Hobbes. The SON is not equal to a state of war.
In the SON, all people have perfect freedom to do what they want, but are still bound by God-given laws of nature. Moreover, everyone is equal because God made them so.
Everyone, being equal with equal freedom, may also punish those who transgress the natural law.
A state of war exists when somebody is aggressive towards another in seeking to take away the victim’s freedom (which could be enslavement, taking property, or his life) and the victim defends himself (and he has a right to this self-defense).
For Locke, the SON is different from a state of war, the former being nice and friendly, the latter not so much.
The SON can become a state of war, but it is not necessarily a state of war like it was for Hobbes.
So people form a social contract to create a sovereign and get out of the SON.
Though the SON is a rosy place with lots of freedom, people are willing to give it up in order to have some security from aggressors.
That is, the SON is to be preferred to civil society, but the uncertainty that a state of war could develop is too risky and causes heartburn.
People form societies in order to protect their property: their life, liberty, and property.
People may rebel, though, if the sovereign is not keeping up his end of the social contract. If he’s not keeping up hid end, the social contract is dissolved and people may rebel. Hobbes didn’t think people could rebel.
The SON is one with freedom and force creates rights while obedience to that force is turned into duty.
He doesn’t much like Hobbes’s social contract in which a person gives up all his freedom and power to a sovereign. Then the person who’s the sovereign has all the power and everybody else has none.
People typically don’t interact much with each other, but over time in the SON, interaction and competition is unavoidable. The obstacles to living also become greater than the resources. Men have to join together or die.
The social contract is made among all the participants. The sovereign is the popular will of the collective whole of which all individuals are a part.
Individuals help make the general will and agree to abide by what it says.
If they don’t, they will be compelled by the majority to do so. As Rousseau says, “that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free; for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his country, secures him against all personal dependence.”