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Hobbes v Rousseau

Early and medieval philosophers made good attempts synthesizing on how modern societies should be structured. The major preoccupation of these philosophers and early theorists was on order maintenance and the foundations of the laws governing the society. Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract was endeavored at accomplishing this. Thomas Hobbes had his own work Leviathan. Both these texts are an idealization of how man was in his natural state. Though both these texts are radically different on the type of society and government ideal to man, they espouse similar ideas of man in his initial stage.

They both agree that man was born equal. Rousseau finds participatory society to be the most ideal while Hobbes idolizes absolute monarchy. These are radical shifts considering they are both in agreement on the equality of men. To assess each philosopher’s view of society, it is important to analyze each individual’s perception of man in the original state and what inspires each theorist’s line of thinking. Rousseau lived in a turbulent time when Europe was reeling from the effects of political instability and the populace was becoming fed up with the monarch.

A philosopher in the era of the enlightenment, his thoughts and ideas had played a formidable role in influencing the French revolution and brought liberalism to new level. To Rousseau, man was born inherently good and righteous. Man is compassionate and no conflicts exist between him and others. This compassion emanates from the mutual interest towards freedom that exists in the state of nature. Man lives a simple life only that it is in solitary. Rousseau says that the “natural man is not complicated” human beings are individualistic but still in a position to appreciate the need to rely on others and hence good behaviors.

Man hence is born free and inherently good but is corrupted by the society (Rousseau 36). To the contrary, a Hobbes view of man in a state of nature is more realistic and captures the modern society effectively. He views the state of nature as highly anarchical. Every individual is an enemy and great threat to the other. Man lives in constant fear of being attacked and succumbing to a violent death. According to Hobbes, man lives a life that is “solitary, nasty, brutish and short” (Hobbes 13).

Individuals believe that they are in perpetual danger as they are in constant threat of being attacked by other members in the state of nature. There is no security and human beings are unproductive. Men are endowed with natural equality in all faculties except size. However, they are driven by egoistic and selfish interests and although they are concerned with the wellbeing of the society, their self interests rank the highest. Major difference that comes out in these two philosophers view of the state of nature emanates from how Rousseau views man.

Rousseau views man as emphatic and considerate of other peoples welfare, this is as a result of mans inherent altruism. He takes a rather idealistic position compared to Hobbes who believes the state of nature was anarchical and man is in constant danger of annihilation. It is these differences in the conceptualization that lead to divergent views of the man in a state of nature. Hobbes theory appropriately helps one understand the society better and appreciate the need for laws and government to arrest the anarchical situation that prevails.

Man is individualistic and his actions in the society are to be understood along such lines. Rousseau claims that in the state of nature, man has delinked himself from the cultural clothing, he is good but upon contact with the society, corruption creeps in. This to many is quite implausible. Society and man are one, how then can it be said that man is good but the society is bad? If man is so inherently good, then we could expect the same case to be for the society. In leviathan, Hobbes notes that men are equal in all but are driven by raging competition with each other as they are all searching for the same resources.

Absence of any reasonable source of power and authority in the society leads to a situation of anarchy. The society is also amoral. With no single authority or government, nothing is classified as an injustice. There is no right or wrong. In Leviathan, he says that “force and fraud are in war the two cardinal virtues” (23) they are not regarded to as injustices. Man is in constant fear of violent death and hence is solely preoccupied with his own preservation, “man has the liberty to use his own power, as he wills himself for the preservation of his own nature.

” (Hobbes 36) With no rules and with no injustices, the state of nature hence allows an individual to do as he or she wishes as long as it is in tandem with his self preservation interests. To arrest the violence, the fear and the anarchical situation in the state of nature, Hobbes conveniently coins the concept of social contract. Hobbes social contract is simply but a commonwealth where individuals surrender their rights and wills to a sovereign leader. Man in the sate of nature must relinquish the self will to an absolute sovereign. All men must give up their rights equally to this one sovereign individual if order is to be achieved.

Order hence will be gotten out of an individual’s fear of retribution. The sovereign entity shall come up with laws and rules to govern the society and all individuals shall be held accountable. In leviathan, Hobbes is also of the view that the sovereign king must have some form of control over the rest of the individuals in the society and the subjects must conform to such control (Martinich 137) Rousseau social contract is radically different from Hobbes. He is not of the idea that the populace should be ruled without consent. His idea of social contract espouses the ideals of liberalism; freedom even in the face of a government is crucial.

Liberty is the greatest source of happiness. One major weakness of Rousseau’s social contract is in how he says that the government has to be sanctioned by the people, whereas he fails to pinpoint how this is to be done. A perfect society according to Rousseau is that one which is dictated upon by the general will of the citizens. This is through convening assemblies’ where each individual is given a chance to air his views on what the general will should be. Power and authority hence stems from the people themselves. The sovereign is only mandated with powers to legislate, the laws to be made have to be in tandem with the will of the people.

Rousseau says that man is born free but every where he is in chains. To escape these chains, it becomes necessary to enter into a binding social contract. This social contract is to be made with the rest of the individuals in the sate of nature. One weakness that has been pinpointed out in this is the near impossibility of establishing what the general will of the populace is without necessarily resorting to a dictatorship of the majority. It is difficult, in decision and lawmaking to establish what each an individual wills in the society.

Rousseau insists that the individuals have to make the laws themselves, they have to determine what their will is and not their representatives. This, it must be noted, is just but an ideal situation which is highly improbable (Martinich 134). Hobbes talks of individuals giving up their rights to a sovereign entity. Hobbes deviates from Rousseau’s idea that the populace cannot be trusted to decide en masse what is good for the society. They cannot end the state of anarchy reigning in the society without giving up their rights to a sovereign ruler.

Giving up of individuals rights is the price to pay in exchange for peace and tranquility that will prevail. The sovereign ruler will bring in a sense of functionality in the society. He will introduce civility and rule of law where people will be driven by fear of retribution. An absolute monarchy is the best to quell down the egoistic nature of humanity. With the introduction of a sovereign ruler, individuals will give up their self preservation rights and equality will be achieved as all individuals will be powerless and the ability to engage in constant conflicts will be diminished.

The ruler hence has a carte blanche to make decisions and laws. A weakness that arises in this is that the sovereign absolute powers and the individuals have no reprieve. All in all, Hobbes philosophy of the society is the most prudent. He is right to note that people are driven by self interests that put them on a collision path with each other; the society needs an absolute ruler with powers to compel people to obey the law. Rousseau’s social contract and state of nature is an ideal view of things as they should be but not as they really are.

Works cited

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques: A Discourse on Inequality. Maurice Cranston; Penguin Book. 1984 [1755]) 31-49 Hobbes, Thomas Leviathan . On the matter, form & power of a commonwealth, ecclesiastical and civil. A. R. Waller; Cambridge University Press,(1651 [1904]), 19-44 A. P. Martinich, “Thomas Hobbes, The Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 281: British Rhetoricians and Logicians, 1500-1660, Second Series, Detroit: Gale, 2003, 130-144.

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