Locke’ and Hobbes’ Views on State of Nature


Locke’s Two Treaties of Civil Government was published after the superb revolution of 1688. In this publication, Locke identifies a theory referred to as the theory of natural law and natural rights. He utilizes this theory to differentiate between legal and illegal national government. He suggests that members of society should revolt against dictatorial government. Locke discussed many issues but this article will focus on the social contract that ended the conditions of the state of nature.

The Church of England was created after Henry VIII broke away from the main Roman Church. The church was an authorized religion of England. The state persecuted and prosecuted other members of society that disobeyed the church. During restoration, Locke urged the church to tolerate others by allowing divergent views to exist in society.

In other words, Locke proposed that the church had to be separated from the state. In two treaties of civil government, he wanted to express two opinions. One is to disprove the policy of the divine and unlimited right of the Monarch. He also wanted to come up with a theory that would reunite the freedom of the citizen with political order.

Even though Locke did not mention Hobbes in his analysis, he had something in mind when he claimed that the policy of unlimited monarchy left independent and subjects in the state of nature towards each other. The Leviathan (1651) is the most inclusive expression of Hobbes’s viewpoint. Hobbes analyzed materialistic explanation of human nature and comprehension.

He also discussed issues related to human infringement and negative visualization of the natural state of human beings. He observed that life is characterized by perpetual struggles. To avoid conflicts, Hobbes argued that people decided to form a commonwealth, which he referred to as Leviathan. In this regard, people had to surrender their powers to one common authority that had absolute powers. Unlike Locke, Hobbes observed that people had to obey even unresponsive governments.

Locke’s Ideas on the State of Nature

Locke advised that people should use reason in seeking the truth rather than just acknowledge the views of the authorities or be subject to fallacy. He claimed that each fact should be supported by empirical evidence. In this case, people must be in a position to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate forms of governments. State institutions must be willing and ready to serve citizens. Use of force should always be condemned because people have the right to be served by the government.

By doing this, the conditions witnessed in the state of nature would be eliminated. In the state of nature, life was brutal, nasty and short-lived. Locke was against authoritarian forms of governments since they unleash terror to innocent citizens. Utilizing reason to clasp truth and to determine legal functions of institutions would optimize human prosperity in society (Wootton 285). Consequently, material and spiritual interests would be enhanced in society.

According to Locke, labor is the most important resource in acquiring property. Furthermore, any government is put place after signing a treaty. The state of nature never knew any form of government. Moral laws guided people, which was the law of God. This implied that each person was to be treated equality in society. There were no injustices and competitions in society since resources were available. In his view, the society was like America.

Locke suggested that trouble begun when the population increased. Land became scarce, which called for rules and regulations to guide human conduct. Some behaviors were complex implying that the moral laws (laws of nature) could not guide them. However, this did not lead to the formation of government. In the state of nature, people were always willing to punish transgressors.

Locke noted that civil society came into being when people agreed to delegate the role of punishing offenders to specific officers. In this case, the government was put in place through the signing of social contract. Locke argued that the powers of such governments are limited. People have the power to modify laws contained in the social contract.

Hobbes’s Ideas on the State of Nature

As earlier stated, Leviathan was a clear masterwork of Hobbes. Hobbes argued that man is not logically good. Instead, he or she is naturally a self-centered hedonist. This means that human beings are only interested in matters that affect them directly. He continued to posit that human motives in the natural state were guided by intolerant selfishness. If left unchecked, Hobbes suggested that human motives could easily destroy the very survival of society.

In other words, Hobbes implied that life in the state of nature was anarchic and brutal. He observed that life was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short-lived. Because people were equal physically, they possessed an enthusiasm of love for survival. He noted that an individual’s right in the state of nature threatened the survival of the less fit. Life in the state of nature was characterized by violence, competitions, struggles and revolutions.

To bring normalcy and constancy in society, people had to sign a contract referred to as the social contract. The social contract was termed as a leviathan, which means the state or government. According to Hobbes, the form of government did not matter. This means that it could be democratic or totalitarian. According to Hobbes, the state or government had to be given powers to utilize force in maintaining peace (Wootton 160).

The state had to maintain peace using all available techniques, including murder. The state in turn promised to uphold the integrity of the citizenry by treating everyone equally. To Hobbes, issues to do with liberty, justice and ownership of property were not of concern in the state of nature. The Leviathan had powers over ownership of property in society. Hobbes underscored the fact that there were no set of values in society because of change.


The two classical scholars tried to explain the origin of the modern state by analyzing life in the state of nature. Locke observed that man is a social animal naturally. This means that there is always some order in society because moral laws guide people. On his part, Hobbes conceived that man is not in any way a social animal. This means that the state imposes rules in society. People in society never respect natural laws.

As regards to state of nature, Locke observed that men kept their pledges and fulfilled their responsibilities. Even though the state of nature was timid, it was characterized by harmony, security and pleasurable environment. The society strived to punish wrongdoers using moral laws. Hobbes on the other hand stipulates that in the state of nature, there was no society. Life was characterized by terror, danger and insecurity. In other words, there was no social organization in society.

According to Locke, human beings were aware of what was erroneous and true in the state of nature. Therefore, people were able to know what could be legitimate and illegitimate. Familiarity to truth was important in solving conflicts found in the state of nature. Through truth, people were able to identify what belonged to them. Hobbes imagined that an individual’s knowledge was so delicate in the state of nature.

This meant that individuals could not resolve simple conflicts. People could not distinguish between what belonged to them and what belonged to others. In the state of nature, Hobbes argued that people were always in conflicts over scarce resources. It was therefore the role of the state to distribute resources.

Concerning the social contract, Locke noted that people gave up their rights in order to acquire justice. However, people retained the right to life and property. The contract signed was therefore subordinate to the wishes of the people. Hobbes hypothesized that citizens gave up their right to life and property.

People had no powers over their lives and properties. It was the role of the state to determine how resources were distributed in society. According to Hobbes, people had to respect decisions made by the state. Dissidents had to operate outside the boundaries of the state. Those who obeyed the law could be rewarded while those who opposed it would be subjected to punishment.


The two classical scholars agreed that life in the state of nature was disturbing. It was therefore necessary to sign a contract, which was referred to as the social contract. According to Locke, people had powers over the contract. This meant that they would adjust it in case the need arose. According to Hobbes, the contract was both social and political. People gave up their sovereignty to one common authority referred to as Leviathan. The Leviathan had unlimited powers.

Works Cited

Wootton, David. Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. 2nd ed. Idianapolis: Hacket, 2008. Print.

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