Comparison of Marx and Hobbes

Contrast and compare the views of Marx and Hobbes as to the basis of law and order in society.

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Marx and Hobbes are great philosophers with phenomenal contribution towards the theory of human society resulting in the socialist revolution leading to communism by Marx and the ‘state of nature’ and ‘social contract’ by Hobbes. Although the two philosophers are distinct in their own theories, a comparative analysis of differences and similarities can be drawn based on the era they lived in and how this has influenced their beliefs which was then passed on to the upcoming human society.

The political philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) was one of the first modern view theory which provided an insight into why a governments legitimate authority should be obeyed. The rationale was based on genuine legitimacy derived from secular and material argument. Thomas Hobbes comes from the time of war, conflicts and many historians suggest that he was ruled by fear. This could have been a parameter to his view on human society. In his book titled ‘Leviathan’, Hobbes describes ‘the state of nature’ as the natural condition of human society which is a state of conflict and war. During this stage, a person is perceived to be rational egoist governed by appetites and emotions of hatred, pride, despair, etc. Furthermore the non-existence of government increases the inequality amongst highlighting the need of a state wherefore everyone must be equal. This inequality, to Hobbes, entail that people can kill each other which lead to great suspicious of one another and to avoid risk man avoids human contact.

The primary goal to men becomes the security to escape the state of nature. The perception was that it can only be achieved by dominating all other men but since all are equal this becomes the ambition for everyone and it leads to a deadlock situation. Nonetheless, at some point people will also agree to appoint a law-giver and law-enforcer i.e. they elect a sovereign and this is the moment of the social contract. The sovereign can be defined as a ruler with unconditional power and unaccountable to the people he rules. However Hobbes argued that the freedom of speech and other rights belong in the state of nature, this censure is necessary to maintain order otherwise it will lead to conflict and a shift back to the state of nature. The social contract therefore is a contract between the people not between the people and the ruler. So in order to maintain peace and security, men give up their freedom to the sovereign to achieve protection in return.

In Hobbes view, the evolution of human society happens in two stages from the state of nature to civil society. When men decide to elect the sovereign they are no longer primitive beings but citizens of a civil society. Hobbes’ interpretation was that an absolutists rule with sovereign that cannot be judged or punished. Hence, according to Hobbes there are only two possibilities for human society: either to be in a state of nature characterized by war and conflict or get peace in the civil society ruled by an absolutist sovereign by giving up their freedom.

The German philosopher Karl Marx (1818-1883), was a sociologist, economist, journalist, historian and revolutionary socialist. He contributed a great deal of theories in economic fields which later formed strong foundation of current knowledge of labour and capital, and has impacted wide variety of successive economic thoughts.

Marx’s theory about society, economics and politics – collectively known as Marxism belief that human societies progress through class and struggle. A conflict between an ownership class that controls production and a dispossessed labouring class that provides the labour for production. He called capitalism the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie,” believing it to be run by the wealthy classes for their own personal benefit; and he predicted that, like previous socioeconomic systems, capitalism produced internal tensions which would lead to its self-destruction and replacement by a new system: socialism. He argued that class antagonisms under capitalism between the bourgeoisie and proletariat would result in working class’ conquest of political power as a dictatorship of the proletariat and eventually establish a classless society, socialism or communism, a society governed by a free organisation of manufacturers. In parallel to believing the fact that socialism and communism were inevitable at that time, Marx actively fought for their implementation, arguing that social theorists and underprivileged people alike should carry out organised revolutionary action to rule out capitalism and introduce socio-economic change.

Marx has been described as one of the most influential figures in human history. Revolutionary socialist governments adopting Marxist concepts formed existence and power in a variety of countries in the 20th century, leading to the formation of largest socialist states such as the Soviet Union in 1922 and the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Many labour unions and workers’ parties worldwide are influenced by Marxism which also led to establishment of various theoretical deviations, such as Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, and Maoism, which were developed as a result. Marx is typically referred along with Emile Durkheim and Max Weber, as one of the three principal architects of modern social science.

The fact that both philosophers comes from different times, governed by different events and situations, had great inspiration on their thoughts and their derivation on what the end state of society should be like. They have made their contribution to what human society currently has and will continue to evolve. They conclude that the evolution of humans into many forthcoming stages reflect advancing conditions for mankind in each other’s perspective.

Hobbes commenced during the time of war and conflict, at which human beings basic requirement of security was deprived. Marx, who went through exploitative effects of capitalism on labour, in turn has a critical view on capitalism. However, he holds a very positive view of the future and also believes that the basic contradictions in the capitalist society would lead to its own collapse leading the way for revolution. He also assumes that the exploitation of labour would not exist in a communist society. The outcome of Marx’ stage theory is therefore a fair and very specific to the fact that the society is characterized by equality.

Marx’s and Hobbes difference was in their views of the social contract between human beings. Hobbes states that people will voluntarily abandon their rights of freedom to an independent ruler standing outside the contract. This is quite fundamental theory of the social contract as most would see the independent governor as also bound by the contract. This theory was further summarised that an absolutist ruler is necessary to keep men in admiration. Marx however, has been through the isolating effects of the capitalism and hence proposes a communist ideal of a communal society.

One of the famous Hobbes statements about the state of nature was, “Life is brutish, short and harsh, in the state of nature.” Humans are constantly in competition for resources, whether it’s primary or secondary. They would reach any extent necessary to meet those needs. This sense of desperation to fulfil needs create insecurity within the human society. Hobbes wrote the book “Leviathan”, the word Leviathan means the best way of protecting citizens would be by appointing a government that is powerful and intimidating. Hobbes believed that life is not immoral, but immoral in a state of nature. So, by killing an individual in a state of nature would be the same as the letting them live. The rationale is that a government must make laws and regulations in order to create a civilised society to result minimal crime. Regardless of these, Hobbes good works have been recognised as influential in shaping people and government with regards to a state of a civilised society.

Hence, views of Hobbes and Marx had different path to reach to the same determination even though they had similar objectives of bringing improvement to the society. Hobbes’s “Leviathan” explains the good management of natural and civil laws, as it empowers people to make themselves the people of the society. On other side, Marx states “history is economics in action”.

After analysing the differences and similarities of Karl Marx and Thomas Hobbes, we can gather that both philosophers settled on the notion of communism over individuality. Marx holds very calculative and measurable theories, as his theories are formed natural laws. Although, the differences between these theories are quite visible, their objectives and the message is the same which is the establishment and improvement of a civil society.


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Raphael, D. D. (1977) Hobbes- Morals and Politics, Alden Press Oxford

Bottomore, T. (1975) Marxist Sociology, The Anchor Press Ltd

Swingewood, A. (1975) Marx and Modern Social Theory, The Macmillan Press Ltd

Ritzer, G. and Stepnisky, J. (2014) Sociological Theory, 9th edition, McGraw-Hill Education, page 43-75

Biography- Thomas Hobbes [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 10th January 2014]

The History Guide- Karl Marx [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 10th January 2014]