In the Leviathan, Hobbes argues for a “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” State of Nature, characterized by a world of perpetual war among men, with no place for justice, law or private property, supported by hierarchies of subordination. The solution for this state, as argued by Hobbes, is the creation of a social contract founded on fear and the surrender of personal rights, including freedom, to a supreme sovereign. In contrast, John Locke argues for a State of Nature characterized by peace, benevolence and mutual help, which includes the notion of private property and is rooted in two natural dispositions: the right to do whatever one pleases within the boundaries of the Natural Law and the right to defend oneself from the offenses of third parties. However, the State of Nature is bound to fall since there is no universality among men to act within the Natural Law, crossing its boundaries. Also, being a judge of its own causes, one can favor one’s loved and try to harm one’s enemies. Hence, an institution for the regulation of liberty and own-legislation is needed in order to secure everyone’s rights, and more importantly everyone’s private property.
According to Hobbes, the differences between men are so minimal that even if some men are greater in strength or intellect, in the end the whole collectivity appears to be homogenously equal. Hence, for Hobbes (as well for Locke) the state of nature starts with a presupposed state of equality among men given by nature (in contrast with the state of equality given by God as argued by Locke). However, men naturally tend to favor power over the others, which force them to engage in conflict and war. Hobbes distinguishes three different causes for the beginning of this conflict: competence, glory and distrust. Competence engages men in a circular fight for power over another, glory gives men the need for reputation, and distrust enables personal security. As it is evident, it is impossible for men to live peacefully without a power of fear that would keep both parties in order. For Hobbes, these circumstances create a state of ‘bellum omnia omnes’ which makes impossible any progress or mutual relationship.
Nevertheless, Hobbes clearly acknowledges that there has never been a time when everybody is engaged in war with everybody, instead he argues that there has been periods in history full of conflicts and distrust that drags people apart in hostile relationships. In this state of war or conflict, where everybody is trying to gain other’s property and power, there is no place for justice since justice is not consistent with personal reason but with mutual agreement. The notion of law and justice are absent in Hobbes’ State of Nature.
In order to overcome this unproductive state, Hobbes suggests that there are two different ways: passions and reason. The supreme passion is the fear of death, followed by other passions such as the desire for a comfortable life without conflicts and the hope for gaining goods through labor. These passions are, however, ineffective since the state of war in which men live makes them realize that these goods they are seeking are worthless since there is no way to protect them from the greedy, hostile neighbors (not even their own life is secured in this state). This is the reason why Hobbes introduces the notion of Natural Laws: the First Law: “To seek peace and follow it”, dictates that every man must look for peace and when peace is unobtainable; he must find and use every advantage of war in order to preserve peace; the Second Law: “By all means we can to defend ourselves”, rooted in the Scriptures and derived from the First Law, argues that every man must give the others what he asks for, one must give up on its own rights as long as they represent danger to the common good; finally, the Third Law, derived from the Second, urges men to satisfy every contract in which they are engaged in order to prevent conflicts.
Hobbes’ Laws of Nature make evident that there is a possible exit from the state of war since every man is considered equal and holds the same rights under the law (in contrast with Locke, who places these conditions as components of the State of Nature rather than as a possible exit from the state of war). All this circumstances, but most importantly, the coercive fear of the state of war, forces men to engage in a kind of social contract which implicates an absolute trespassing of one’s rights, including a total surrender of personal liberty (in contrast with Locke’s civil society which is born to safeguard personal liberty), to a sovereign person or institution of people hoping in exchange for a state of order and security to seek, create and maintain peace. Hobbes adds that this sovereign person or institution of people must have the power to exercise fear upon every member of the contract in order to keep them within the boundaries, giving birth to the notion of the Leviathan and a clear support for the monarchic system (in contrast with Locke’s criticism against the Monarchy).
According to Locke, the idea of the State of Nature is given in order to understand the notion of political power. For Locke, men are naturally in a “state of perfect freedom”, where they are able to decide over his actions, property and will. However, in contrast with Hobbes’ definition of liberty (“the absence of external impediments”), liberty is not completely free of boundaries or external impediments, men are tied to the boundaries of the law of nature when exercising their right of liberty. As Locke would say, “This be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of license”. Men are also in a state of equality, given by God through the distinction that “no man is greater than the others”, preventing any type of hierarchies or subordination (as Locke would argue when discussing the notion of slavery or conquest or through his criticism against the monarchic system). In contrast with Locke, Hobbes argues that even if there is a state of homogeneous equality, it is this state which gives men the possibility to invade others’ property and life (This is indirectly a claim for the Monarchy, which gives a man a higher status in order to act upon everybody else, allegedly seeking for order and peace). Due to these circumstances, everyone must look for his own preservation (or life) and for the preservation of all men. Rooted in the idea of self-preservation is Locke’s notion of punishment and self-defense are components of the State of Nature. In the State of Nature everyone is free to ask for reparation and restraint, creating the concept of punishment as a way of self-execution of the Law. Punishment, as argued by Locke, must be proportional to the offense, from point where one is able to “appropriate the goods or services of the offender, by right of self-preservation” to the point where one is not only able but forced to punish the crime by murdering the offender “by the right he has of preserving all mankind”.
As it has been said, Locke’s State of Nature appoints man as a free self-legislator within the Natural Law. However, this State, just as Hobbes’ state of perpetual war, is bound to result unproductive collectively. First, since there is no particular agreement among all mankind to act within the boundaries of the Natural Law, transgressions are likely to happen re-creating a Hobbean state of war between the transgressor and the others. Second, the fact that one is self-legislator of the Law of Nature might cause biased decisions to favor one (self-love) or one’s friends over one’s enemies. Locke argues that in order to prevent this scenarios God creates the institution of the Civil Society governed by a civil government. This point is a direct criticism to Hobbes’ support to the monarchy where Locke argues that the system is just a recreation of the second scenario. For Locke it is inconceivable that mankind must surrender its liberty to a sovereign, since everybody is equal by birth and law. As Locke says, “How much better it is than the state of nature, where one man, (aˆ¦) has the liberty to be judge in his own case and may do to all its subjects whatever he pleases, without the least liberty to anyone to question or control those who execute his pleasure?” This is where the need for society is born. Society, as argued by Locke, is born to amend the difficulties of the State of Nature where a man is judge of his own case and there is no regulation of liberty in order not to become license. This regulation, however, does not equal with the surrender of liberty requested by Hobbes to end with the state of war.
For Locke, the civil government is born to preserve liberty (with liberty comes private property, even in the State of Nature) in its pure form, while for Hobbes liberty is taken away in order to preserve peace. While for Hobbes men are naturally in a state of war, for Locke the state of war appears when one transgresses other peoples’ private property. While Locke includes private property as inherent to liberty (hence, as component of the state of nature) and argues for the preservation of private property through the social contract (which might be tacit or consent as both philosophers acknowledge), for Hobbes the notion of private property is only imaginable when men have abandoned the state of nature. While for Hobbes there is no certain reliance on theological terms, Locke appears to claim for Heaven where there is no explanation to back up his concepts. While for Hobbes there cannot be morality (hence no justice) in the State of Nature, for Locke morality is given by the Law of Nature. While Locke’s State of Nature argues for the revolution against the monarchy (since it represents the State of Nature), Hobbes insists that the only way to escape from the State of Nature is monarchy.
While both arguments are convincing, Locke’s State of Nature is more plausible. First, Locke acknowledges the existence and preservation of liberty upon everything else. Without liberty, even if liberty must be constrained by the Natural Law or reason, there cannot be a social contract, since as Hobbes says; a contract made by coercion is void. Second, in reality, the nature of man is not to cause conflict, there is no perpetual struggle among everybody everywhere as Hobbes says. Hobbes’ state of nature fails to explain the existence of love, good will, charity, solidarity, and other values that we witness every day. Also Hobbes’ fails to recognize the influence of rearing and culture as factors which might shape the natural state of man. Finally, Locke makes clear that even when most people may act within the boundaries of the Natural Law while in the State of Nature, there are possibilities that an aggressor might be found. In contrast, Hobbes attaches an absolute value to the nature of man implying that it is always good or bad.