Hobbes and Locke: 3 Similarities and Differences on Government

Further ReadingThomas Hobbes: His 2 Major Influences Upon Modern Society and John Locke: 3 Ways His Philosophy Changed Modern Education

When discussing the major inspirations behind the creation of the U.S constitution two names come to mind; John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. Both of these English political philosophers wrote foundational texts on the modern theories of government. They share several similarities but also several differences.

There are 3 major differences and similarities between Hobbes and Locke’s theories of government. For the similarities, Hobbes and Locke agreed on the social contract theory, that mankind’s knowledge is built by observations, and that human nature propelled government. However, the 3 main differences are that Hobbes and Locke disagreed on the structure of government, the nature of man, and the role that education played in society.

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Without further ado, here are the 3 similarities and differences between John Lock and Thomas Hobbes.

Similarities Between Thomas Hobbes and John Locke

Thomas Hobbes and John Locke shared 3 main similarities in their political philosophy. These similarities would help to create the modern U.S constitution and help to shape modern democratic theory worldwide.

Similarity 1: Both Locke and Hobbes Agreed On Social Contract Theory

According to both John Locke and Thomas Hobbes governments were composed of people who willingly gave up certain liberties to obtain safety, security, and prosperity for themselves and their families.

In Hobbes’ foundational text Leviathan he is often credited with building the modern theory of the social contract theory. He believed that power would emulate from the people upwards to form a government.

Locke also believed that power came from the people. In his monumental publication Two Treatises of Government Locke argued that power came from the people at large and was vested in whatever government they agreed to live under.

As such this is the first similarity. Both Locke and Hobbes believed in Social Contract Theory

Similarity 2: Both Hobbes and Locke Believed That Mankind’s Knowledge Was Built Upon Observations

Both Locke and Hobbes believed that mankind made informed decisions based on their experiences and observations of their life and others.

In Hobbes’s Leviathan man built his knowledge off observations of the world around him. This would eventually lead man to a need to dominate his surroundings to offer some sense of security. Therefore governments are built around natural observations.

Locke also believed that mankind’s knowledge was an accumulation of shared experiences and observations. For Locke this also played a pivotal role in founding governments that he believed man would create to represent the ideal society.

Both Hobbes and Locke differed from other contemporary views of their time. The epistemological school of Rationalism stated that man was born with ideas. Both Locke and Hobbes stood against this.

As such the second similarity between Hobbes and Locke was that they both believed human knowledge and thus government came from observations of the natural world.

Similarity 3: Both Locke and Hobbes Agreed That Government Was Created And Propelled By Human Nature

Both Hobbes and Locke agreed that governments were the natural state of humanity.

Humans would work together to create governments. That the choice of government they made best reflected their innate human nature.

This belief was an extension of the social contract theory that both Locke and Hobbes agreed with. According to their philosophies of government both Locke and Hobbes positioned an ideal government as being reflective of human nature.

As such the third similarity between Locke and Hobbes was that human nature was what created and propelled government.

Differences Between Thomas Hobbes and John Locke

While Thomas Hobbes and John Locke shared 3 similarities they also shared 3 massive differences regarding the structure of their ideal government.

Difference 1: Hobbes and Locke Disagreed On How The Ideal Government Should Be Run

Both Locke and Hobbes disagreed on how the ideal government should be run. This is part due to the nearly generational gap. Hobbes lived during the English civil and protestant reformation war while Locke lived during the enlightenment.

For Hobbes the ideal government was one of absolute authoritarianism. In this government the monarch or ruler would hold authority over all manners of state and private property.

Hobbes believed this was the best form of government because it could react extremely fast to potential hazards of state; both internal and external. To Hobbes people were not born equal.

Locke on the other hand believed that the ideal government came from the people who would elect their representatives. Here governments would comprise the best people suited for the job.

For Locke all people were born equal in society. Therefore they all had equal rights such as the right to private property, freedom of speech, and civil liberties.

As such one of the primary differences between Hobbes and Locke was their belief on what the ideal government would look like.

Difference 2: Both Hobbes And Locke Disagreed On The Nature Of Man

The second main difference between Locke and Hobbes was that they completely disagreed on the natural state of mankind.

Hobbes believed that humans were inherently evil. That given the chance a natural human being would take all the power they could and fight to keep it. This was why in Hobbes’ perfect government there was an authoritarian leader. It best reflected human nature.

Locke on the other hand believed that humans were inherently logical and compassionate. While Locke did believe that human nature was greedy he believed that in times of need humans would work together to achieve a higher goal that benefited them.

As such this remains one of the primary differences between John Locke and Thomas Hobbes.

Difference 3: Both Locke and Hobbes Disagreed On The Role That Education Played In Government

One of the main differences between Locke and Hobbes was that they disagreed on the role that education played in government.

For Hobbes he believed education that did not reaffirm the absolute power of the monarch inherently destabilized the nation. In the last part of Leviathan Hobbes presents a 17th century English education system that sought to teach the Englishman that there was power greater than the monarch in society.

To Hobbes education should reaffirm the superiority of the ruler. This was done to reinforce the integrity of society and government.

Locke however believed that man should be educated in all aspects and thought to think for themselves. According to Locke this would help the nation become stronger as people started to incorporate their own ideas into the Republican system of governance.

As such this is the 3rd difference between John Locke and Thomas Hobbes.

Conclusion

There you have it; an entire article going over the 3 main differences between John Locke and Thomas Hobbes.

Political philosophy remains a fascinating subject of research. When looking at how the governments of the world developed we can see several modern aspects in theories from nearly 400 years ago.

Here at The History Ace I strive to publish the best history articles on the internet. If you enjoyed this article then consider subscribing to the free newsletter and sharing around the internet.

Further, you can check out some of the other articles below.

Sincerely,

Nick