Thomas Hobbes vs John Locke: Social Contract vs Natural Rights

Thomas Hobbes and John Locke were two political philosophers who had a significant influence on political ideologies around the world. Some people believe that they were primary contributors to modern political science. And, I believe people have a good reason to make such claims.

Although Hobbes and Locke were both Englishmen and lived in about the same time, their political philosophies greatly differed from each other. The core of their political philosophies was directed towards determining the role of government and the natural rights of humans. They proposed their philosophical thoughts as a solution to make societies more stable and human life more peaceful and prosperous.

For example, in his well-known work Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes included the idea of “social contract”. He believed that humans are selfish, wicked and destructive by nature. Therefore, Hobbes advocated for the monarchy (a strong government) that needs to be beyond challenge. He reasoned if the government is not strong enough to control the people’s behaviors and actions, people’s lives would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.

He added that if people live in the anarchic system, they would be at war with each other most of the time. Hobbes believed that human desires are endless and that behavior poses a great risk to people’s natural rights. Concisely, people want more power, more fame, and more glory than they have. Generally speaking, envisioning the human behaviors in the natural state, Hobbes believed that any person will be against another person when they are left alone.

Once again, Thomas Hobbes stated that people need a strong government that can protect their natural rights and liberties, and more importantly protect them from each other. As a return, people have to engage in a social contract with the government. Concisely, Hobbes’s social contract is a method of trading liberty for safety. Hobbes himself defined the idea of the social contract as “the mutual transfer of right” to achieve security and safety.

John Locke did not believe that human nature is as cruel as Hobbes believed. He was optimistic about human nature. He believed that humans are social beings and they have a good reasoning ability that differs them from animals and prevents them from destroying each other.

Locke stated every human being has three natural rights. Those are life, liberty, and property. He noted that no human laws can repeal those natural rights. If a government nullifies those rights by inserting their human laws, that will be the violation of natural rights. However, Locke supported the idea of having a limited government that will function based on the people’s will. That governing body can pass laws and grant legal rights to every citizen. Nevertheless, unlike natural rights, legal rights can be modified, restrained, and revoked by the legal system that was built by the consent of the general public.

Generally speaking, Locke advocated that the primary function of a government must be the protection of people’s natural rights. Government of any sort should grant freedom to all peoples regardless of their differences according to Locke. He admitted that the nature of every human being is different and unique. Therefore, all of those people are equally important for society and the government should protect their rights. Also, the government needs to avoid pressuring them to act in a certain way unless they pose a threat to society.

John Locke’s political philosophy influenced the foundation of modern democracy. He was also considered “Father of Liberalism” because of his strong stance on natural rights and freedom. He believed that every person is born with natural rights. When a child is born, their mind is at the blank state and their reasoning develops based on their experience in society. Concisely, he reasoned that if people have rights to prosperity and freedom, they will act as reasonable and social beings.

It is quite hard to label the thoughts of both philosophers as right and wrong. Because of that, there was and going to be an ongoing debate on this topic. However, as favorers of a democratic system, most people agree with specific parts of John Locke’s philosophy. For example, people believe that the government should support the will of people and preserve their natural rights. And the primary function of the government should be the protection of natural rights and serving the people through public consent. 

Concisely, the ideas of these two philosophers were contrary to each other in general sense. Hobbes wanted strong monarchy which is beyond challenge, while Locke preferred a democratic government that will function with the consent of people. As we already discussed above, both Hobbes and Locke backed their reasoning with their philosophical ideas and brought up real-life examples. Both of their philosophical works had some impact on the U.S constitution. For example, Locke’s thoughts influenced the US to adopt the democratic system of government.

By Arslan Batyrovich

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