February 25, 2008

Hobbes and Locke: Journal 3

Week 4 journal The Political “we�

Small group discussion during the fourth week of class focused on the formation of the political “we.� Each group discussed Thomas Hobbes’ writings in Leviathan (chapter 13, “Of the Naturall Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery,� chapter 14, Of the First and Second Naturall Lawes, and of Contracts� and chapter 21, “The Liberty of Subjects.�) Discussion focused around the transition from states to established society and the difference between the two. We also talked about the common ideas of ownership and property between Hobbes’ writing and that of John Locke in Of Property.

A great portion of our discussion focused on Hobbes’ view of the natural state of men. In Chapter 13, “Of the Naturall Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery,� Hobbes defines his take on the natural state of men. Hobbes explains that naturally, all men are equal. We discussed Hobbes’ idea that since all men are equal, without any common power over them, they are always in a state of fear and war with one another. This state of war resulted from no limitation of rights, which in turn left all men without security and restricted any man from owning property for himself.

We discussed Hobbes’ suggestion that peace comes only from the mutual fear of death among men. This fear motivates men to seek after peace. We talked about the necessity of men giving up certain rights by way of contract in order to ultimately benefit themselves and those around them. This process of forming contracts and relinquishing some of their rights facilitated the formation of a common-wealth. Under this common-wealth, power was given to a Sovereign. Under this sovereign, men are granted peace and protection and are finally allowed to own property.

We see that it is ultimately only by limiting some rights that any man is able to truly have rights to property. By organizing together, men form a society that ultimately grants and takes away the right of ownership to all men. If a man owns a certain land, all other men lose their right to that land. By having a sovereign, these rights are protected and men are no longer left in fear. John Locke takes the idea of ownership one step further by establishing the idea that ownership of property comes only by way of labor. In Of Property, he states: “The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property…For this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for other.� (Locke, 111-112.)

From this passage, we learn that Locke’s idea of land ownership (property) is only granted to the man who labors over a particular area of land. Once he has worked over the land and improved it by tilling, planting, etc., he alone has ownership of it and can enjoy the fruits of it. All other men lose their right to this land. Included in this passage are also very important stipulations on property ownership. In the last line, Locke adds that the man who has labored over a land has a right to own that property as long as there is still enough, good land left for the rest of the common people. This stipulation ensures that men only take as much land as they can use and that there is enough common land left that any man who will labor for it, may have property for himself.

By limiting the property of man to that which he can labor over and use the fruit of, no man would be able to take over too wide an expanse of land or take away the right of another man to own his own share. (Locke, 115.) Within society, once a man has taken possession of a certain area and improved the land, the whole society benefits from his labors. Locke supports this idea by saying, “…he who appropriates land to himself by his labour, does not lessen, but increase the common stock of mankind: for provisions serving to the support of human life, produced by one acre of enclosed and cultivated land, are (to speak much within compass) ten times more than those which are yielded by an acre of land of an equal richness lying waste in common.� (Locke, 116.)

We see that the idea of self and community are always interconnected and dependent upon one another for benefit. Left to himself, every man has unlimited rights, but cannot enjoy them because of constant fear of his fellow man. Society is dependent on each man forsaking some of his unlimited rights in order to ensure protection for all and allow ownership. This ownership allows for common lands to be labored and improved, which in turn benefits the whole society.

Hobbes and Locke: Journal 2

Notes on Hobbes

Hobbes’ writings deals much with how society has been defined in the past, and though some language and ideas may seem outdated, these are the building blocks for the modern view of how society should be run. One of the key points of Hobbes is how societies come into being, with man moving from a ‘state of nature’ into a contract, or society, with others. In a ‘state of nature,’ man lives by no rules but what he himself creates, and everything, from the taking of food to the taking of life, is within his right. Now while this may seem the ultimate freedom, a boundless equality among men, it is also an existence of uncertainty, and with this uncertainty comes fear, which according to Hobbes is a driving force behind people creating social contracts, or ‘societies.’ Now the point of entering a social contract is to gain something, be that security, easy access to food, etc, but in order to get this, some of the rights that one had in the ‘natural state’ will have to be forfeit, i.e. a man will no longer be able to do whatever he wants, but must abide by the rules of the society he has entered, even if he does not agree with them, for that would undermine the power of the sovereign of the society to protect, and keep order. And in Hobbes’ mind, the most perfect society is that of a monarchy, where all the power is vested in one individual.

Hobbes also makes some interesting comments about war, that it is not simply about battles and fighting, but that the mere threat of war can be an incredible power. (Cold war, anyone?)

Hobbes’ personal interpretation of ‘natural state’ vs. society sparked some debate in class, namely how he seemed to consider some groups of people as being in a natural state, when they were in fact not at all. For example, he believed that the Native Americans had no society, and lived in a savage, lawless state, which was far from true. While it may have been different from the bureaucratic monstrosity that was Britain’s large, incredibly-organized government system, Native Americans still had a very functional society, replete with laws and leaders. Granted, Hobbes was stating much of the imperialistic bullshit that was so ingrained during the time of British colonialism.

However, it would seem that, even though we will definitely accept that a tribal system is a form of society today, people today tend to see the huge, expansive form all 1st world countries employ today as being far more advanced. And in some ways, it may be true. We have more luxuries, more technology, more safety. But the question was raised of the consequences of this advanced system failing. What would happen if a modern city got cut off from the rest of its nation? It might last for a time, but as most cities today depend on import of supplies to keep them running, it would only be a matter of time before things would run out. A disaster of that magnitude would uncover the greatest weakness of modern metropolises, which is a complete lack of self-sufficiency. In such a situation, a tribal society would survive much better, due to already living off the land. Getting cut off from a larger alliance of tribes would not cripple them, as they would have a much easier time adapting, with no dependence on outside products and ease of mobility. So it makes one wonder which is truly better, the safer one, or the one that can adapt?

And perhaps adding a bit of a modern example to the ‘state of nature’/society dichotomy, I think that can also fit into what America has done, and is doing now, by involving itself, or creating, struggles in other countries (Iraq, Vietnam, Korea,…), with the idea of bringing these people freedom, and democracy. The message these actions send seem to be one of ‘our society/government is better, lets force it on other people,’ or some sort. Just food for thought.

Another point that came up during discussion that I found interesting was the notion that Hobbes’ definition of ‘state of nature’ could be applied directly onto society itself, especially in the instance of war between two or more countries, so instead of being man versus man, it would become sovereign versus sovereign. There would naturally be some very marked differences, as even if a man or woman was in total political control of a nation, and decided to go to war against another nation, it would not be the instantaneous action that a man would have while fighting another. His striking fist or foot would be unable to desert, or disagree, or have any free will, unlike the people and armies of a country.

Within ‘Leviathan’ itself, an issue I was strongly affected by, although it didn’t come up much in class, was that of Hobbes’ idea that one should restrain from any forms of resistance against one’s sovereign. Perhaps this is the American in me, but this rubs me the wrong way. Not that I’m saying there should be outright rebellion every time something doesn’t go your way, but I believe that people have the right to fight back, if their rights are being abused.

All in all, an interesting read, and one that lets you see where today’s political ideas began.

Hobbes and Locke: Journal 1

Journal #1

The readings for this week were but the philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. The work of these two great theologians goes into detail about elements of society. In class, the first main theme discussed was the idea on how society came into being. This was the main focus of the class, as there were many different viewpoints on this matter.

The class discussed how all men must be adherently balanced, as society could not have come into existence without there being a balance because one man would just dominate the others. Also, the default state of man is to be at war; when one man does something profitable, others will just come and steal or destroy what he has created. There is so safety, no security, no rights. Without society, man does not even have rights to his own body; thus, without the creation of society, there is no existence of the self or of an individual. In other words, the world would be complete anarchy.

Fear is something that we talked about, in how is it what drives people to do anything. This fear of losing rights, liberties, your self, motivates people to collectivize. The class also talked about how in letting someone rule over you, although you are giving up rights and liberties, you are doing so in exchange for other benefits. The ruler must provide his subjects with these rights, liberties, and promises in order to be a good ruler and maintain that leadership role. This social contract only holds weight as a sense of justice because of society.

Advancing into Locke’s ideas on property that are derived from society, he draws from Hobbes’ ideas on the self; one can only retain property of one’s own body when a society is in place. Another key point that we talked about in class is how land is the most essential form of property. Owning land is extremely important. The idea of ownership is also contested, in how the colonists justified taking land from the Native Americans because they were not “cultivating� the land. In other words, no enclosure around the land and no labor intensive form of cultivation taking place, one is not utilizing the land properly and it gives others the right to take this property and claim it as their own.


When looking at these readings from an analytical point of view, one must first understand Hobbes’ beliefs on human nature. The most paramount of his ideas about human nature is that “during a time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man� (Hobbes 88). This state of “Warre�, as Hobbes refers to it, greatly hinders man’s survival. One man cannot even begin to think about building structures, cultivating land, or keeping his own body to himself without some other man trying to take all of this from him. Hobbes goes on further to say, “…nothing can be Unjust. The notions of Right and Wrong, Justice and Injustice have there no place� (Hobbes 90). This is the core reason as to why society is formed. Justice allows for growth since there are consequences to Wrongs being done to another man. This way of living greatly aids in the survival of all.

Another key point is the giving up of rights of freedom to be ruled by a master. The only way that this is effective in a society is if the master provides benefits to individuals who give up these liberties. Also, it important to note:
“Signes by Inference, are sometimes the consequence of Words; sometimes the consequence of Silence; sometimes the consequence of Actions; sometimes the consequence of Forbearing an Action; and generally a signe by inference, of any Contract, is whatsoever sufficiently argues the will of the Contractor� (Hobbes 94).

Although a contract may sometimes be signed or physically acknowledged, it is important to understand that the failure to protest the contract results in the same effect as though the contract was signed directly. This allows for a ruler to gain accent over individuals, regardless if they agreed to it or not, as long as they do not rise up and usurp him. Not taking action, in all actuality, is the same as agreement.

Stemming from this idea is the question of property, most specifically, land. Locke demonstrates his beliefs on the importance of land by saying, “But the chief matter of property being now not the fruits of the earth, and the beast that subsist on it, but the earth itself� (Locke 113). However, although he understands the value of property, he goes into strict detail about what constitutes ownership of land. According to Locke, “God gave the world to men in common; but since he gave it to them for their benefit and the greatest conveniencies of life they were capable to draw from it, it cannot be supposed he meant it should always remain common and uncultivated� (Locke 114). Be definition, this statement implicitly draws the line between ownership and non-ownership by the cultivation that is taking place. Due to this standpoint, it gave the colonialists logical reasoning for taking the Native American’s land since they were not “cultivating� it in all aspects of the word.

In conclusion, society is necessary. Without a certain amount of laws and regulations placed upon all individuals, the “self� would not exist and there would be complete anarchy in the world. Also, if rights are given up to allow for a Power to rule, certain liberties must then be attributed to allow for this contract to exist; furthermore, remaining silent and not acting against the Power is the same as agreeing with their wishes. Lastly, property could not exist without society, and the most valuable property of all is land, ownership of which is defined by the extent of cultivation; if the land is not cultivated, it is not owned, and is therefore up for the taking.