Name Instructor Class 9 December 2011 Hobbes, Locke, Kant, and Rousseau on the Evolution of “Civil Society” Hobbes, Kant, Rousseau, and Locke are some of the most influential thinkers of modern times. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and his book Leviathan greatly influenced political thought in the seventeenth century, by arguing for the importance of the “social contract” in achieving peace and civil unity…
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Their views are important for international political thought, because they influenced present international political economy theories and helped paved the debate on political ideology, particularly shaping the discourse on the concept of “civil society” and the rise of nation-states vis-a-vis “civil society.” Kant, Rousseau, Locke and Hobbes have diverging views on the relationship between the government and civil society, as well as the notions of slavery, sovereignty, direction of international politics, and peace, but they share somewhat similar beliefs in the role of education and the state of nature of humanity. Locke and Hobbes have diverging views on the relationship between the government and civil society. Hobbes believes that Europe has changed as a civil society through the evolution of the social contract. The Commonwealth only exists because of the Covenant between the people and the government or the state. Hobbes says in the Leviathan: “Essence of the Common-wealth; which (to define it) is ‘One Person, of whose Acts a great Multitude, by mutual Covenants one with another, have made themselves every one the Author, to the end he may use the strength and means of them all, as he shall think expedient, for their Peace and Common Defense.’” This statement shows that the main goal of the government is to ensure peace and national defense. The covenant or social contract, however, for Hobbes is absolute, where the state incorporates the wills of the individuals; the state is the body and individuals are just parts of it: “The only way to erect such a Common Power” is “to confer all their power and strength upon one Man, or upon one Assembly of men, that may reduce all their Wills, by plurality of voices, unto one Will” (Hobbes). This statement underscores that the social contract binds all individuals. On the one hand, it enforces plurality of wills. On the other hand, it means the precedence of the state over civil society. Locke confirms the same views as Hobbes and argues that Europe also changed because of the need for the social contract. Unlike Hobbes, Locke believes that people take part of social contracts merely to help adjudicate disputes between individuals or groups. He says: “And this is done, where-ever any number of men, in the state of nature, enter into society to make one people, one body politic, under one supreme government…to make laws for him, as the public good of the society shall require…” (Locke, Two Treatises on Government). From here, it is clear that Locke believes that it is the people or civil society that legitimizes the state; while for Hobbes, it is the government that legitimizes the existence of a peaceful civil society. My criticism of Hobbes is that he overlooks that the people make the government. The social contract binds the people, but the people can unbind some laws too in order to make the contract fit their changing needs and issues. I agree more with Locke, who reminds governments of their servitude to the civil society. It does not mean, however, that the civil society will also abuse its rights and fully void the social contract without due justifications. Moreover, Locke and Hobbes diverge on the notion of sovereignty. Locke argues that civil
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