Home > History, Ideas, philosophy, Political Science, student information > From Hobbes’ State of Nature to Locke’s Social Contract

From Hobbes’ State of Nature to Locke’s Social Contract

Thomas Hobbes 1599-1679 

Thomas Hobbes, 1588 -1679 – saw life as ” nasty, brutish and short”.

Students are learning about forms of government in Social Studies. Critical to this is understanding the idea of government as the creation of a social contract made by the people of a nation.

John Locke,  1632 -1704 – Inspired the Founding fathers 

Social Contract Theory was developed by English philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke who lived through the turbulent period of 17th century Britain that saw the English Civil War, The Glorious Revolution and great social, religious and economic changes to English society. Together they discredited the theory of ” the Divine Right of Kings” and helped establish the trend toward modern democracy and individual liberty. In Locke’s case, he directly inspired many of the ideas in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

Both Hobbes and Locke agreed that man began in a state of nature and developed a social contract that created a government, and that the right to do so originated in natural law. Where they disagreed was over the importance of order vs. liberty. Hobbes thought that the government needed to be very strong, a ” Leviathan”, to keep order and prevent people from doing evil things. Locke believed that the government itself should be limited in it’s powers to prevent a tyrant from arising and doing evil things to the people; secondly, that the people had a “ Right of Revolution” to overthrow tyrannical governments.

America’s Social Contract as detailed in the Preamble to the Constitution:

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