Thomas Hobbes, in his work Leviathan, offers us his theory on the nature of man and on how the society is to be construed and how it came to be. Along with several social thinkers who sought explanations behind the emergence of the society through the concept of a social contract, Hobbes’ argument for the creation of the society and of its government appears quite different from that of Rousseau. Though both philosophers argue on the side for the thinkers who believe in a social contract, there are hues of contrast between them.
The details on how they arrived with their theories tell us why. Central to Hobbes’ social contract theory is the nature of man (which Hobbes himself first posited among everybody else) which he sees as a life which is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. ” This arises from man’s appetite, or that which refers to his intrinsic nature of being hungry for power and of self-preservation. And with this nature, man is seen as a being who seeks that which is good. Whatever man seeks as a consequence of his appetite is deemed to be that which is good.
Since every man seeks what is sought by his appetite, especially power or dominion over others, the state of nature is then seen as chaotic where there is a “war of every man against every man. ” Fear of death is man’s ultimate fear, and this leads him to engage in a contract with the rest so as to preserve himself. In order to build the society, Hobbes argues that every man in the state of nature should surrender his rights. The question as to whom the rights are to be surrendered is answered when Hobbes proposes that they be surrendered to a sovereign whom the people in the state of nature will choose.
On the other hand, Rousseau offers a rather distinct approach to the social contract and the establishment of the society. For him, the state of nature of man is one which good, or that the state of nature is good. The good being referred to by Rousseau should not be confused with its lexical definition strictly for it is used quite differently. When we speak of the good in the context of Rousseau, the term describes the condition of man which is self-sufficient in the sense that man can provide his needs for himself without ever seeking the aid of others.
Thus, in the state of nature, men do not necessarily come into conflict and the state of nature is not necessarily chaotic, as opposed to Hobbes’ concept of the state of nature of man. Yet the state of nature, for Rousseau, eventually deteriorates because of the inexistence of laws which will proscribe actions and provide the basis of sanctions. In the degeneration of man’s good state, competition among men will eventually arise and consequently they will become dependent upon one another. Men will then resort to a social contract so as to preserve themselves and their freedom as well.
At this point a strand of similarity with that of Hobbes’ thought can be seen. That is, men will submit their will to a sovereign who will embody the general will, and hence will not put anyone under unwanted conditions because no will is subordinated to another. Apparent in Rousseau’s work is his acclaim for direct democracy. In such case, the people are to formulate the laws themselves by which their lives and social conditions are based. The very reason to this is that no other person will come to know his needs other than the very person himself.
And in a government of direct democracy, the rights and liberties of the individuals are carefully taken into consideration and that inequality has little place in such a society at the very least. Though for obvious reasons such a form of government is a great feat in itself and requires not only a population working as one directed towards the goal of preserving each and every one’s welfare, for the most part it guarantees, once achieved, equality and harmony of the society in its truest sense. On the other hand, Hobbes believes that the best form of government is absolute monarchy for several reasons.
First, since the state of nature is one which is anarchic, there should be one absolute source of authority which will regulate the actions of men and secure that, even though men are hungry for power and for self-preservation, the society is guaranteed of order and is devoid of chaos and conflict among men. Another thing that should be noted is that if the people in the society were to be given the role of creating the laws for themselves, the society will eventually revert to the state of nature since each one will be pursuing his desires through the use of that power to legislate.
Observe that central to these reasons is Hobbes’ argument for the nature of men, that men are generally selfish, hungry for power and always seek their preservation. For these very reasons, an absolute monarchy would best fit the purpose of a government seeking harmony in a state tainted with disorder. Nevertheless, the two theories for the social contract being proposed by Hobbes and Rousseau both view the consequent creation of a society. The only difference is that the two theories are comprised of corresponding details which is absent or is not taken into light in the other theory.