soon as Government ceases to carry out its primary duty of upholding the natural rights of men, its laws become invalid and thus the people, according to Locke, have the right to topple the defunct Government. Rousseau, however, favoured people’s sovereignty. In his view, there reaches a stage in the state of nature where people must unite in order to survive. His social contract allows people to bind themselves to one another and still hold on to their freedom. In essence, contrary to the views of Hobbes and Locke, Rousseau believes that the social contract states that each man ought to surrender himself unconditionally to the community as a whole. Rousseau thinks that modern society has lost the freedom and equality enjoyed in the state of nature. Yet, via the social contract, the state is formed to assure freedom, rights and equality. The theory of general will forms the basis for the state and its laws and if the government and laws do not follow the general will, they will be toppled. Although man loses his natural rights under Rousseau’s theory, unlike Locke’s, in return he receives civil liberties such as freedom of speech. Each man is not subject to any other man, unlike Hobbes’ belief in an absolute monarch, but to the general will and to observe this is to observe himself. Thus, Rousseau asserts the infallible, indivisible sovereignty of every man. The differing ideas on the state of nature dictate the differing aspects of the political theories of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. Hobbes’ state of nature, characterized by the self-serving nature of man and the subsequent state of war, provides the conditions for the adoption of an absolute sovereign as the only way to escape the state of nature. Locke’s belief that man can survive in the state of nature with complete freedom and morality, yet without any certainty of owning or preserving property, permits him to construct a social contract that binds man to a set of laws overseen by a government limited by God’s will. Finally, Rousseau’s assertion that the state of nature is an ideal that man should strive to return to allows him to build a social contract whereby sovereignty is shared across the people through a general will, as everyone should work as one to return to the state of nature. Thus, each characterisation of the state of nature is completely fundamental to each claim of what form sovereignty should take and who it should lie with.
Dunn, John. Locke: A Very Short Introduction, New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Locke, John. The Second Treatise on Civil Government, London: Prometheus, 1986. Rosen, Michael. Wolff, Jonathan. Political Thought, London: Oxford Paperbacks, 1999. Rousseau, Jean Jacques. The Social Contract, London: Penguin Books, 2004. Wolff, Jonathan. An introduction to Political Philosophy, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007
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