Thomas Hobbes and John Locke are social contract theorists. They recognise that before men agreed to govern themselves, they existed in a state of nature. The state of nature is that condition humans were in before the emergence of government. The history of the world is thus divided into two periods – the period before the state and the period after. Men realised that it was by refraining from harming others that their own lives were safe. They agreed to jointly set up a government – of one person or group of persons. Everybody submitted his right of self-preservation to the general will for protection.
Hobbes’s state of nature is that of constant war of every man against every man. In this state, the laws of the jungle prevail, where only the fittest survive. Humans are naturally competitive and differ in their wants, needs, desires and inclinations. And because the desires of men are insatiable and the resources are limited, contradictions and war arise among them. This condition is made manifest due to the absence of a common power to keep men in awe (Hobbes, 1985).
On the other hand, Locke believes that the state of nature is a state of perfect freedom in which there is no natural superior or inferior. Man is governed by reason, and from this flows out the obligation of mutual love, charity and respect which are also the duties that people owe one another (Locke, 1980). Unlike the Hobbes, Locke makes the state of nature peaceful based on the belief that men will not risk their lives constantly fighting.
We see that the two philosophers agree that men live in a state of nature before government is instituted. The state of nature may be a beneficent one as in the Garden of Eden, or it may be a savage and dangerous one where the laws of the jungle prevail. Whatever is the case, people will have to band together for their own safety and welfare. In doing so, they turn part of the control over their lives to the state or government who in turn protects the people and their property from internal and external threats. It is from this premise that Hobbes and Locke draw their conclusions as to what and what constitute the state.
Methodologically, this study adopts a comparative approach to research. Consequently, it compares and contrasts the basic ideas of Hobbes and Locke about the state. By comparing and contrasting events, processes, thoughts and experiences, one gets a richer understanding of any phenomenon. It is this that makes it easier for us to show in clear terms the implications of the theories. Indeed, comparison enables deeper and wider levels of reality.