Comparing The Social Contract And The Leviathan

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The Social Contract and the Leviathan by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes, respectively, contextualizes man’s struggle to escape a brutish, short life within the state of nature. Man is confined in a lawless world where the words mine and thine are interchangeable, and where there is no regard for private possession; this indifference even extends to the right over someone’s body. And while there are those who revel in freedom from the synthetic chains of law, the reality of life in the state of nature- a life of constant war and distrust for one’s neighbor- trumps any short lived joys or monetary gains. Although it may seem like there is no hope for man in this state, Hobbes and Rousseau presents us with a way to escape this tragic…show more content…
Similar to Hobbes, a contract is made between people. The social contract requires them to totally alienate all of their rights to the entire community. This is a significant difference from Hobbes theory because in this case the people are laying down their rights to one another and not to a sole figure. Because the social contract is set up in this way, there is no room from reservations; no one would try and make the contract harder for anyone because to do that would in turn make it harder for themselves. The lack of partiality creates a near perfect union. (Rousseau, 164) Another major difference between this theory and the one formerly mentioned is that this agreement is advantageous for the soon to be subjects. This advantage goes beyond safety from the state of nature; by agreeing to surrender all of their rights to each person without there being one man who retains it, they gain “the equivalent of everything he loses” however this time there is more force to preserve them. Now, one may wonder how this can work if everybody gains back the rights they surrendered to make the contract. We can understand this as people who come together, promising to not use these rights against each other, an instead they combine them to create a sum of forces that can withstand the resistance presented in the state of nature. (Rousseau, 163) After the contract is set up the…show more content…
However, after closely examining Hobbes’ sovereign we can find many problems with it, the first one being his immunity from civil law. While he is still held accountable for actions such as punishing innocent citizens, his punishment comes God and not man. He abides by the law of nature and not the civil law enacted. But, what good does it do for the subjects in Hobbes’ version of a commonwealth that the sovereign is subject to the laws of nature and not the laws created in the state. The logic Hobbes presents in defense of this is reasonable; to be subjected to civil law does not only mean that the law is above the sovereign’s power but that there is a judge that can punish the sovereign. The judge in this case acts as a new sovereign, and since the judge is also subjected to the law of the commonwealth, he too will need a judge, and so on and so forth until confusion sets in and the commonwealth dissolves. (Hobbes, 215) However, because of this, the sovereign is able to do as he please, changing and creating laws that suit him. (Hobbes, 176) We must ask ourselves this question: why would a sovereign need immunity from the law for his personal interest if he acts as the representative for the subjects? Why would Hobbes create this figure, the sovereign, to rule over the subjects in their name for their benefit and safety, yet allow him to also change laws on whim, where such actions can possibly
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