The Social Contract And The Leviathan By Jean Jacques Rousseau And Thomas Hobbes

The Social Contract And The Leviathan By Jean Jacques Rousseau And Thomas Hobbes

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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 life: a commonwealth. Commonwealths are instituted when men come together and covenant to lay down their right to everything in exchange for peace. Yet, this agreement alone is not strong enough to hold men to this promise. According to Hobbes, a common power is needed to keep them in “awe.” (Hobbes, 83) This common power is represented as the sovereign. Sovereignty is the highest form of power a man or an assembly of men can get in a commonwealth. With this power, they are permitted to create laws, appoint officers, and determine awards and punishments for subjects. Even though Rousseau and Hobbes both agree on the need for a sovereign(ty), their views on what it is and how it works are very contrasting.
According to Hobbes, the sovereign is picked the moment the commonwealth is created. In fact, when men lay down their right to everything, they lay them down to one man or an assembly of men who then, by retaining the rights they have in the state of nature, become the sovereign. The sovere...


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... without that initial action, Hobbes sovereign would not have the power gained through subjects laying down their right to everything. Rousseau’s version is superior because it realizes this. Without the people, there would be no state which is proven true in real life. If there is no one to run, then there is nothing to signify the sovereign’s power.
In the end, Rousseau comes out as top when comparing his and Hobbes’ theory of the sovereign. By acknowledging the subjects as the sovereign, Rousseau eliminates the possibility of there being any impartial actions by the sovereign that can negatively impact the subjects. He also separates the executive power from the sovereign which allows the people to control how much power the “prince” has over the state. Without this, the state is more susceptible to dissolving due leading men right back into the state of nature.

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