Comparison of View’s of Rousseau with Hobbes and Locke

The need for a civil society was felt with emergence of certain disquieting affairs in the state of nature. For Locke these were the inconveniences as a result of uncertainty in the application of the law of reason, absence of a common judge to decide disputes arising there from, and absence of a common authority to enforce the decision.

With Rousseau, increase in population and dawn of reason upon man were responsible for conflict of interests and strife in the state of nature. Formation of a civil society by means of a contract was deemed the only way out. Both Locke and Rousseau agreed that the fundamental social compact ought to have for its end and object the better preservation of the person and goods of every individual, that is, life, liberty, and property.

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Rousseau was also near Locke when he said that individuals surrendered their rights to the community; making people ultimately sovereign and a source of political authority.

Both Locke and Rousseau made the distinction between the State and government, though Rousseau maintained that the institution of government was not the result of contract. Both believed that the contract did not remove the supreme power from the people.

Rousseau’s “voice is the voice of Locke, but the hands are those of Hobbes.” The influence of Hobbes upon Rousseau is, indeed, marked and singular. With Rousseau, as with Hobbes, the natural man in the state of nature was absolutely independent of others.

The only difference between the two was that with Rousseau he was not at war with others, although eventually, when equality and happiness of the early state of nature was lost, Rousseau’s mankind, too, went into a state of ceaseless warfare.

Again, that there was only one contract by which each individual surrendered all his rights, and the authority of the sovereign to whom rights had been surrendered were strongly reminiscent of Hobbes.

For Rousseau, it was the General Will which was sovereign; for Hobbes it was the King. But once Rousseau established the sovereign power in the General Will, he endowed it with as much absolute, unlimited, all-embracing, inalienable and indivisible powers as Hobbes had given to his sovereign monarch. Similarly, General Will, according to Rousseau, could neither be wrong nor unjust.

It could even force the individual will to its own point of view. Are these conclusions not similar to those of Hobbes?

The only difference is that in the case of Hobbes these are the attributes of a King, whereas with Rousseau they belong to the General Will and what this General Will precisely is, Rousseau remained throughout vague and indefinite about it. In any case, both Hobbes and Rousseau make man the plaything of the sovereign, no matter who the sovereign is, a King or the General Will.

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