The Reach of Sovereigns
Thomas Hobbes and John Locke both discuss the ideas surrounding government and people in their writings. Both agree that, at a minimum, a government must protect its people and their property, but Locke proposes that a government's obligations extend beyon d that. Before one can discuss the purpose of society's government, the reason society and government arose in the first place should be investigated. Hobbes and Locke both wrote about the period before government, or the state of nature, and how it relate s to government. Although they differ in many regards, they have some overlapping principles; for instance, both feel that man is essentially free to do what he wants when he is in a state of nature. What Hobbes and Locke disagree on is what man does with this freedom. Hobbes feels that man is violent and selfish in the state of nature; therefore, man must fear other people. Locke, on the other hand, feels that man has an ingrained sense of morality, and while the state of nature is chaotic, is is not a war zone where people live in constant fear of one another as Hobbes proclaims.
I tend to agree more with Hobbes's idea on humans in nature because, before anything else, man is an animal. Although people are born with traits such as empathy and compassion, m orals are a learned behavior as opposed to innate, so a man without society to teach him morals would be immoral. For example, without a government to regulate fishing rights on rivers, two people wanting to fish from the same bank would physically fight o ver it. The biggest and strongest would win, and the winner could fish. People had to fear each other. Although it may be possible for people who are afraid of each other to work together for long enough to build a society, it is highly unlikely. Something had to dispel people's fear of each other before a society could form, and nothing dispels a fear more quickly than a bigger fear. For instance, a student may be walking around late in the evening the night before an exam, very afraid that they may fail t he exam. If a mugger comes along threatening their life for their wallet, the student's worries about their exam will have disappeared completely because they are now occupied by this more imminent threat. This situation is analogous to an ancient person a nd their sovereign. Originally, the person is worried about their physical safety and the safety of their possessions when they are with other people, but once a powerful sovereign appears, the person and the people that would assault him or steal from him have something greater to fear. Potential assailants and thieves are too afraid of what the sovereign would do to them if they were caught committing crimes to commit said crimes--granted in primitive society they would not be called crimes. Regardless, t he rate at which people are assaulted and stolen from goes down enough under the rule of this sovereign that people do not have to constantly live in fear of other people. Over generations, they can even learn to live with others and develop a complex soci ety.
If people were not naturally animalistic and bruteish, society could stem simply from cooperation, and the presence of a sovereign who instills fear in people would be unnecessary. However, for people to cooperate, they need to trust each other, and w hen people are afraid of each other, as they are in nature, they cannot trust each other. The role of the sovereign is therefore to protect people and their possessions. However, this raises some questions. First of all, assuming that protecting people and property is the sole purpose of the sovereign (or government), to what extent can they go to protect their people or their people's property? In addition, what constitutes a person's self and property? Lastly, while Hobbes and Locke both agree that it is the sovereign's duty to protect their people's natural right to life and property, does a sovereign's duty extend past that?
In absolute monarchies, Hobbes's idea of the structure of government, the sovereign's reign