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The Locke Newsletter



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If there is a single problem that has dominated political thought for the past four hundred years, it is the tension within the body politic between the will of the collective, as it is expressed by those vested with authority and power, and the will of the individual. Among political theorists who have examined this problem, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke viewed this potentially ruinous tension in radically different ways. In his Leviathan, Hobbes presents the problem of how we are to conduct ourselves as a society, an apparent dilemma whose horns are anarchy and servile absolutism. Either we submit to the constraints imposed upon us by government, or we accept the dire consequences of his infamous state of nature. Since he was well acquainted with the strife of a war-torn Europe (including the Thirty Years' War [1618-48] in Central Europe and the first Civil War [1642-46] in England), the choice was an easy one for Hobbes. He leaves no doubt that the dissolution of government is the single worst misfortune, resulting in a condition in which 'the life of man, [is] solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short'.1 It is therefore to man's advantage to leave this state, by accepting absolute sovereignty as the only rational alternative.

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