The Differences Between Thomas Hobbes & John Locke


As a witness to some of the harshest cruelty against Catholics in British history, Thomas Hobbes developed a world view that was shaped by a negative perspective of the nature of people. John Locke, born later and thrilled by the emotion of the interregnum, acquired a uniquely democratic perspective. Both found themselves split on the idea of the divine right of kings, in their time leading to stern questions about the nature of sovereignty and the authority to govern.

Natural Rights

  • Thomas Hobbes held to the perspective that the ultimate responsibility of the sovereign is to guarantee and protect the people’s right to life. Even under an absolute rule, he defended the people’s right to defend their lives against the rule of power. Hobbes did extend his definition of life to include your life, the lives of your family and your home. John Locke extended this right to include life, liberty and property, believing that the sovereign state had the responsibility to protect all three as a mark of its legitimacy.

Nature of People

  • Hobbes held to the idea that the individual in a state of pure anarchy is a violent and dangerous creature, capable of ultimate cruelty to each other. This idea became the foundation of his view of the state of nature and his reason for the need for sovereignty. Locke believed that the individual has an innate sense of morality, although it is a corruptible morality. He believed that the downfall of humanity in the state of nature would occur as a necessary response to aggression, the corruption of the innocent as a result of being forced to defend their own life through killing.


  • Thomas Hobbes defined the real sovereign as the "Leviathan", the universal concept of leadership as displayed by the monarch and responsible for keeping the people either in fear, entertained or in awe of its magnitude. John Locke contended that the role of the sovereign is to act with the will and needs of the people, responsible to them and responsible for them. Locke preferred a democratic sense of government.


  • Hobbes believed that religious authority was dangerous as it allowed religious leaders the right to define God through their own actions. He felt was tis was both insulting to God and dangerous to the spirit of religion; he felt that a necessary separation of church and state was required to protect God. Locke contended that religion was a personal quest and individual responsibility, upholding Hobbes idea of the separation of church and state but on the grounds that religious authority allowed for the absolutism of the state.


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