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The Ideas on State, Sovereignty, Individual

The spider’s web of existence unites people from different epochs, geographical locations, and backgrounds. It expands and grows into an enormous blanket of ideas, thoughts, and visions that have no boundaries or limitations. The common denominator for all the threads that rest peacefully in this man-made structure is people’s constant curiosity to discover the truth about such fundamentals as human nature, state,  sovereignty, and courage to voice the previsions about these concepts. John Locke, one of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers, or simply an occasional writer who responded to particular issues that were arising in his society? Thomas Hobbes, one of the founding fathers of modern political philosophy, or a simple anti-utopian among the contemporaries, who, due to the uniformity of human nature, was less interested in what was supposed or was likely to happen than in what can happen? Jean Jacques Rousseau, a stoic and romantic of the French Revolution, or simply a man, who never really fitted into the society with his incoherent and chaotic thinking and imagination? These three men have their separate threads in the spider’s web of curiosity and courage.

Thomas Hobbes and his ideas about the state and individual,  human nature and  relationship of people with the state and sovereignty are  unique in their nature. In order to be understood they have to be dwelled upon in their unity and correlation. According to Hobbes, institutions, especially the state, represent artificial constructions that disguise everything real in the form of obfuscating appearances (Green 95). States are filled with isolated individuals, or “organisms”. Thomas Hobbes claimed that these isolated individuals were the ones who determined their legal obligations by creating their own desperate need for authoritarian control. At the same time he did  not consider that the state was supposed to exclude the concept of liberty, but deemed  that it is of crucial importance that limits be  placed on what the state might  do. The philosopher never acknowledged the concept of general will, and promoted blind trust in the supreme authority of the state.

The rejection of general will among isolated individuals and their human nature seem to be the biggest factors in deciding the relationships between the state and individuals. Isolates, according to Hobbes, are only capable of forging artificial ties. They remain solitary and secluded, and strongly believe to be the centers of the universe. During the course of life the inevitable seeking of power takes place. People secretly wish to rule the world and have others fear and obey them. They are never granted the importance they wish to have in a state. Hobbes believed that men were placed by their will in a fight for predomination, because it is in their nature to compete for predominance and superiority. Hobbes strongly believed in public policy of a state to secure a certain level of welfare for all its citizens. Having granted this welfare (the level of basic survival), the state should force no further policies upon people. This was the idea of a perfect state, created to help isolated individuals tame their competitiveness for predominance among other isolated individuals.

The state and the sovereignty help people escape the doom of competition. What the state owes to people is not the promotion of good life in its actual sense, or guaranteeing the arbitrary predominance of a few. Instead, the institution of civil society makes the right of predominance righteous and secure by law. Thus, in order to achieve such results, individuals are to follow all the rules imposed by the state.

An ideal sovereignty, or the overwhelming power embodied in a person of a monarch or an assembly of people, therefore, has a clear locus in managing relations between individuals. Perfect sovereignty does not consist of  a disarmed citizenry. It does not consider  the way how individuals are made harmless, but is rather preoccupied with  great inequalities in the abilities of these individuals to harm one another. Generally speaking, the power of an individual will simply seem trivial and insignificant  compared to the power of a sovereign. The main idea of an ideal sovereignty is to destroy the inherent desire of the strong to predominate the weak, and the ambition of the weak to outrun the powerful. This goal is achieved by creating unmistakable inequality of power between the subjects and the sovereign, and making the individuals follow the imposed demands (Hurtgen 55-67).

The ideas of John Locke, another great mind of England of the 18th century, radically differ from the ones expressed by Thomas Hobbes. The general framework of Locke’s argument is set by the concept of legitimacy  through which he intends to distinguish between legitimate political power and  illegitimate despotism (Grant 198). According to Locke, legitimate and in this way perfect government is capable of remaining stable in different communities and establishing the limit of obedience. Locke’s liberal theory can provide a justification for the obligations to obey legitimate government while granting the right to resist illegitimate despotism. The entire concept of legitimate power rests on Locke’s claim that all men are equal by nature, and this premise is identical to the premise of natural freedom granted to every individual. Therefore, Locke basically states that there is possibly no natural political authority. However,  political power can exist if there is a reason for it and this reason serves  a means of legitimate ends. The latter is to be inferred from the human nature and natural condition of men. According to Locke, individuals have equal natural right of preservation and freedom. The adherence to these two principles is the foundation for the ideal conception of state the efforts of which are directed towards the preservation of the community members  and granting their freedom. The state owes these two requirements to the citizens. An ideal state takes into account the principle of freedom (no natural basis for authority) and does not operate without the consent of people.  Instead, it is based on consent and serving public good (Grant 198). Thus, the relationship between the state and its citizens presupposes agreement among equals. The reason why individuals should follow all  state’s demands lies in the fact that these  individuals have given  their consent to do so and agreed on the existing rules and demands.

In his views, Jean Jacques Rousseau was greatly influenced by John Locke and his theories. The ideas of the French Romanticist are unique and intriguing. His views on human nature determine the foundation for the state, sovereignty, and  obligations between the state and its citizens. Unlike Hobbes, Rousseau claimed that evil is alien to man’s nature; instead, man is naturally good, and made bad by social institutions.  Innate and spontaneous virtue is nourished in children by older people who later in life become the victims of society. Men can also become bad through their association with other men.

The ideal conception of a state and sovereignty appears as resolution to the vicious circle of adverse impact and change that occurs to innately good people. An ideal society should concentrate all power and direct all control forces in order to reclaim the virtues of natively kind citizens. It is through the surrender of all individual rights to the body of society that people’s natural goodness and kindness will be redeemed. An ideal state compels its men to be free with absolute state control. This is the reason why all demands imposed by the government of the state should be followed by the citizens. The state owes to its people redemption of their natural virtue, while any individual owes full complaisance with the demands because the state acts in the interests of people’s assets and innately good qualities being reclaimed (Green 100).

Unlike Thomas Hobbes, Jean Jacques Rousseau believes in the value of general will in the conception of ideal state, through which the state represents the communal will of the citizens. By obeying the laws of the state, people contribute to pursuing their own real interests represented in a general will. The latter is a moral will that aims at achieving common goal. Rousseau believed in the power of people to support the moral standpoint of the common good. Thus, the ideal conception of state, according to  Jean Jacque Rousseau, rests on the idea that in such state laws represent the general will of all people. In order to pursue happiness and fulfill individual goals, people should follow the demands of the state that represent their own demands in reality (Green 102).

In spite of relative time proximity, one can notice a substantial difference between the ideas and theories of three profound philosophers, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean Jacques Rousseau. Thomas Hobbes, who argued about natural human urge to compete for predominance and was the proponent of creating an unmistakable and permanent inequality of power between individuals and the sovereign, viewed  the relationships between the state and people as a mutually beneficial notion created by men themselves. John Locke believed in a consensual agreement among equals represented by the state and individual in their attempt to grant humanity the satisfaction of the need of preservation. Jean Jacques Rousseau, the purveyor of innate goodness in people developed the idea that  a perfect state is capable of reclaiming men’s virtues by imposing state-controlled demands and rules that, in fact, coincide with the desires and common goals of the entire citizenry. The theories share only few  aspects. However, they are truly unique in their perspective, prevision, and novelty. 

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