What distinguishes the political thought of modern thinkers like Machiavelli, Hobbes and Locke from that of ancients?

The theme of the article is ” What distinguishes the political thought of modern thinkers like Machiavelli, Hobbes and Locke from that of ancients?  Choose two out of these three modern thinkers and  contrast their political thinking to that of the ancient thinkers (in other words, contrast the ancient thinkers to either Machiavelli and Hobbes, or Hobbes and Locke, or Machiavelli and Locke—the choice is yours). In answering this question, make sure you address how the modern thinkers thought of the central task or purpose of politics, and how their view of politics stood in contrast to the ancient view.  ”

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No justice in the state of nature: we need an interpreter/arbiter


p. 100 (182): As long as a man is in the condition of mere nature, which is a condition of war of all against all, private appetite is the measure of good and evil.

P. 114 (196): “the laws concerning meum (mine) and tuum (thine) are in vain.”

p. 98 (180): “no man is a fit arbitrator in his own cause.”

p. 89 (171): “Therefore, before the names of just and unjust can have place, there must be some coercive power to compel men equally to the performance of their covenants… the definition of injustice nothing other than the not performance of covenant.”


pp. 113-114: “sovereign power (must be) judge of opinions and doctrines.”


p. 160 (242)


Also: no real rights or liberty in the state of nature




Political theory via nightmare

p. 81 (163): “Bonds by which men are bound and obliged, bounds that have their strength, not from their own nature, but from fear of some evil consequence upon rupture.”


What keeps people together in civil society? Fear!


p. 87 (170): “Fear of the consequence of breaking their word

P. 88 (171) “fear of that invisible power which they every one worship as God…”

p. 106 (188) men need “visible power to keep them in awe…”


For Hobbes there are only two options, state of nature or civil government by covenant.


Any break in the covenant returns us immediately to the state of nature




The “contract” (ch. 18)


1. Govt cannot unilaterally be declared null and void


Sovereign must be above the law


Power to make laws must be in the hands of the sovereign, undivided power—there can be no civil law above the sovereign


Sovereign needs to decide what doctrines will be publicly affirmed


Sovereign must have control over judiciary


6. Conduct of nation in war and peace decided by sovereign




The problem of divided sovereignty


“A kingdom divided in itself cannot stand” p. 115 (197)



p. 229 (311): “multiplication in the words and body of the law is multiplication of ambiguity”



p. 213-4 (295-6): “For what is it to divide the power of a commonwealth, but to dissolve it; for powers divided mutually destroy each other.”




Hobbes anticipates our objection


p. 117 (199): “But a man may object here that the conditions of the subjects is very miserable…”


What’s his response?


Better that than the state of nature!


There are implicit limits on the sovereign’s behaviour


p. 221 (303)

pp. 120-121 (202-3)






Limits of obedience


Right to self-preservation, p. 87 (169)


Not rebellion, only non-compliance


When can the contract be dissolved?


p. 144 (226): “For where there is no commonwealth…a perpetual war of every man against his neighbor…”



Locke–political context

Restoration, Glorious Revolution

Triumph of constitutionalism, limited govt, separation of powers

Deeply influenced by Scientific Revolution, like Hobbes

Responding directly to Sir Robert Filmer’s “Patriarcha,” NOT directly to Hobbes

What is the correct way to think about the relationship between Hobbes and Locke?

The contract tradition



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