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Social Contract, Private Property and Free Market Essay


Thomas Hobbes: The Social Contract

According to Hobbes, the life of humans, unregulated or at its core, could be described as a one fueled by violence and fear of death. It is a grim view of humanity, but Hobbes does not explicitly state that it is a negative outlook. He describes human life as it is without social regulations: “Hereby it is manifest that, during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, and such a war as is of every man against every man” (Hobbes). Hobbes thought that people came out of the state of nature because people were in such a state before any technologies were developed or any progress took place; this state would be filled with fear, aggression, and death. The idea of the social contract implies that since human beings are reasonable, they would create a set of rules or rights that would apply to everyone and be followed by everyone reciprocally. To avoid the state of nature, individuals would need laws or justice that would become a power that can regulate the lives of individuals.

John Locke: Private Property

Locke’s view of people is more optimistic than Hobbes’, as he believes that the world was created by God for people to use as they please. Locke believed that all individuals had the right to have property if they contributed to it with their labor: “…no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good left in common for others” (Locke 116). When discussing the use of property, Locke notes that people need to have as much as they could use without wasting it. If the individual’s property went beyond his or her ability to use it, others were allowed to use it. Thus, the property belonged to one if he or she put labor in it, but he or she could not have more than he or she could utilize. I believe that Locke’s ideas do not work today as we see that capitalism allows having more resources (money or property) that an individual can use. Furthermore, illegal ways of obtaining property and concealing it from others are also not discussed by the philosopher.

Edmund Burke: Father of Conservative Thinking

Burke’s view of change was a specific one: he did not believe that radical or revolutionary change could be useful and instead advocated for step-by-step or gradual change. The problem with radical change is that it rejects the traditions and ideals of the past and eventually leads to violence. Thus, the best change was a change that was tested by time. According to him, the most important principles were that of conversion and correction: “The two principles of conservation and correction operated strongly at the two critical periods of the Restoration and Revolution when England found itself without a king” (Burke 20). The reformation is not possible if some ideas are not conserved and preserved, and revolutions should not be made by “war and inexperienced enthusiasts” but rather by lawyers and politicians (Burke 14). A revolution that denies the past and wants to build itself on stolen wealth is not a revolution but hypocrisy.

Adam Smith: The Free Market

Smith is known for his term “invisible hand”, a system that regulates the operations of individuals in a free market economy in such a way that they contribute to society and businesses. When writing about the exchange of goods between individuals Smith described the free market, but this market or system could only be free if there were no restrictions (411). He believed that “every individual endeavor to employ his capital as near home as he can, and consequently as much as he can in the support of domestic industry” (Smith 348). As to the government’s involvement in businesses, Smith argued that it could be involved partially as the defense of the capital and regulation (i.e., justice and law) were necessary. However, too active involvement of the government could interfere with competitiveness among businesses, which would be harmful to the free market economy. Thus, the government did not need to support failing businesses. Smith was an innovator, but today the free market is present in many countries, for example, the USA, Australia, Singapore, etc. As the free-market economies function efficiently, although maybe not perfectly, it can be said that his ideas do work today.

Gordon Wood: Radical American Revolution

The American Revolution, in the eyes of Gordon Wood, was more radical than the French revolution because it did not correspond to the definition of revolution per se as we perceive it. It was less bloody and violent than the French revolution, but it was able to reject the past and create a new society based on “capitalist” and democratic thinking rather than the authority as it was with the French revolution. In Wood’s opinion, the radicalism of this revolution was in its destruction of monarchist ties and the creation of a society where such ideas were inapplicable. This revolution helped citizens view labor as an activity that could become a source for prosperity: “The idea of labor, of hard work, leading to increased productivity was so novel, so radical, in the overall span of Western history that most ordinary people… could scarcely believe what was happening to them” (Wood 147). Democracy was the system that included laborers and accepted their power; Adam Smith, who supported the importance of businesses and businessmen, would appreciate the Revolution that considers the authority of laborers.

Ulrich Preuss: The Constituent Power

The constituent power is the power of authorities or other individuals who have gained such authority through a revolution, rebellion, etc. and that can be used to change the Constitution. Such power frequently emerges after a process during which the Constitution was created. The constituent power can destroy the Constitution after it is written. When Preuss discusses the creation of the Constitution, he points out that “new constitutions are… instituted on the ruins of an order which has collapsed after a revolution…” (639). He then quotes Burke and points out with the quote that constitutions are created during restless times, which indicates that the creation of a new constitution is the end of the revolution, although possibly a temporary one. I believe that revolutionaries remain to be revolutionaries even after the Constitution is written because they have changed the society, reformed it, and even though a new order is created, it becomes the manifestation of the revolution. People can accept the revolution and treat it as the order they have been waiting for, and the revolution can become a norm, but it does not make the actions of revolutionaries less rebellious against the previous order.

Works Cited

Burke, Edmund. McMaster University, n.d., Web.

Hobbes, Thomas. Bartleby, n.d., Web.

Locke, John. York University, n.d., Web.

Preuss, Ulrich K. “Constitutional Power making for the New Polity: Some Deliberations on the Relations between Constituent Power and the Constitution.” Cardozo L. Rev., vol. 14, 1992, 639-661.

Smith, Adam. Ibiblio, n.d., Web.

Wood, Gordon S. The Radicalism of the American Revolution. Vintage, 2011.

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