Locke

The state of nature, as described by Locke, is a state of perfect freedom, a
state in which man is completely free, but would Rousseau agree with this? The
answer to this question is more complex than it seems. Locke and Rousseau, both
great philosophers of their time, have similar ideas, but the similarities
between them end at that. They have very different views on just about every
philosophical topic and retain these differences. When comparing two of their
works, The Social Contract, Rousseau, and Second Treatise of Government, Locke,
the differences between them become clear. It almost seems that The Social
Contract was written to combat Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, and if
so, his point comes across very clearly.

Rousseau begins this work on political theory much in the way Locke did, with
a discussion on the state of nature. This is the point at which we see our first
difference between Locke and Rousseau. Locke describes it as a state in which
every person has power over no one but himself or herself and has the freedom to
do as they please without endangering others. He also states that natural man
follows a set of natural laws in which he can punish any transgressor in a
manner that fits the crime and in such a way that dissuades the individual from
committing such a crime in the future. Such transgressors of the state of reason
now enter one of to natural states; a state of war or a state of society.

In the state of war, we are not longer governed my reason, but a force. That
is where the difference between the two lies. When man exists in nature, without
the influence of a governing faction, we tend to govern our selves according to
reason. However, when this reason rails to exist, and we govern ourselves by
force, war ensues. In this state of war, the innocent parties have the right to
continue the war until the transgressors give reparations for the deeds. These
reparations can often end in a state of slavery in which slave gives up all of
the rights given to him by the state of nature to the master. At this point a
contrast can be clearly drawn between Rousseau and Locke. Rousseau openly
denounces the idea of slavery in the opening of The Social Contract. He feels
that a state of slavery is unnatural and should be avoided.

Rousseau denounces the maxim “might makes right” and in essence, that is
the idea behind the subject of slavery. If the outcome of the state of war is in
the favor of the victim, and the victim, as a form of reparation, forces the
transgressor into slavery, this maxim is proven true. The victim has asserted
himself as the stronger of those involved in the conflict and is there by using
force to keep the transgressor against his will and against the laws of nature.
It is never a fair trade; ones freedom. A man’s freedom is of utmost
significance and is unable to be owned by none other than the person himself.
When freedom is lost, humanity is lost. And when humanity is lost, we can no
longer exist in a natural state and much less a society. There is no longer a
difference between an animal and us.

There is line that can be drawn here between the way in which men exist when
they are enslaved and the state in which man exists when a society is formed.
With might being the only determinate of right, the state of slavery is almost
an exact replica of the conditions found in a monarchy. As in slavery, the
monarch has all of the power and the people of the state that he resides over
are willingly obeying his laws as opposed to the laws of nature. They have
willingly given him their freedom and are no longer free men, but slaves to the
will of one man. When those living in such a society realize that they are in
fact no more than sheep in herd and decide to rebel, the maxim “might makes
right” proves itself again, and the society is once again thrown into a state
of war which in turn ends in either a state of slavery once again or different
state of society. In such circumstances, political authority ceases to exist and
the newly founded state of society will be weaker than the one that existed
before hand. It is an infinite loop.

Rousseau proposes and answer to this problem in the form of the social
contract.