Karl Marx’s Critique of the Social Contract Theory of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke

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Type of Academic Paper – Essay

Academic Subject – Sociology

Word Count – 1204 words


In this essay, Karl Marx’s critique of the views of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke regarding Social Contract is analyzed. In this regard, the views of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke with respect to the Social Contract are analyzed, and the reasons on the basis of which Karl Marx has criticized their views of Social Contract will be identified. Moreover, by analyzing Karl Marx’s views about Social Contract and his justifications for the criticism will be outlined

Karl Marx’s Critique of the Social Contract of Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes came forward with the explanation of social contract theory, where he defined it as ruler powers that cannot be challenged. Hobbes had also pointed out that human beings are naturally considered selfish as they tend to do what is in their best interest. However, as per Hobbes, people are unable to handle a situation where there is no peace, for instance, a state of war, and so in such circumstances, they enter into a social contract where they give all their rights unconditionally to one man or to a group of person who normally acts as the ruling body.

The social contract would be applicable only to the people and binding towards them but not the ruler. In view of this, the rulers would be free to decide what is right and what is wrong and have absolute power. Moreover, as per the views of Hobbes on property, rewards, and equality, the people should be rewarded equitably according to their respective abilities and capacities. Given this, different people have different abilities and capacities, and therefore it is ‘just’ if they are given unequal rewards. (Harrison, 2003)

As a critique of liberal theories, Karl Marx had different views on property, rewards, and equality, which Hobbes proposed. As per Marx, the moral equality of everyone should be respected by justice, and if some people have necessities of life while others do not have, then it amounts to injustice in moral equality.

Therefore, it is the responsibility of the ruler and the government to provide necessities of life to the public without any form of discrimination. However, as social contract theory of Hobbes is discriminating, therefore, it is unjust and exploitation of human rights if the ruler or government have absolute rights without depending upon the will of people (Falaky, 2014)

Marx has criticized the social contract theory of Thomas Hobbes based on the following points. Marx disagrees with the view of Hobbes that fear of death or severe differences compel people to form the social contract and give power to an authoritative body or government. Marx instead suggested that it is because forming a social contract requires people to trust the ruler, and as people are selfish by nature, it can be argued that they are not likely to trust others.

Moreover, Marx has also criticized that Hobbes has incorrectly analyzed human nature by thinking that selfish people can become civilized just by making a contract. Marx greatly criticizes Hobbes’s view that the contract is not binding on the ruler. As per Marx, Hobbes, as a liberalist, had intentionally said that ‘contract is not binding on the ruler’ as he wanted the rulers or government to have absolute rights irrespective of what the people want.

Such a contract will not be appealing to human nature and so to the people. Marx had greatly criticized Hobbes’s social contract theory where the government grants the rights of the people, and so people depend upon the will of the ruler, which is unjust. (Kercher, 2004)


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Karl Marx’s Critique of the Social Contract of John Locke

John Locke was an English philosopher in the 17th century who had a social contract view based on liberty and liberal state concept. According to him, in the social contract, people have the right to liberty and life. They give up their rights in return for just and impartial protection for their property by the government.

Locke’s views were quite different regarding the nature of the relationship between people and authority. He has written two treatises related to the social contract. In his first treatise, he had explained that political authority is based on religious authority. However, in his second treatise, he had given justification for civil government as a political authority under the social contract. (Waldron, 2002)

According to Locke’s second treatise of government, it is something natural for humans to possess a certain kind of private property. In turn, the role of the government would be to safeguard the private properties of people. According to Locke, the owner of a property would have their own rights upon all that have been owned him or her. For example, if a person owns a garden and puts labour on it, then the garden would come under his possession based upon his contribution.

Eventually, all the fruits and flowers gained from this garden would belong to him only. Furthermore, Locke even commented on the freedom of human actions, whereby he elaborated that the owners should have full rights to their property and they can do whatever suits them best. Marx had a different view on private property, and so he had criticised Locke’s views of property rights. Marx argued that the right to the private property leads to the division of society into different social classes.

However, private property can be harmed by others. Therefore Locke believes that it is the responsibility of the government to protect human property (Falaky, 2014). In Marx’s view, this is a way to oppress poor people. For instance, a factory owner owns the factory and enjoys all the rights and the lion’s share in the factory’s income. At the same time, workers who work in treacherous conditions get underpaid remuneration. Marx considers this unjust, where the rich can dupe the poor and snatch all the luxury and rights. (Riley, 2006)


Marx criticised the views of Locke’s social contract as he regarded the private property right to be a part of capitalist ideology and an attempt to legitimise the exploitation of the poor working class by the rich. Marx also argued that the right to the private property leads to the division of society into different social classes, so it is unjust. However, Marx criticised the views of Hobbes’s social contract as it will result in the rulers or government having absolute rights without depending upon the will of people. Hence, it will also be unjust and exploitation of human rights.


  • Falaky, F. (2014). Social Contract, Masochist Contract: Aesthetics of Freedom and Submission in Rousseau. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Harrison, R. (2003). Hobbes, Locke, and Confusion’s Empire: an Examination of Seventeenth-Century Political Philosophy. Cambridge University Press.
  • Kercher, J. (2004). The Social Contract and its contentious role for Rawls’s ‘Theory of Justice’. GRIN Verlag.
  • Riley, P. (2006). The Social Contract and Its Critics, chapter 12 in The Cambridge History of Eighteenth-Century Political Thought. Eds. Mark Goldie and Robert Wokler. Vol 4 of The Cambridge History of Political Thought. Cambridge University Press, pp. 347-375.
  • Waldron, J. (2002). God, Locke, and Equality: Christian Foundations in Locke’s Political Thought, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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