Sample Undergraduate Politics Essay

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Karl Marx’s Critique of the Social Contract Theory of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke ( Study Subject – Political Thinkers )


In this essay, Karl Marx’s critique of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke’s Social Contract views are analyzed. In this regard, the views of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke concerning Social Contract are analyzed, and the reasons based on which Karl Marx has criticized their views of Social Contract will be identified. Moreover, analyzing Karl Marx’s views about the 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 explaining social contract theory, where he defined it as ruler powers that cannot be challenged. Hobbes also pointed out that human beings are naturally considered selfish as they tend to do what is in their best interest. The social contract would apply only to the people and be binding towards them but not the ruler. Given this, the rulers would be free to decide what is right and wrong and have absolute power.

Moreover, according to Hobbes’s views on property, rewards, and equality, people should be rewarded equitably according to their respective abilities and capacities. 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, everyone’s moral equality should be respected by justice. If some people have life necessities that others do not have, then it amounts to injustice in moral equality.

Therefore, it is the ruler and the government’s responsibility to provide life necessities to the public without any form of discrimination. However, the social contract theory of Hobbes is discriminating. Therefore it can be considered as unjust and exploitation of human rights, particularly 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 further 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 a person, an authoritative body, or a Government.

Marx suggested that forming a social contract requires people to trust the ruler. According to Thomas, people are selfish by nature; therefore, it can be argued that they are not likely to trust absolutely anyone, including the leaders, which challenges the theory’s core concepts. The literature further reveals that Marx believed that Hobbes has incorrectly analyzed human nature by thinking that selfish people can become civilized by making a contract.

Marx greatly criticizes hobbes’ view of a contract that has the binding on the ruler. As per Marx, as a liberalist, Hobbes had intentionally stated that ‘contract is not binding on the ruler.’ He probably 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 as they would not be given equal opportunities and human rights. In conclusion, Marx had greatly criticized Hobbes 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)

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

In the 17th century, John Locke presented a social contract view based on liberty and liberal state concepts. According to him, in the social contract, people have rights to liberty and life, but they give up their rights in return for ‘just and impartial protection’ for their government’s property.

Locke’s views were quite different regarding the nature of the relationship between people and authority. He has written two treatises related to a 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 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 property owner would have their rights upon all they have owned.

For example, if a person owns a garden and puts labour on it, it would come under his possession based upon his contribution. Eventually, all the fruits and flowers gain from this garden would belong to him only. Furthermore, Locke even commented on the freedom of human actions. He elaborated that the owners should have full rights to their property and do whatever suits them best.

Marx had a different view on private property, so he had criticized Locke’s property rights views. Marx argued that the right to the private property leads to the division of society into different social classes.

Moreover, since others can harm private property, Locke believed that it is the government’s responsibility to protect the property and its owners’ associated rights. (Falaky, 2014).

However, Marx’s view was different, as he suggested this practice would further strengthen the powerful stakeholders, leading to 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.

Workers who work in treacherous conditions could get limited or underpaid remuneration. Marx considers this unjust, where the rich can dupe the poor and snatch all the luxury and rights. (Riley, 2006)

Thus, Marx criticized the views of Locke’s social contract as he regarded private property as a supreme right to be a part of capitalist ideology and an attempt to legitimize the exploitation of the poor working class by the rich. They could continue to do so for a long period until further human rights of the working-class residents are legitimized.

Marx also argued that the supreme rights to a private property lead to society’s division in different social classes, so it is unjust. Similarly, Marx criticized Hobbes’ social contract’s views as it will result in the rulers or government having absolute rights without depending on the ‘will of people.’ Hence, it will also be unjust and could lead to the exploitation of human rights.

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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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