Similarities Between Hobbes And Rousseau

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes, two titans of the Enlightenment, work within similar intellectual frameworks in their seminal writings. Hobbes, in Leviathan, postulates a “state of nature” before society developed, using it as a tool to analyze the emergence of governing institutions. Rousseau borrows this conceit in Discourse on Inequality, tracing the development of man from a primitive state to modern society. Hobbes contends that man is equal in conflict during the state of nature and then remains equal under government due to the ruler’s monopoly on authority. Rousseau, meanwhile, believes that man is equal in harmony in the state of nature and then unequal in developed society. Thus, both men would evaluate the statement that “in a legitimate state all men are free and there is no inequality,” differently. Rousseau would mostly disagree, holding that the state itself is the impetus for inequality. Hobbes would largely agree, contending that men are equal both in a primitive state of conflict and under a sovereign’s awesome power. These different responses result from the philosophers’ opposing views on fundamental human nature, civil society’s raison d’etre, and government’s inevitable form.
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Rousseau begins his
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Hobbes holds that “it is impossible to subjugate a man without first having placed him in the position of being unable to do without another.” Thus, the lack of organizational interdependence in primitive society prevents inequality. Similarly, the lawlessness of early society makes conflict impossible: war “can exist neither in the state of nature, where there is no stable property.” Thus, both philosophers consider equality the natural human orientation, but establish equality on radically different terms: Hobbes’s is chaotic and Rousseau’s harmonious. These assumptions inform their considerations of inequality (or lack thereof) within a legitimate
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