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Comparing the ideas of sovereignty of Hobbes and Rousseau

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  1. About Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  2. The points of disagreement
  3. The resemblance between Rousseau's and Hobbes' theories

As the study revolves around the notion of sovereignty, it is important to know what sovereignty is. Presenting the definition given by a dictionary might be of no use, but it could partially enlighten us of what we are discussing. Various dictionaries offer alternative definitions for sovereignty such as ?a supreme and independent political power or authority?, ?a power detained by a political collectivity that is governing itself?, etc.

Thomas Hobbes was an English philosopher of the 17th century. He is essentially known for his political and philosophical thinking. His major contributions are seen in the fields like science, geometry, ethics, history, and so on. His famous work ?Leviathan? was published in 1651 and this book dealt with the theory of ?Social Contract?, which will be analyzed later in this study. The extract we have to analyze in this essay is the, 19th chapter (Of the several kinds of common-wealth by institution, and of succession of the sovereign power) picked from this book. In this chapter, Thomas Hobbes is explaining why a monarchy is preferable than any other form of government and he highlights the disadvantages of democracy and oligarchy. According to him, only a monarchy can pull a nation out from war which is something inherent in a ?natural state?.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Swiss philosopher of the 18th century, whose thought greatly influenced the French Revolution. His famous works include Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Les Confessions) and Julie, and the New Heloise (Julie, ou la nouvelle Heloise). The extracts we are going to analyze are from his flagship book, ?The Social Contract? that was published in 1762. Even today, this book remains one of the most important works in political philosophy. The extracts we are going to study are from Book I, Chapters VI (The Social Compact) and VII (The Sovereign) and Book III, Chapters, I (Government in General) and XV (Deputies or representatives). In these chapters, Rousseau explains the notion of sovereignty and also expresses his point of view of how the best form of democratic government should be.

[...] The disagreement goes by their social compact and the division of powers According to Hobbes, people in their ?absolute liberty? choose to submit to a monarch and give up all their rights to him, who has the power to govern them and to preserve peace. In return, the sovereignty exists in the monarch; people don't have the right to rebel against him. Subjects have a duty of obedience while their Monarch has the duty to protect them from war. Thus, it's a kind of social compact. [...]


[...] The different forms of governments they chose show a fundamental disagreement between Hobbes and Rousseau about where sovereignty should reside. These choices of government can be taken as an aftermath of the sovereignty location or on the contrary, as the reason which would explain the sovereignty's location. According to Hobbes, sovereignty should reside in the Sovereign and only in the Sovereign for the two reasons that are explained. The Sovereignty must be combined in order to avoid any form of disagreement or confrontation which would lead to civil war and confusion. [...]

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