The state of nature, in political theory, is the real or hypothetical condition of human beings before or without political association – before government.
Social-contract theorists, such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, relied on this notion to examine the limits and justification of political authority or even, as in the case of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the legitimacy of human society itself.
Thomas Hobbes’ view
The war of every man against every man sums up how Thomas Hobbes imagines how life may have been before government.
According to Hobbes; “The state of nature is a state of incessant mutual exploitation, all individuals seeking to dominate one another and to acquire honour and profit (fame and fortune)”.
Hobbes believed that human beings in the state of nature would behave “badly” towards one another.
John Locke’s view
On the other hand, Locke holds a different position to Hobbes. He believes that people could live in a state of nature, and life would be possible even without the legally established government. This is according to Locke would be a harmonic position.
For Locke, by contrast, the state of nature is characterised by the absence of government but not by the absence of mutual obligation. Beyond self-preservation, the law of nature, or reason, also teaches “all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, liberty, or possessions.”(Britannica)
Unlike Hobbes, Locke believed individuals are naturally endowed with these rights (to life, liberty, and property) and that the state of nature could be relatively peaceful. Individuals nevertheless agree to form a commonwealth (and thereby to leave the state of nature) in order to institute an impartial power capable of arbitrating their disputes and redressing injuries.
Though I admire Locke’s thought, I don’t believe the state of nature would have been a harmonic place.
Hobbes’ way is a call for government. In their true nature, human beings are egoistic, they will always seek to fulfil self-interest. Egoism, the theory that individual interest is the actual motive of all conscious action is the concept behind the theory that human beings do, or should, always act for their own benefit.
This human instinct, along with the phenomenon that there will always be unlimited wants and limited resources, is the reason why in the state of nature without laws and regulations man will be against every man because human beings never get enough.
There is no question that life would or would not be possible in the state of nature. However, it would be short and brutal because every man would want to protect themselves and protect what they may have worked for, even if it means dying for it. In addition, men will seek what interests him.
We need the government for two reasons; the fact that men is egoistic and the fact that the world has limited resources and unlimited wants and/or needs.
Mduduzi Mbiza is a writer, content strategist, researcher, consultant, speaker and author of the book, ‘Human Education: The Voyage of Discovery’. He has contributed his articles on education to Daily Maverick, The South African, Voice360 and EduOne.