Thomas Hobbes and John Locke on natural law and government
Today, John Locke is widely regarded as one of the major founders of the liberal political philosophy, which is the philosophy of limited government and individual rights. On the other hand, Hobbes held a negative view on the natural law, pointing out that anarchy and civil wars were as a result of the preference of both natural and divine laws over the sovereign. In his opinion, established laws were better than the traditional higher law doctrines. For this reason, he motivated the people to accept and abide by the established laws not matter how oppressive they seemed.
Although the two were social contract theorists and natural law theorists, they differed significantly on both natural law and government. Where as Locke felt that a ruler who seeks absolute power should be removed from power forcefully given that the people has the right to do so, Hobbes insisted that there can be no breach of the social contract (covenant on the part of the sovereign). In this case, the king/government is always right given that it acts according to the law, and therefore can do no wrong. In Hobbes opinion, the people enter in to a social contract and thus concede their rights to the government for their life. In such a case, they are simply to be governed and should abide by the laws. However, Locke disagrees and explains that men, by their nature have rights, and can therefore confront the government. The civil society, according to Locke, and contrary to Hobbes precedes the state (morally and historically). Moreover, it is the society that creates order (not the government) and grants legitimacy to the state. For this reason, the society has the right to confront the government.
In conclusion, Hobbes, like Socrates, does not believe that people have the capacity to live in a democracy. He therefore explains that like sheep, the people are in need of a strong government/king, which has the necessary knowledge to rule and protect the people. However, Locke suggests that it is the people/society, who gives legitimacy to the government, and therefore the government can not assume absolute power over them since power belongs to the people.