Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan was published in 1651 toward the end of the English Civil War (1642-51). In this book, Hobbes argued that the people gave up their rights to the king in a social contract in exchange for social order, for peace and security. He claimed that, without the government maintaining order, the people would devolve into anarchy and would lead horrible and violent lives.
In describing this "natural state" of man, Hobbes wrote, “In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently, not culture of the earth, no navigation, nor the use of commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
As a result of man’s natural state, Hobbes claimed that monarchs had absolute authority in their social contract in order to keep the public peace. He even stated that this absolute authority extended to power over matters of faith and doctrine. Of course, Hobbes was only making a sycophantic argument for the English system in which the king was the head of the church ever since Henry VIII made his split with the Roman Catholic Church in 1534. Furthermore, Hobbes argued that the monarch’s absolute authority could NOT be divided or shared and that it could NOT be challenged by the people. Of course, he overlooked the fact that many people have led quite peaceful lives outside of the protection or authority of government throughout human history.
Another political philosopher that took up the argument of the divine right of kings to rule in absolute authority was Sir Robert Filmer, who published his Patriarcha in 1680, 29 years after Hobbes’ Leviathan was published. Supposedly, Filmer was taking the arguments of Hobbes and perfecting them, even trying to establish a connection to the Bible for authority. His main argument rested upon the idea that God had given Adam absolute authority over the earth, and that this authority passed down directly to monarchs. Filmer was taking his argument for Adam’s authority from Genesis 1:28 in which God gives mankind complete authority over the earth and permission to do as he pleases with the natural resources of the earth. The problem with Filmer’s argument is, of course, that the authority God gave was a general authority for all people and that this authority did not extend to domination of anyone over any other person.
Our earliest systems of government in the New World were based upon the Bible initially since that was the only book that most of the earlier settlers had in their hands and in their heads as they arrived for the earliest of our settlements and began to write those first governmental agreements or compacts such as the Mayflower Compact of 1620. You will see in the Mayflower Compact the motivation of these early settlers: "for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith." Such overtly Christian statements can be found in all of the early agreements and governmental charters of the original settlers, including the constitutions of all 13 colonies. Moreover, all such documents were tremendously influential on the thinking of our founders and set the context for their discussions of a united government for all 13 colonies. There were, however, a few other influences besides the Bible and the Christian faith. By the time that they wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, many of our founders, if not all, had also read the theories of John Locke, a Christian political theorist. In arguing against the absolute authority of kings, John Locke published in 1689 his Two Treatises of Government: An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent and End of Civil Government. His argument was a repudiation of Locke’s and Filmer’s arguments for absolute authority of monarchs.
While Hobbes had argued that man in his natural state was prone to anarchy and, therefore, needed a very strong civil authority to keep him from this anarchy, Locke’s argument was a little less extreme. Locke argued simply that man in his natural state was completely free to do as he pleased but that he could not completely enjoy his freedom since there was no common authority to keep the peace between him and his neighbor if any dispute arose.
Locke wrote: “IF man in the state of nature be so free, as has been said; if he be absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest, and subject to no body, why will he part with his freedom? Why will he give up this empire, and subject himself to the dominion and control of any other power? To which it is obvious to answer, that though in the state of nature he hath such a right, yet the enjoyment of it is very uncertain, and constantly exposed to the invasion of others: for all being kings as much as he, every man his equal, and the greater part no strict observers of equity and justice, the enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe, very unsecure. This makes him willing to quit a condition, which, however free, is full of fears and continual dangers: and it is not without reason, that he seeks out, and is willing to join in society with others, who are already united, or have a mind to unite, for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name, property.”
So, in opposition to Hobbes’ argument of the absolute authority of monarchs, Locke wrote, instead, that men entered into government by mutual consent for the betterment of all.
This idea of the mutual consent of the governed is the driving force of our government. Under our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, we do NOT believe that government EVER has absolute authority. In fact, they were very pessimistic about the possibility of government tyranny since they had seen the examples of history in their mother country, England. This is why they chose a system of government with a separation of powers when they wrote, and the states adopted, the Constitution of the United States. In addition to the separation of powers to curtail the possibility of tyranny, our founders established the authority of our government upon the "consent of the governed" in order to limit its scope of authority. As such, the authority of our government is always limited to the extent that it does what is best for the people. When government no longer acts in the best interest of the people, then it no longer has authority to act under our chosen system of government as established in our National Charter, the Declaration of Independence. In fact, it is this argument of authority from the will of the people, the consent of the governed, that was our justification in our Declaration of Independence for the rejection of the authority of King George III. Therefore, without this consent of the governed and without a government operating properly for the good of all the people, our government has NO moral authority