Hobbes: (statist) malign human nature (mid-17th c. English Civil War): People are innately selfish, grasping, envious, distrustful and treacherous. Without authoritarian government, Society exists in an incessant war of all against all. Absolute monarchy is the most logical and desirable form of government. To preserve their lives and property, men freely surrender their rights to one ruler, or to an assembly, and agree to submit to the will of authority.


Locke: (liberal) rational human nature (late 17th c. English Glorious Revolution) Locke regarded people as rational creatures endowed by nature and God with fundamental rights: the right to their life, liberty and property. The human ‘state of nature’ before the creation of the state had been free, rational, and equal. Rational people can recognize that their behavior ought to correspond to the requirements of the moral order. In establishing a government, people do not surrender these natural rights to any authority; instead, the new political society is formed to recognize and secure these rights.


Rousseau: (radical slavophile?) the good peasant (late 18th c. Rococo; Romantic) For Rousseau, natural man is superior to civilized man in several ways: he is stronger and healthier, and he has greater compassion for suffering humans. Separated from nature and leading an artificial existence, civilized man becomes feeble and anxious. Not simply content with satisfying natural needs, he becomes envious and greedy of the wealth of others, pursues status and luxury, and ultimately sinks into debauchery. He has lost much of his compassion for his fellow human beings. Rousseau believed the natural man is more willing to listen to the ‘first promptings of humanity’ which are moral. In the original state of nature there was little difference between individuals, but this natural equality ended when private property emerged, with disastrous results: insatiable ambition, jealousy, rivalry. Force and guile swept away the natural man’s goodness and pity.


Burke: reprising original sin (late 18th c. post French Revolution): Human wickedness is not due to a faulty environment; disobedience is at the core of human nature. The authority of church and state is needed to restrain humanity's dark and destructive instincts. Tested institutions, traditions and beliefs hold evil in check, not reason. Conservatives think of society as a living organism held together by age old bonds. It is not a mechanical arrangement of disconnected units. Alone a person would be selfish, unreliable and frail; it is only as a member of a social group that one acquires the ways of cooperation and the manners of civilization. Individualism overturns the foundation of human society: the traditional ties that ensure our care for each other and the community. Individualism encourages disobedience to law. It fragments society into disconnected parts:  isolated, self-seeking atoms devoid of any spiritual or civic purpose. The state determines what rights and privileges its people might possess. There are no 'universal rights of man', only the rights of the English, the French and so forth, as determined by the particular state. Conservatives view 'political equality' as another of those pernicious abstractions that contradicts all historical experience.