Jean Jacques Rousseau And John Locke: Their Relevance For American Society

2166 words - 9 pages

In Second Treatise on Government and The Social Contract, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau each present and describe their own perceptions of what allows for equality, freedom and democracy. Of the many major ideas developed throughout these texts, the two main distinctions between the two philosophers are natural freedom versus civil freedom and individualism versus collectivism. John Locke, who provided the framework that would allow for liberal democracy, writes that in a state of nature, no one has more power or jurisdiction than another and is naturally free; in order to protect and preserve their lives, men must join a civil society. The sovereignty of the civil society is thus ...view middle of the document...

Locke takes a more liberal stance on one’s own freedom and defends the claim that men are by nature free and equal and possess rights to life, liberty, and property. Locke used the claim that in a state of nature, “all men are naturally in...a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature” (4). In other words, Locke states that a man has the power to do whatever he thinks fit for the preservation of himself and others along with the power to punish the crimes committed against law. All this acts as part of the justification for understanding political government and power correctly as the result of a social contract where people in the state of nature give up some of their rights to the government in order to better ensure protection of their property. The government is thus limited to the public good of society and its power has “no other end but preservation and therefore can never have a right to destroy, enslave, or designedly to impoverish the subjects.” (135) As a result, this must be avoided at all costs because the public has the right to remove or alter the legislative if they find it doing something contrary to the trust reposed to them. Locke is thus important for his defense of the right of revolution. Ultimately, Locke’s ideas are deeply rooted in the founding documents of America where men are said to be free and equal:
Man being born, as been proved, with a title to perfect freedom, and an uncontrouled enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of nature...hath by power, not only to preserve his property, that is, his life, liberty and estate...but to judge of, and punish the breaches of that law in others...Those united into one body, and have a common established law and judicature to appeal to, with authority to decide controversies between them, and punish offenders are in civil society one with another: but those who have no such common appeal, I mean on earth, are still in the state of nature (87)

Locke’s ideas are tremendously relevant to contemporary society as people’s lives are government by very similar notions. While people may not possess complete, absolute freedom to do whatever they please, they still have the freedom and rights to go about their everyday lives. Unlike Rousseau who believes that men must have civic virtue and participate in government, Locke does not ask as much of people. Instead, for example, if one chooses not to vote, they do not become a slave; they are just still in the state of nature where they still possess individual freedom where oneself is important and that is how it is like in contemporary American society.
Locke also appears to be more relevant to contemporary American society due to his political thought regarding property. To Locke, God has given earth and its fruits to mankind and so there is a natural individual right to private property. Earth is given to men...

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