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John Locke: Founding Father Of Modern Era Liberalism

1654 words - 7 pages

Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and John Locke are all great thinkers who were greatly influential in forming philosophies that would affect the future of politics. By analyzing each philosopher’s ideology, we can identify which thinker’s theory reflected modern era liberalism the most. For this paper I will be arguing that, John Locke provides a more compelling framework of modern era liberalism because of his perception of the state of nature, the social contract and the function of government.
Before explaining how Locke’s philosophy reflects modern liberalism, it is important to first understand the characteristics that make up modern liberalism. Modern era liberalism stresses the idea that individuals are of great importance in the society, each individual is, to an extent, equal to all other individuals and that each has certain inalienable rights such as life and liberty. By looking at the ideologies of each philosopher, we can see that John Locke has had the most significant role in the development of modern era liberalism.
In Locke’s book the Second Treatise on Civil Government, he begins by describing the state of nature as a place where men exist in perfect freedom where they are able to pursue their own goals, as long as they do not infringe on the equal liberty of others (II. 4-7). This limitation differentiates Locke from Hobbes. Hobbes argued that freedom and equality and the importance of individual rights, allowed individuals in the state of nature to pursue their survival and interest without limitation (Leviathan, XII, p. 80). They had no duty to respect the rights of others. This is why the state of nature, for Hobbes, was a state of war (Leviathan, XII, p. 79). Whereas Locke believed that individuals have a duty to respect the rights of others, even in the state of nature. The source of this duty derives from natural law (Second Treatise on Civil Gov., II. 4). In essence, for Locke, humans leave the state of nature due to those who violate the law and consequently form a political society to enforce natural law. In contrast to Locke and Hobbes, Rousseau believes that in the state of nature men are born free and equal and it is civilization that truly corrupts them. Locke’s description of the state of nature displays characteristics of modern liberalism the most. For instance, his underlying reason for leaving nature and establishing society is to protect man’s natural right to “life, liberty and estate”, which is evidently a phrase that echo’s a segment of America’s Declaration of Independence, that states “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Also, Locke’s deep concern for individual rights reflects an essential element of modern liberalism, which are, equal rights for all. It is clear that for Hobbes and Locke, civil society is created in order to escape from problematic beginnings, whereas for Rousseau the beginning is where man should want to be, because problems derive from society. Despite Hobbes and...

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