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John Locke’s Two Treatises Of Government And Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract

1373 words - 5 pages

The Enlightenment was an astonishing time of transformation in Europe. During this time in the eighteenth century there was a progressive movement that was labeled by its criticism of the normal religious, social, and political perceptions. A number of significant philosophers, with new philosophies, had inspired creativeness and change. These thinkers had many different thoughts and views on people and the way they act, and views on the government. Two well-known and most influential thinkers of this time were the English political philosopher John Locke and the French political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. These two men had laid down some of the intellectual grounds of the modern day government and both had different opinions on what the government’s role in a society.
John Locke published his Two Treatises of Government in 1690. In his writing Locke argued that individuals had the natural rights of life, liberty and property that the state could never be taken away because these rights were “inalienable.” The natural rights of individuals limited the power of the king. The king did not hold absolute power, but acted only to enforce and protect the natural rights of the people (IEP).
What John Locke was concerned about was the lack of limitations on the sovereign authority. During Locke’s time the world was surrounded by the monarch’s constitutional violations of liberty toward the end of the seventeenth century. He believed that people in their natural state enjoy certain natural, inalienable rights, particularly those to life, liberty and property. Locke described a kind of social contract whereby any number of people, who are able to abide by the majority rule, unanimously unite to affect their common purposes (Porter). They then create a community and a government. The people are the ones that create the legislative structures to make the laws, resolve disputes, and carry out the law. The common legislative and executive power is focused towards peace, safety, and the public good.
This government Locke describes is then based on popular consent. The legislature is the ultimate power in the state because the people are in accord with it through the social contract and put their trust in the government. The government is restricted by the very nature of the social contract, which is basically a constitution. Neither the legislature nor the king can act arbitrarily against the constitution and are required to act within the constitutional limits. The government is to be responsible to the people, and it must honor the terms of the social contract that gives them power, terms that require it to protect life, liberty and property. Also, the government is a representative government and it is the people who are to judge whether their representatives in the legislature and their executive act in agreement with their trust.
Revolution is the people’s last defense if the government becomes tyrannical and violates the...

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