John Locke, amongst other things, was a 17th century political philosopher who became renowned for his beliefs in the state of nature, natural law and the inalienable rights of man; often being referred to as the ‘Father of Liberalism’. At their time of writing, Locke’s ideas were considered to be revolutionary thoughts in an extremely conservative world; in which absolute power commonly ruled over the masses and where inequality simply went unchallenged. John Locke’s theories were paramount in both the Glorious Revolution and the American Revolution, and there are numerous reasons as to why this is so.
Locke’s views on the state of nature inspired people to believe that every man, woman and child is born with select natural rights which should not be supressed or abused by a form of government. Governments, after all, have been placed in their positions of sovereignty at the consent of the people in order to protect these natural rights; this is known as a social contract. If a government breaks this contract, the people have a right of revolution – meaning that they can actively dissolve the previous form of government and they may choose to create a new one which performs its intended functions much more efficiently. In both revolutions, the people claimed that their governments were breaking their side of the social contract by abusing their powers and obstructing the rights to life, liberty and property. Therefore, the reasons behind both revolutions can be found in a hatred of absolute power and a belief in unconditional human rights – particularly the obstruction of property rights.
Locke claims the state of nature exists in a non-political society, where men are free individuals who are bound by no government or political body; their natural liberties are protected by the harmonious consent of the people and everyone is entitled to live with perfect freedom. These freedoms include the God-given inalienable rights to life, liberty and estate (also referred to by Locke as property). However, man is ruled by natural law: we are inherently governed by our sense of reason and morality. This means that the state of nature can prevail without the need for intrusive government interference. The Law of Nature ‘teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions’ (Locke, 1698, ii Ch. II Sec. 7, 7-10). According to Locke, all men – excluding children or the mentally ill – are born with the ability to reason, and thus they can see the true will of God. It is through exercising this reason that one can observe ‘God’s requirement for all men in a State of Nature is that they live according to the law of nature’ (M.D.A Freeman, 1994, p. 103). Therefore, people should freely be ruled by a moral code of reason in order to appease the desires of God himself.
Nonetheless, Locke did not believe that this perfect state of nature could last...