John Locke (1632-1704) was an English philosopher, political theorist and founder of Empiricism. After studying medicine at Oxford, Locke served the Earl of Shaftesbury as a physician, and followed him to France in 1675. There he spent four years studying Continental philosophy, especially that of Descartes. On his return, Locke worked with Shaftesbury to block the succession of James, Duke of York, and later James II from the throne. It was a controversial issue since the Restoration of tabula rasa.
His most important political work also appeared in 1690, the Two Treatises of Government there he argues that the function of the state is to protect the natural rights of its citizens, primarily to protect the right to property. I think John Locke is a father of Democracy. John Locke came up with ideas that we follow today. It is good to think John Locke is a father of democracy.
John Locke embraced many of ideas in his theories on the state of nature and the rise of government and society. Thomas Hobbes also presented these ideas. They differed however, in that Locke believed that god was the prime factor in politics. He believed that individuals were born with certain natural rights given not by government or society, but by God. This he said is what gives all people equality. Before I show Locke’s state of nature, it is helpful to talk about other key points, mainly property rights and the invention of money.
Besides the right to self-preservation, Locke also believed that all individuals had a natural right to property. This natural right carried with it two preconditions of natural law. First, since God gave the earth to all individuals, people must be sure to leave enough property for others to have, and secondly nothing may be allowed to spoil. These conditions met, an individual was granted exclusive rights to any object that they mixed their labor with. For Locke, mixing labor was in effect placing a part of the self into an object, and thereby making it part of the individual and therefore their property.
Human nature being the way it is, people eventually found a way around the natural law restrictions on property accumulation through the creation of money. Instead of only being allowed to accumulate as much property as could be used with out spoilage, people created money as a means around the natural law. Since money does not spoil, the burden of upholding the law now became that of the consumer rather than of the producer. People were granted the ability to accumulate unlimited money based upon their industriousness. This meant that some people acted more rationally than others, and thus were more deserving of property. Locke also argued that when people agreed to start using money, they also agreed to the “disproportionate and unequal possession of the Earth.” He believed that people would be free to sell their labor to one another in exchange for money. When this happened, any property the laborer produced became the property of the buyer. For Locke the state of nature was still a horrible place, but God’s law was created moral imperatives preventing humans from partaking in the total free for all that Thomas Hobbes describes. People left the state of nature, according to Locke, not out of fear of violent death, but as a matter of convenience and in order to protect their property. They did not give all of their rights to an absolute authoritarian government. Instead, they formed two distinctively separate agreements: the contract of society and the contract of the majority of society and government or “trustee relationship” as it is often referred to.
The contract of society took place when people gave up the total freedom that they enjoyed in the state of nature to form society. This society was made up of two types of people: Property and non-property owners. Property owners being rational individuals were given the right of suffrage, while non-property owners, viewed as not being industrious, were not. Property owners were further said to be of civil society while non-property owners were only considered to be in but not of society. In order to fulfill the contract of the majority of society and government, the society as a whole contracts an impartial third party to act as the government. This agreement is often referred to as a trustee relationship because the government has no rights, only responsibilities to the people, and therefore acts only in the best interest of the members of the society. The government is given its power to act by the property-owning portion of the population, not by the society as a whole.
Another point that makes Locke’s theory different is that society has the power to overthrow the government. Since a majority created it, they have the power to remove it. According to Hobbes’s theory, the Leviathan won’t be overthrown because of the great fear of returning to the state of nature. This coupled with the fact that the government holds absolute power over the people, and its only check against itself. Locke on the other hand stated that society could overthrow the government without returning to the state of nature because the social contract would still be in effect. All that was needed would be for the society to elect another government, by majority rule, to replace the old one. This introduces the idea that government should be accountable to the people. As we can see from the above themes, Locke was in favor of a limited government, not an authoritarian one like Hobbes described.
Although Hobbes and Locke differed in their theories on government and society, the one thing that they did have in common was their view of the importance and autonomy of the individual in society. The extent to which this was true varies but the one important fact remains. The people existed as individuals before societies and governments came into being. They each possessed certain rights, and all had the freedom to do as they pleased. This was unrestrained according to Hobbes, and with some restrictions placed upon them by God according to Locke. This freedom of the individual was important, for it was the foundation for modern liberal democracy. John Locke’s influence on the philosophy and political thought of the eighteenth century was without rival. His two Treatises of Government was advocating the removal of a ruler who fails to live up to his end of the social contract. It made him an important figure among the intellectuals of the American war of independence. With all the things that Locke did, it is easy to say he had an influence on the American democracy. The United States government in my opinion is based on the beliefs of John Locke.