Although their ideologies sometimes clashed, and they came from two distinctlydifferent epochs in the course of political development, John Locke andJean-Jacques Rousseaus fundamental arguments address several similar points.
These five main themes which significantly overlap and thus cannot be addressedseparately, are the state of nature, the basis for the development ofgovernment, the primary intent of government, the state of war, and the ultimateeffect of the state on the individual and vice versa. Despite thesecontradictions in belief, both men proved to be greatly influential in thecourse of the United States democratic development.
In both Lockes andRousseaus state of nature, the only agreement they have is that men are bornfree and equal, with no higher authority with the exception of divine power.
Locke adamantly believed that in nature, anarchy and a strong sense ofinsecurity among the people was prevalent. Rousseau, on the other hand, believedthat people are unable to live life to its fullest in the chaotic state ofnature, and no rights are inherent.
For Locke, nature was an ideal, a utopia, ofsorts, the ultimate goal, while for Rousseau, it was an unnatural and tumultuousordeal that could neither prevail in theory or practice. If the aforementionedultimate goal were ever achieved, though, it would not last because it woulddegenerate into a state of war. Locke and Rousseaus foremost point ofagreement is that the people must demonstrate consent in order for a successfulgovernment to begin to evolve. Locke maintained that this permission wasgenerally tacit, implied solely by remaining a member of the civil society, orliving under a governments rules. Ultimately, the first formation ofgovernment is by the consent of all. Rousseau states that consent must beexplicit to form a community at first, also presuming that since the lives ofpeople are unable to live their lives to the fullest potential in nature, thatforming a community and government is the only logical means by which to form afulfilling and meaningful life for all. Perhaps the issue over which Rousseauand Locke most fervently disagree is the role of government. Both philosophersestablish that government is the ultimate way to ensure justice, morality,liberty, and protect the rights of the citizens, but that is where thesimilarities in the mens tenets end. Locke took a stance similar to that ofmodern-day republicans and libertarians. He believed the role of government isto create a perfect equilibrium between protecting the individuals naturalrights and as well as maintaining security and protecting the individualsproperty. Rousseau, on the other hand, adhered to a greater reverence for theestablishment of society, and felt that individual rights are subservient to therights of society as a whole. In a state of nature, he claimed, citizensrights are nonexistent, for there is no structure to foster them, and moreover,rights are derived from society. They do not occur naturally. He also believedthat society must come together to find a general will, or the closest facsimilethereof, for no group of people have or will ever be able to reach a consensusas to what is best for all. Rousseaus general will is really very idealistic,as it is not the sum of individual wills, but rather one for the overall publicgood. In short, he believed that one must sacrifice natural freedom for civilfreedom. Rousseau also held a negative view of human nature, claiming that thathistorically executives have cared very little about the best interest of theirpeople. He did not believe, though, that an executive is sovereign, but thatright lies in the people. Subsequently, Rousseau maintained that everygovernment is subject to change that will inevitably occur when the will of thepeople changes, or when an executive doesnt follow the general will.
Rousseaus aforementioned theory is very similar to the government the UnitedStates has today. Oftentimes individual freedoms are conceded for the good ofsociety as a whole. Although each individual in the U.S. today may not agree toagree with the decisions made by our leaders, we are bound to the rules that thesovereign, the people, have created. Locke and Rousseau extensively contradictedeach other on the concept of the nature of war, also. Rousseau pragmaticallyclaimed that a state of war can only occur between two or more nations, neveramong individuals. Locke dissented, asserting that the state of war is simply arevolution against an invasion on sovereignty, be it individual or governmental.
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