John Locke is among the most influential political philosophers of the modern period. One can easily see his tremendous influence on democracies throughout the world, especially the United States, today. Locke was born during 1632 in Somerset, England. He was the son of a Puritan lawyer who fought with the Parliamentarians against the King in the English Civil War. At the age of 14, Locke attended Westminster School; and later went on to study at Oxford University. At the age of 43, Locke had traveled to France, where he would stay for four years to study Descartes and other great minds of the age.
Locke then moved to Holland in 1683 amongst political unrest in England, which made living there dangerous for him. There he joined other English political exiles in a plot to overthrow King James II, which succeeded, resulting in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the flee of the King. By this time in the late 1680s-mid 1690s, Locke’s most influential philosophical works were published. From these works, Locke has been considered the Father of Classical Liberalism. Classic liberalism advocates civil liberties and political freedom with representative government.
During the time of Locke, most people believed that fundamental rights came from government. People thought that they only had rights based upon what government chose to give them. John Locke’s most famous political work, The Second Treatise of Government, argued the opposite though. Some of the main themes outlined in the book include the State of Nature, Property, and Representative Government. Lock describes the State of Nature as: “To properly understand political power and trace its origins, we must consider the state that all people are in naturally.
That is a state of perfect freedom of acting and disposing of their own possessions and persons as they think fit within the bounds of the law of nature. People in this state do not have to ask permission to act or depend on the will of others to arrange matters on their behalf. The natural state is also one of equality in which all power and jurisdiction is reciprocal and no one has more than another. It is evident that all human beings – as creatures belonging to the same species and rank and born indiscriminately with all the same natural advantages and faculties – are equal amongst themselves.
They have no relationship of subordination or subjection unless God (the lord and master of them all) had clearly set one person above another and conferred on him an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty. ” The State of Nature both explains and declares that all people are born/created equally by God. One can see this statement’s influence with the use of it in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator…”
According to Locke, every person has three natural rights: Life, Liberty, and Estate. Locke declares, “Reason, which is that Law, teaches all Mankind, who would but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions. ” This means that everyone has the right to live once they are created, to do anything they want to so long as it doesn’t conflict with the first right to Life, and to own anything they create or gain through trade or gift so long as it doesn’t conflict with the first two rights.
One may also continuously see this influenced in the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. ” Locke also believed that people, not rulers, were sovereign. Locke wrote, “Government can never have a Power to take to themselves the whole or any part of the Subjects Property, without their own consent.
For this would be in effect to leave them no Property at all. ” Lock’s use of the term, “Property,” refers to everyone’s natural rights to Life, Liberty, and Estate. He believed that people chose to live under government, forming a social contract, in order to protect their natural rights, that otherwise may be in constant danger living in a State of Nature. If a government, or ruler, violated this commitment, the people living under it would have a right to revolt and overthrow the ruling subject.
One can easily see how this pertains to not just the United States, but to the rest of the world. One can reference the American Revolution against Britain; and one can reference the recent revolutions in the Middle East, such as Egypt. In Locke’s “A Letter Concerning Toleration,” he advocates the toleration and respect for others’ religions. He argues that there must be a separation of church and state because government’s sole purpose is to protect individual rights, nothing else.
Locke writes: “Now that the whole jurisdiction of the magistrate reaches only to these civil concernments, and that all civil power, right and dominion, is bounded and confined to the only care of promoting these things; and that it neither can nor ought in any manner to be extended to the salvation of souls, these following considerations seem unto me abundantly to demonstrate… because the care of souls is not committed to the civil magistrate, any more than to other men. It is not committed unto him, I say, by God; because it appears not that God has ever given any such authority to one man over another as to compel anyone to his religion.
Nor can any such power be vested in the magistrate by the consent of the people, because no man can so far abandon the care of his own salvation as blindly to leave to the choice of any other… the care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force; but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God. ” Locke’s vision of separation of church and state can be seen all throughout the world.
One can specifically see it in the United States, incorporated into the Constitution. Though this is not a complete list of John Locke’s many influences over modern democratic governments, one can see from the few examples provided above just how important a figure he is. Specifically to the United States, his influence can be seen through his ideas of individual rights, sovereignty of the people, and the separation of church and state. According to Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding father’s of the United States, “Locke is among the most important people to ever live. ”
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