Role of John Locke in French Revolution

  • John Locke (1632–1704) was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. He was born shortly before the English Civil War. He science and medicine at Oxford University and became a professor there.
  • He sided with the Protestant Parliament against the Roman Catholic King James II in the Glorious Revolution of 1688–89.This event reduced the power of the king and made Parliament the major authority in English government.
  • Locke’s writings influenced Voltaire and Rousseau and many others. His contributions to classical republicanism and liberal theory are reflected in the United States Declaration of Independence.
  • In 1690, Locke published his Two Treatises of Government. He argued that natural rights such as life, liberty, and property existed in the state of nature and could never be taken away or even voluntarily given up by individuals. These rights were “inalienable”.
  • John Locke’s conception of the social contract retains the central notion that persons in a state of nature would willingly come together to form a state. For him, the social contract was between the people and the state. Locke argued that individuals would agree to form a state that would provide a “neutral judge”, acting to protect the lives, liberty, and property of those who lived within it.
  • Locke argued that government’s legitimacy comes from the citizens’ delegation to the government of their right of self-defense . The government thus acts as an impartial, objective agent of that self-defense, rather than each man acting as his own judge, jury, and executioner—the condition in the state of nature. In this view, government derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed”.
  • According to Locke, 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.If a sovereign violated these rights, the social contract was broken, and the people had the right to revolt and establish a new government.
  • Less than 100 years after Locke wrote his Two Treatises of Government, Thomas Jefferson used hist theory in writing the “Declaration of Independence“.
  • Although Locke spoke out for freedom of thought, speech, and religion, he believed property to be the most important natural right. He declared that owners may do whatever they want with their property as long as they do not invade the rights of others. According to him, Government was mainly necessary to promote the “public good,” that is to protect property and encourage commerce and little else.
  • Locke favored a representative government such as the English Parliament, which had a hereditary House of Lords and an elected House of Commons. But he wanted representatives to be only men of property and business. Consequently, only adult male property owners should have the right to vote. Locke was reluctant to allow the property-less masses of people to participate in government because he believed that they were unfit. According to him, the supreme authority of government should reside in the law-making legislature, like England’s Parliament. The executive (prime minister) and courts would be creations of the legislature and under its authority.