by Helen Oh
Beginning in the late 17th century and concluding in the 18th century, the Enlightenment was a period of time where scientific, political, and philosophical advances attained more authority and influence than blind obedience and superstition. The ideas of the thinkers who established these advances set the basis for education, governmental balance, people’s rights, and even revolution. The Enlightenment produced many ideas regarding the way people should be governed, and these ideas were centered around the state of nature, the social contract between the people and the government, and the ability for citizens to revolt. John Locke, a philosopher whom I strongly agree with, believed in a representative democracy whose sole purpose was to uphold and protect the natural rights of the people. Compared to the ideas of other philosophers and thinkers, John Locke’s ideas of the state of nature, social contract, and revolution would create the most successful and legitimate government.
The state of nature was the description of human life before the establishment of a community, in which humans were bound only to the law of nature and respected the rights to life, liberty, and property of other humans. This freedom and equality was the basis of the state of nature, yet it also provided the ability for humans to abuse these rights and take away the rights of others without consequence. Therefore, John Locke and Thomas Hobbes both agreed that humans needed to escape this violent state of nature by forming a society, where humans would resign some of their freedoms in order to assure peace. However, these two thinkers disagreed on how this newly formed society should be run and how much power was given to the government.
In order to preserve the peace of society, a social contract was needed. The social contract was an agreement among society that set the boundaries for governmental control. Hobbes believed in an absolute monarchy, where the social contract was an agreement among only the citizens to give up their self-preservational rights to a sovereign ruler. However, Locke believed that the social contract should be an agreement among not only the people but also the government, making sure that the government acted only to protect and ensure the natural rights of the citizens. In Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, he says that a representative government that governed lightly was ideal: “When legislators try to gain or give someone else absolute power over their lives, liberties, and property of the people, they abuse the power which the people had put into their hands”. Found even in today’s governments, Locke’s ideas on balancing the power between people and government successfully ensures and protects the natural rights of the people.
One of Locke’s most controversial ideas at the time was his viewpoint on revolution against the government. Like many others, Hobbes believed that revolution against governmental authority was never justified. However, Locke explained that people reserved the right to revolt if the government’s purpose was no longer solely to reserve the natural rights of the people. This unpopular idea was supported by the fact that corrupt governments should not and do not deserve to stay in power. Therefore, Locke’s philosophies on the citizens’ ability to revolt are the most ideal for a legitimate government.
Thus, English philosopher John Locke’s ideas on the state of nature, the social contract between the people and the government, and the ability for the citizens to revolt are the closest to what I would deem the ideals on which a proper government should be established. These ideals were employed in acts like the American Revolution and documents like the Declaration of Independence, where Thomas Jefferson used Locke’s ideas on limiting governmental power and revolution. This proves that Locke’s ideas are not only applicable in theory but also to modem and even future societies.