The Political Theories of Locke and Rousseau

Essay, 2015

6 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Two Essays about John Locke’s and Jean Jacques Rousseau’s political theories

An Essay on John Locke

What is the natural law theory of politics? Explain all conceptual elements of the natural law tradition in political theory (natural law, the state of nature, social contract) and name the most important thinkers who represent this tradition. Summarize briefly Locke’s version of the natural law theory — his description of the state of nature, his conception of natural rights, the argument for the creation of a "political society " through the social contract, the organization of the state, the ends of government.

The natural law theory of politics has been playing an important role in the evolution of states since the time of Ancient Greece. Later, these theories provided the basis for philosophers of the 16th and 17th century, here to name Thomas Hobbes, Jean Jacques Rousseau and John Locke as the most important ones. In a time of civil wars and political upheavals, the natural law theories often provided a justification for a new order or at least tried to define a new form of the state. Since this theory is regarded as a basis for many modern liberal states, the following essay will explain the key elements of natural law theory such as natural law, the state of nature and the need for a social contract. I will mainly rely on John Locke and his work The Second Treatise of Government (published in 1689).

The Second Treatise of Government starts with a description of the state of nature. In this state exists no government or at least none with political power or legitimacy. The state of nature describes all men as equal, free and states that they seek for self-preservation. Even if Locke mentions that mankind has to preserve, he does not paint a negative picture of the human nature. Locke sees humans as generally peaceful and cooperative creatures, which differs him e.g. from Hobbes, who equals the state of nature with a state of war where people live in chaos and under a condition which could be seen as a survival of the fittest.

On the behalf of self-preservation and reason Locke formulates the natural law theory. He states that there are natural rights such as life, liberty and property and that these rights have to be protected by every man to succeed in self-preservation. From these rights and their need for protection Locke derives a so called natural law which formulates the duty to every men “not to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions” (Lo>If mankind now decides to leave the state of nature because there is a consent between the members of the community the evolution from the state of nature to a political society develops. People agree to be governed by a authority who protects their natural rights and provides a “judicature to appeal to, with authority to decide controversies between them, and punish offenders” (Lo>Bringing Locke's theory to a conclusion the organization of his perfect state and the ends of government have to be understood. Locke states in his work The Second Treatise of Government “that absolute monarchy, which by some men is counted the only government in the world, is indeed inconsistent with civil society, and so can be no form of civil-government at all” (Lo>As Locke describes legitimate power he also explains the concept of illegitimate governments. He states that “[...]tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to. And this is making use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private, separate advantage.


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The Political Theories of Locke and Rousseau
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen
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ISBN (Book)
political, theories, locke, rousseau
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Torben Arndt (Author), 2015, The Political Theories of Locke and Rousseau, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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