How Did Enlightenment Thinkers Believe Society Should Be Changed?

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Enlightenment thinkers believed that the current forms of government should be changed to reflect humanity’s perceived strengths and weaknesses. Key enlightenment thinkers include Thomas Hobbs, John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire, and enlightenment thinking led to revolutions in France, the American colonies and Latin America, according to

English philosopher Thomas Hobbs believed that man was greedy, selfish and cruel. Hobbs believed that man should enter into a Social Contract to escape a life in a state of nature that was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Hobbs also believed that people should give up many personal freedoms for the safety of an organized society.

John Locke was an Englishman who advocated for limited government that protected the natural rights of life, liberty and property. He believed that citizens had the right to revolt against a government that exceeded the powers granted by the people.

Baron de Montesquieu of France thought that government should be divided into three coequal branches: executive, legislative and judicial. Each branch would serve to check and balance the power and authority of the other two. The ideas of checks and balances are fundamentals of the U.S. government.

In the Social Contract, Jean Jacques Rousseau of France advocated majority rule in determining what was best for society. This belief was based on his premise that man was fundamentally good.

Voltaire is known for his belief in freedom of speech. He is quoted as saying, “I do not agree with a thing you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”