John Locke was a reluctant democrat who believed in a direct form of democracy. He believed that it existed only to protect its people and to allow people to have liberty and property.Continue Reading
Locke was one of the inspirations for the libertarian beliefs in the American Revolution. He was born in 1632 and studied at Oxford University. In 1690, he wrote his first work, "Two Treatises of Government". In it he set forth important philosophical points including natural rights and the role of government. Interestingly, the Treatises was published anonymously, and Locke only took ownership of it in his will.
The first philosophical point was that natural rights were just that, "natural," and couldn't be taken away from people by the state. These rights were intrinsic and belonged to everyone. In fact, Locke believed that it was these natural rights that would help to balance the government and keep the powerful leaders in check. This theory was so powerful and eloquently written that Thomas Jefferson would use it when he wrote the Declaration of Independence many years later.
Additionally, the natural rights were balanced by one's natural duty to follow laws and pursue happiness and good, all while giving everyone the right to defend themselves. In Locke's perfect ideology, every man would be free and equal, able to pursue their interests and survival without interference.
Locke argued that anyone who interacts with a piece of property is thereby claiming ownership of it. Specifically, he identified that laboring with a piece of property is what makes it a man's private right. And before the man worked on the land, the land theoretically belonged to everyone. Locke's approach to property has roots in the understanding that the land is useless to man unless man works on it, modifies it and makes it his. Locke also discussed property as a concept that extends to one's own person and body, and anything that's done by the person belongs to them.
The second philosophical point Locke made was that he believed in a representative government that would have elected officials in some capacity. However, Locke wasn't sure about allowing everyday people to be a part of governmental decisions and wanted the elected officials to only be men who had a business connection and property.
Locke believed that the moment a government tampered with a person's individual rights, that government would be rebelled against and wouldn't be serving its people. In fact, one of the fundamental aspects of his philosophy is that government must respect its people and their rights. Locke only believed in a government that was limited to bettering the lives of man, but by no means working tyrannically or for its selfish interests.
Influence of John Locke
John Locke's influence extended far, including the American Constitution and political systems. His thought systems are still present in liberalism. In fact, he's recognized as one of the most notable philosophers to shape current society. This isn't to say that Locke's philosophies were embraced immediately or by everyone. For many years, Locke's thought process was rejected and misinterpreted by many people. His re-emergence as a popular and relatable philosopher took place in the 20th century.