Locke Vs. Rousseau: A Comparison Essay, Research Paper
Locke and Rousseau were two philosophers of the Enlightenment. Both wrote extensively and developed theories of the human nature and how men governed themselves.
Both philosophers agree that before civilized man began to govern himself, man existed in a state of nature. That is, humans lacked society or structure. Rousseau argues that this was and still is the perfect state for man, where he is free, autonomous and virtuous. Government and civil society is developed only to protect property, and thus perverts the perfect state of nature.
Locke agrees with Rousseau, that man is free naturally, but also adds that people are entitled to three inalienable rights of life, liberty and property. He also argues that the state of natures lacks impartial judges, precise laws, and sufficient power to uphold moral laws protecting both people and their property. This is where government and civil society comes in, bringing in standardization of violations and the meting out of proper punishment to those who breach the laws.
While both philosophers, acknowledge that the people develop a social contract with themselves and those who rule, they disagree on what exactly a social contract is and how it is established.
Locke says all men are born free and must freely consent to a government that is established over them. However, he also adds, that people may also agree to a government via tacit consent; anyone receiving any benefits from the government in question has agreed to obey the government by giving his tacit consent. This is the social contract, according to Locke.
In order to be a part of Rousseau’s social contract, the individual must give up his/her personal freedom to the general will. The general will, he says is the sum of all private interests of the people. Rousseau requires total conformity to the general will in his government and argues that obeying the general will is really obeying your own will, although you may disagree with the general will. Reasoning that since every subject of the government is equal, and no individual has more power or influence on the general will than any other citizen in society, Rousseau maintains that no one really loses any freedom.
Despite their differences, Locke and Rousseau both became two of the most influential political theorists in the world. Their ideas and philosophies spread all over the world influencing the creation of many new governments, including the United States. Whatever flaws their ideas had, it can’t be disputed that they both were very important figures in the Enlightenment.