– Compare/Contrast Essay, Research Paper
Although their ideologies sometimes clashed, and they came from two distinctly different epochs in the course of political development, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau?s fundamental arguments address several similar points. These five main themes which significantly overlap and thus cannot be addressed separately, are the state of nature, the basis for the development of government, the primary intent of government, the state of war, and the ultimate effect of the state on the individual and vice versa. Despite these contradictions in belief, both men proved to be greatly influential in the course of the United States? democratic development.
In both Locke?s and Rousseau?s state of nature, the only agreement they have is that men are born free and equal, with no higher authority with the exception of divine power. Locke adamantly believed that in nature, anarchy and a strong sense of insecurity among the people was prevalent. Rousseau, on the other hand, believed that people are unable to live life to it?s fullest in the chaotic state of nature, and no rights are inherent. For Locke, nature was an ideal, a utopia, of sorts, the ultimate goal, while for Rousseau, it was an unnatural and tumultuous ordeal that could neither prevail in theory or practice. If the aforementioned ultimate goal were ever achieved, though, it would not last because it would degenerate into a state of war.
Locke and Rousseau?s foremost point of agreement is that the people must demonstrate consent in order for a successful government to begin to evolve. Locke maintained that this permission was generally tacit, implied solely by remaining a member of the civil society, or living under a government?s rules. Ultimately, the first formation of government is by the consent of all. Rousseau states that consent must be explicit to form a community at first, also presuming that since the lives of people are unable to live their lives to the fullest potential in nature, that forming a community and government is the only logical means by which to form a fulfilling and meaningful life for all.
Perhaps the issue over which Rousseau and Locke most fervently disagree is the role of government. Both philosophers establish that government is the ultimate way to ensure justice, morality, liberty, and protect the rights of the citizens, but that is where the similarities in the men?s tenets end.
Locke took a stance similar to that of modern-day republicans and libertarians. He believed the role of government is to create a perfect equilibrium between protecting the individual?s natural rights and as well as maintaining security and protecting the individual?s property.
Rousseau, on the other hand, adhered to a greater reverence for the establishment of society, and felt that individual rights are subservient to the rights of society as a whole. In a state of nature, he claimed, citizens? rights are nonexistent, for there is no structure to foster them, and moreover, rights are derived from society. They do not occur naturally. He also believed that society must come together to find a general will, or the closest facsimile thereof, for no group of people have or will ever be able to reach a consensus as to what is best for all. Rousseau?s general will is really very idealistic, as it is not the sum of individual wills, but rather one for the overall public good. In short, he believed that one must sacrifice natural freedom for civil freedom.
Rousseau also held a negative view of human nature, claiming that that historically executives have cared very little about the best interest of their people. He did not believe, though, that an executive is sovereign, but that right lies in the people. Subsequently, Rousseau maintained that every government is subject to change that will inevitably occur when the will of the people changes, or when an executive doesn?t follow the general will.
Rousseau?s aforementioned theory is very similar to the government the United States has today. Oftentimes individual freedoms are conceded for the good of society as a whole. Although each individual in the U.S. today may not agree to agree with the decisions made by our leaders, we are bound to the rules that the sovereign, the people, have created.
Locke and Rousseau extensively contradicted each other on the concept of the nature of war, also. Rousseau pragmatically claimed that a state of war can only occur between two or more nations, never among individuals. Locke dissented, asserting that the state of war is simply a revolution against an invasion on sovereignty, be it individual or governmental.
Although the ideas of both Locke and Rousseau elusively present themselves in U.S. government today, the concepts stemming from Rousseau?s severe distrust of government manifest themselves strongly in American political culture. As a result of his theories concerning the executive?s natural tendency to abuse power, elected officials are held much more accountable for their actions, and they are heavily scrutinized to ensure they are maintaining the public good.
Several of John Locke?s ideas also appear predominantly in American politics today. In The Second Treatise, Locke makes allusion to a need for some protection of victims? rights, a topic that has been heatedly debated in the modern American political system for some time. Locke also comes out as a strong proponent of capital punishment, another issue that has been timelessly controversial in our society. He also placed a very strong emphasis on limited government, which is a fundamental component of the ideologies of both the modern republican and libertarian parties.
Despite the fact that Locke and Rousseau?s ideas clearly exemplify both sides of the modern political spectrum (Locke representing the right, and Rousseau the left), a balance between Locke?s desire for protection of the individual liberties and Rousseau?s need for a structured society had managed to balance itself out quite well.