Although their ideologies sometimes clashed, and they came from two distinctly
different epochs in the course of political development, John Locke and
Jean-Jacques Rousseaus 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 Lockes and
Rousseaus 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.

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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 its 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 Rousseaus 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 governments 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 mens 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 individuals natural
rights and as well as maintaining security and protecting the individuals
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. Rousseaus 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 doesnt follow the general will.


Rousseaus 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 Rousseaus severe distrust
of government manifest themselves strongly in American political culture. As a
result of his theories concerning the executives 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 Lockes 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
Rousseaus ideas clearly exemplify both sides of the modern political spectrum
(Locke representing the right, and Rousseau the left), a balance between
Lockes desire for protection of the individual liberties and Rousseaus
need for a structured society had managed to balance itself out quite well.