Locke, John (1631–1704)

Author:Robert K. Faulkner
Pages:1639-1640
 
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Page 1639

John Locke, the English philosopher of enlightenment, formulated the basic doctrines that influenced the American Framers of 1787. While his famous Second Treatise, "Of Civil Government" (1688), alludes to various traditional ways to limit governments, it sets forth an effectual new way, later called liberal CONSTITUTIONALISM. That comprised a sphere of individual liberty, fenced by a right to property, and fixed government, constituted by a majority's consent. Constitutional or civil government is to be representative, responsible, and limited, with powers separated as well as effective, and it is to be kept to its FUNDAMENTAL LAW by a perpetual threat of popular rebellion.

The first of Locke's Two Treatises of Government rebutted Robert Filmer's contention that monarchy exists by divine right, derived from the fatherly authority of Adam and of God. Locke thrust at paternalism, which he regarded as the natural foundation of uncivil government and of inhumane civilization in general. Mankind has inclined unthinkingly to obey fathers, who grew to be patriarchs of families and chiefs of tribes, and finally to be oppressive kings and nobles upheld by wealth, power, and the servile flatteries of traditional faiths. The Letter concerning Toleration (1689) espoused freedom of conscience and SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE. Locke tried to remove religion from the magistrate's armory and to remake churches into voluntary associations keeping watch on government and on one another. The Letter counsels public toleration of religion, but as a thing merely private, and only of civil religions willing to tolerate other faiths and to obey the civil powers. In other writings Locke advocated a reasonable Christianity and a worldly and private education, and he explained human understanding prosaically, as reliably derived from sense impressions rather than from intuitions or divinations.

The first chapters of the Second Treatise set forth the famous doctrine of individualism: human beings are naturally free, equal, and occupied with securing themselves, not naturally subordinate to a superior or oriented to something noble or true above themselves. They are not subject to fathers or mothers so soon as they can "shift for themselves," or to husbands or wives if they no longer consent to be spouses, or to some gentleman or lord in his vineyard or estate. On the contrary, they have a natural right to acquire the means of life, to...

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