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the comparison of Locke and Rousseau2016-12-23

Locke holds that we have natural rights, rights that inhere in us as

human beings independently of our being members of a political community.

Rousseau denies it, maintaining that all rights come from the state. This has

sweeping consequences for the legitimacy of government power. Locke also

believes that government authority is legitimate only within certain limits; it

is bounded by our natural rights, which we construct governments to preserve.

Since Rousseau recognizes no such rights, he recognizes no such bounds. For

him, government may exercise authority over anything to promote the common

good. That doesn't mean we have no rights; we have the rights the government

allots to us, and no others.


The differences between John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau have to

do as much with attitudes as with systems. Both advocated political liberalism

and religious tolerance, but their conceptions of human nature differed.


Locke believed that humans began as blink board and gradually

acquired knowledge through experience. Education was an important civilizing

force for him. Society depended on a social contract, in which we agree to

behave well to each other reciprocally in order to create preconditions for

good lives (i.e. if everyone agrees not to murder and steal, we can devote our

time to things other than self-defence). Locke admires reason, sees social and

political order as ideally founded on reason and reciprocity, and sees

civilization as admirable.


Rousseau thinks that humans are innately good and that civilization

and traditional schooling are corrupting influences. He sees emotions and

sentiments as more important that Locke does.


Actually,

though they are different on the human nature, Locke is seen as the preceptor

of the rational tradition, whereas Rousseau that of Romanticism. Why this is so

becomes apparent after we have examined their respective ideas on property and

political freedom. At first glance their ideas on political freedom are

similar. They both advance theories of "social contract", in which

the people sacrifice an extent of their freedom towards the greater good of the

state, so that political freedom implies living under a regime of law and

order. The restriction of law provides the security and the stability that

lends a meaningful context for individual freedom. However, their conceptions

of political freedom are also different, and this difference is due to their

differing conceptions of property. Locke sees the individual's right to

property to be the basis of civil society, but civil society itself he views as

a necessary evil. Rousseau, on the other hand, sees property as the source of

all evil, and he envisages a social contract which denies to the individual the

right to property, and proposes that this will give rise to a more just and

equitable society.

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