Opposition of John Locke's and Rousseau's Political Theories

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John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau have very opposite ideals as to how society and politics could best be run. While Locke believes in the state of nature, Rousseau thinks that general will is best. I will explain the differences between Locke and Rousseau’s ideas and argue that both have valid and invalid points to make a society work.

John Locke has an ideal that justice is in terms of the state of nature. In his writings he addresses that political power should be defined based on person’s natural instinct. In the Second Treatise of Government, Locke states, “...we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man” (Locke, sec. 4, pg 8). This is arguing that each individual has a right to themselves and everything they have worked for is their own, as long as it does not exceed the laws of nature. Locke also states that each person needs to rely on themselves and not others, however later in his text he explains the role of a parent. A child is born free; however, they do not understand reason, so the parent must guide them, like a monarch, until the child attains the state of freedom (Locke, pg 30-42). While freedom is a core value Locke uses throughout the Second Treatise of Government, he also explains the relevance of equality.

Two, out of the three, major laws of nature according to Locke are freedom and equality. As I have explained above, everyone is born free, aside from the fact that the parent must teach the child until they understand reason. Locke believes that all are to be seen as equals and that one person should not be above another, and everyone is born to all the same advantages of nature (Locke, sec. 4, pg 8). He stresses that people have equality and are free to do as they please; however, they do not have power over another. Due to everyone being equal and having freedom, this does not give a person permission to abuse others and if a crime is committed, an equal punishment must be recieved. In his chapter on the state of nature; he address the invasion of a person rights from another, “And that all may be restrained from invading others rights, and from doing hurt to one another, and the law of nature be observed, which willeth the peace and preservation of all mankind… whereby everyone has a right to punish the transgressors of that law to such a degree…” (Locke, sec. 7, pg 9). This insinuates that if you commit a crime violating another's state of nature, you will receive a punishment of equal consequence. Locke also goes to explain that aside from freedom and equality; the other main principles associated with natural law is property.

Locke explains that property is an upholding requirement to have the natural law work. Property is a means of work and Locke stretches the idea that due to us owning our own bodies, the labor in which the body performs comes with that (Locke, sec. 27, pg 19). He uses an apple as an example to explain that the labor you put in determines what is yours, however you should not be taking more than you need or you are then taking from others. Locke argues, “He that gathered a hundred bushels of acorns or apples, had thereby a property in them, they were his goods as soon as gathered. He was only to look, that he used them before they spoiled, else he took more than his sharem and robbed others” (Locke, sec. 46, pg 28).

A main point he tries to contend is that it is important that you put in the effort for your goods, however it is selfish and dishonest if you take more than you need and take goods away from others. He later brings in the factor of money. Money allows for accumulation of wealth without violating the no-spoilage rule. However, money brought about consequences which do technically violate the natural law. Money in Locke’s view violates the state of nature by; “This partage of things in an inequality of private possessions, men have made practicable out of the bounds of society, and without compact, only by putting a value of gold and silver…” (Locke, sec. 50, pg 30). This is signifying that their now a factor of wealth and economic inequality, creating a violation of the law of equality. While Locke advocates for a politics based on individual standing, Rousseau has a different view.

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Rousseau on the other hand has a view that general will is how society should be run. The general will is more based off the people as a group. In the laws of general will the rules are implemented by the people during gatherings, where there are no representatives. Rousseau argues, “...so that each person, in making a contract as it were, with himself, finds himself doubly committed, first, as a member of the sovereign body in relation to individuals, and secondly as a member of the state in relation to the sovereign” (Rousseau, pg. 62). A main part of living by the general will, is being a part of a sovereignty, where each citizen is equal and their voices are equally heard. Instead of having representatives the people appoint an executive body that enforces the general will.

The executive body according to Rousseau, “We have seen that the legislative power belongs, and can only belong, to the people… that executive power cannot belong to generality of the people… therefore outside the province of the sovereign which can act only to make laws” (Rousseau, pg 101). The legislative branch is the will, while the executive branch is the law makers. While the general will, which is represented by the legislatures, is a main focus for Rousseau, he also established a lawgiver. The lawgiver is an appointed person who is ungoverned and unbiased, who enforces the laws for the good of the people (Rousseau, pg 84-88). However the people have say over whether or not the government has broken the contract. The government can be dissolved and resistance is justified if the executives overturn the established legitimate process or the legitimate or executive violated individual rights.

When reading both Locke and Rousseau I seemed to agree and disagree with different aspects of their theories. Starting with Locke, I tend to agree more with his policies over Rousseau's. Locke stuck out to me more due to his ideals that the three main aspects of the natural law are based upon equality, freedom and property. I tended to agree with his ideas that each individual is entitled to the property that they have earned, however one should not take more than he or she needs; insinuating that you would be taking property useful to another. However, I disagreed with his contradictory views of freedom. He argues that slavery is unlawful and enslaving others is enslaving oneself, but later in the Second Treatise of Government he argues that slavery is ok in terms of a capital offense (Locke, pg 17-18). I also have mixed opinions on the law of nature when it comes to individual reason. I think that if a person does wrong to you, you can give back equal punishment to an extent.

My problem with this reasoning is one might think that someone is in the wrong, when the other person believes they are in the right and the other is wrong. This can lead to conflict and there is not a median in Locke's society to establish who is correct and what a reasonable punishment would be. While I agreed more on Locke’s policies when it came to individual statues, I found flaws in his reasoning behind not having an established government to keep the peace and relying on the hope that all would understand and obey the laws of nature. I do find aspects of Rousseau to be reasonable, however I disagree with more of his principles than I did Locke.

When considering Rousseau’s The Social Contact, I agreed with his ideals, but some of his concepts made me question his thinking. According to Rousseau the general will is upheld by the people, while the government upholds the laws and freedom. I like that the people have more of a say in what they believe the laws should be to uphold a society that is beneficial to all. I find this to be flawed however, while thinking about a larger society like today, this would not work due to how many people we have in individuals states.

Rousseau’s ideal society seems to be smaller, where each voice is heard during the gathering and are each thinking of laws beneficial to all, while in today's society we have to many people to have a gathering as well as have a total consensus from everyone. He argues, “...that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be constrained to do so by the whole body, which means nothing other than that he shall be forced to be free... secures him against all personal dependence” (Rousseau, pg 64). According to The Social Contact you will either obey the general will of the people or be punished, as well as insinuating the only way the general will works is thinking as a total group rather than an individual. I disagree with this because while having enforced ruled can be helpful, forcing someone to agree with the population and not think or be recognized as an individual is demeaning.

Locke and Rousseau are both brilliant philosophers who have helped to shape today's society. Locke focuses more on an individual standpoint, while Rousseau a group of people as one. While each individual has valid points, they both make arguments that would have flaws in today’s society. I tend to agree more with Locke, when thinking on an individual level, and I agree with Rousseau having more of an established government. I feel as though if they were to combine their views a high functioning society could be possible.

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