John Locke has been described as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. He was a political philosopher. He is known as the "Father of Liberalism." And he is commonly described as having had a profound influence on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
Locke was the son of a Puritan. He began his studies at Oxford in 1652 at the age of 20, and he lectured there from 1661 to 1667. He disliked for scholasticism, and, unlike Plato, he held that words were convention agreed to for the sake of communication. Locke was to be described as one of the founders of modern psychology. He saw people as influenced by their environment. For Locke experiences were mostly external realities passing through the senses, with some of these experiences the product of reflection – the human mind aware of and acting upon itself. Locke believed in God, but he did not include God as a fundamental force within the human psyche, or God as having residence in the human heart. It was humanity's will and way that interested Locke.
In 1675, Locke went to France, and there he met men of science and letters and discussed the world and philosophy. In 1683 he fled the turmoil and recriminations that were a part of the final years of the reign of Charles II. He went into hiding in the United Netherlands, joining other exiles – Germans, Scots, Scandinavians, Jews, Armenians, Turks and Englishmen – many of them seeking freedom from persecution.
Locke returned to England in February 1689, four months after William of Orange but on the same ship as England's returning queen: Mary. Locke by now had some fame. And he was now about to add to that fame with the publishing of two treatises on government,
Locke became an intellectual hero of the Whigs – a political party founded in 1678. The Whigs favored parliamentary power and toleration of those Protestants who dissented from the Church of England: Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists and Quakers.
Locke believed that government should be a social contract. He believed that people were social by nature. He feared the emotionalism of common people, but he believed that most or many people had a capacity to grasp what was and was not human decency. Locke favored toleration. The bigotry that had contributed to Europe's religious wars and atrocities had annoyed him. For a modern society to function well, he believed, it had to be unified not by a single religion but by tolerance. While believing in tolerance he also held that churches should be voluntary societies rather than appendages of state authority – as was the Anglican Church.
Locke favored dispassionate judgment and saw danger in fanaticism, including Bible thumping preachers who orated not to stimulate reason but to frighten.
Locke wrote in favor of a balance of powers. He favored an independent judiciary as a branch of government making decisions based on the nation's constitution. He believed that parliament's duty was to legislate, and the king's duty was to act as chief executive.
Locke had an optimism that was rare among England's conservatives. Like other liberals of his time, Locke believed in education and improving their circumstances. He and other liberals valued freedom to disseminate ideas and rejected the authority of any church in matters of philosophy and science.
Locke believed that it was the duty of government to protect the natural rights of the people: the right to life, liberty, and property. If the government fail to protect these rights, he believed that the contract between a government and its citizens had been broken and that citizens then had the right to overthrow that government.
Locke held that there was no legitimate government under the Divine Right of Kings – the theory that asserted that God chose some people to rule on earth in His will.
Those who hold that the US Constitution is a body of knowledge created by God rather that a work of men with ideas drawn from Locke continues the tradition of belief in God intervening in politics.
Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.