Anirudh Katipally, Jack Bonadies, Will Fricke

Edited by Will Fricke


John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were 17th and 18th century political theorists, whose ideas were a large part of the foundations of the American government. Their contributions are found in Thomas Jefferson's justifications for revolution in the Declaration of Independence through the checks and balances system in the Constitution.


John Locke, born August 29th, 1632, in the village of Wrington, was a political theorist whose work formed the basis of the theoretical arguments of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He was a highly educated individual, attending prestigious schools like the Westminster School in London, eventually moving on to Oxford University. After he obtained a Master's in 1658 and later on a degree in Medicine in 1674, he joined the retinue of Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury. He worked with him for a few years, even saving his life in a dangerous liver surgery. Locke had to then flee to the Netherlands in 1673 after he was put under suspicion during the Rye House Plot, a scheme to assassinate King Charles II.

In 1689, Locke printed his magnus opus, the The Two Treatises of Government, the latter of which contained many theories and themes that later appeared in the foundations of American government. One such theory was the state of nature, the idea of the state of humanity when it is not governed. Unlike his contemporary Thomas Hobbes who believed that man was dangerous and violent without government, Locke believed that all men are created equal unless the Creator deems you fit to be a ruler, and that without government men live to keep themselves happy. He also believed that the state of nature was not violent and turbulent, but cooperative and peaceful.

He argued that the reason that men join into a government is not because they are vicious and cruel and must be kept under control by civil authority as Hobbes would argue, but for the preservation of life, liberty, and property. In a state of nature, land is universally shared, but once a person puts their labor into land and develops them, it belongs to them. By doing so, conflicts may arise over land, and government is necessary to protect those rights. Also, even though men are not violent by nature, without government there is always the possibility of invasion and disorder, and government exists to free men from those worries and protect them and what they own.

Another important contribution to the American cause for independence and their future system of government was his social contract theory. He believed that no matter the kind of government, monarchy or republic, there had to be a contract between the people of a society and those who ruled the society, in which the rulers guaranteed the rights of life, liberty, and estate towards their people and made sure not to violate those rights. If those rights were violated, Locke argued that the people had the right of revolution and overthrow the government, as the social contract had been violated, and the consent of the people had been withdrawn.

While not an initially popular work, the Treatises became very influential in the thoughts of the colonists during the mid 18th Century, rising to prominence after many of the ideals from the Treatises were invoked during the debates over the Stamp Act.

Locke was able to return to England after the Glorious Revolution, and by then had published the aforementioned Treatises as well as another influential work, the Essay Concerning Human Understanding. He died in 1704, spending the last of his years living on an estate with a close friend.


Thomas Hobbes, born April 5, 1588 in the English county of Wiltshire, was an English philosopher and scientist who lived during the War of the Roses. He was abandoned by his father at a young age and was left under the care of his uncle, who also abandoned Hobbes and his siblings after a fight with a clergyman. Hobbes was taken in during his teen years by well educated individuals, who helped him receive an education of his own at Oxford's Hertford College. It was not until 1629, when he found work in Paris, that Hobbes began to write about political theory and philosophy. He moved to Paris to work as a tutor, and did so until 1636, when the task was finished. It was then that Hobbes joined a philosophy club in Paris, where Hobbes became a regular debater. Five years after Hobbes's return to England in 1637, England was in all out civil war.

Hobbes's most famous work, Leviathan, was published during the English Civil War. The novel is a parody on what life would be like without strong government. Influence by the bloodshed around him and evidence for the need of strong government, Hobbes argues that in a state of nature, men are "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short," and that it is every man for himself with no rules. According to Hobbes, a man in a state of nature, without government, has self-preservation as their primary objective and will do anything to further their own survival, no matter the cost to others.

Hobbes felt that the role of the state was very limited. He advocated for a government, run at the consent of the governed, whose only responsibilities were the protection of the people, protection from foreign enemies, and to provide police to ensure domestic tranquility. He believed in the power or a single sovereign who had unlimited power in order to maintain the peace, but who offered the most independence for individuals possible. The people, according to Hobbes, do not have a right to rebel against the government, because without the government, men will go back into a state of nature, ensuring their destruction.

Many of Hobbes's views can be related to the English Civil War. During the war, an estimated 190,000 people died of wounds and disease, equivalent to 11 million Americans dying in today's terms. With so much bloodshed, it is not surprising that Hobbes felt that a strong monarch and government could prevent such horrors.

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a political philosopher and Freemason born June 28 1712 in Geneva. In Geneva he witnessed the sham democracy going on in Geneva where he and all other male citizens were promised democracy yet a secret executive committee of the wealthy ruled all affairs. His dad inevitably got into legal trouble with one of the wealthy families which ruled and as a result fled leaving him with De Warens, a man he came to idolize. He eventually left Geneva moving to Paris and meeting Diderot a philosopher who he began to idolize. When he moved back again to Geneva in 1754 he reconverted to Calvinism and began his work on Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, and later in 1762 began work on The Social Contract.

The Discourse on the Origin of Inequality was written in 1754 by Rousseau in response to the question, “What is the origin of inequality among men, and is it authorized by natural law?” Rousseau responds claiming that the two main inequalities are natural inequality, differences in physical being, and the much more harmful moral inequality which creates differences in power and wealth. He claims that civil society is based upon moral inequalitities. He also claims that the natural man’s only care is self preservation, there is no fear, anxiety, or jealously as opposed to Hobbes’ opinion on natural man. When natural man is introduced into a society, emotions such as competition, self-comparison, hatred, and urge for power emerge. “Property is the beginning of evil,” claims Rousseau, yet at the same times he realizes that property is going to stay and as a result it needs to be protected. This is where civil society becomes necessary.

Published in 1762, The Social Contract, became one of Rousseau's most famous works. In this book, Rousseau states the ideas that everyone is born free into a state of nature which is very primitive. This state is better left for the benefits of morality, necessity, and cooperation. For matters of private property and competition law must be made. These benefits can be given by joining a social contract giving up natural rights for the greater good of general will. Rousseau stresses direct democracy in an assembly similar to a city state in which only the people can control a legislative. The main idea of his Social Contract is to give up personal natural rights living in a state of nature for civil society with rights for the greater good specifically the right of private property.


John Locke's legacy is found primarily in the words of the Declaration of Independence, as Thomas Jefferson included many of his ideas and theories. The phrase that Jefferson used, "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." This was taken from The Second Treatise, as Locke states that all men are entitled to the rights of life, liberty, and property. Jefferson also invoked Locke when he stated that it is the right of the people to overthrow the government if the government violates the rights of the people.

The legacy of Thomas Hobbes is based around the ideas found in Leviathan. His avocation for weak government that only exists for protection still influences policy around the world.

Rousseau, due to the fact that he was widely read by most of the founding fathers, left a significant impact in the Constitution especially when it comes to matters of state's rights and liberties.


1. Who believed that the state of nature of man was peaceful and cooperative?
a) Locke
b) Hobbes
c) Rosseau
d) Montesquieu

2. Rousseau believed which to be more corrupt:
a) State of Nature
b) Civil Society
c) Neither

3. Hobbes believed the government to be the protector of all of these EXCEPT
a. the people
b. police
c. economic failure
d. foreign threats

4. Locke believed that the government established by the people could be a monarchy or a republic
a) True
b) False

5. One of the main ideas of Rousseau's Discourse on the Origin of Inequality is:
a) There are natural and moral inequalities both which are equally dangerous
b) Property is a way to solve disputes and inequalitites
c) Moral inequalities are the main causes of conflict although natural inequalities can also cause conflict
d) In a human's natural state he is unable to control feelings of jealousy and competition

6. What was one word Hobbes used to describe man in a state of nature?
a) violent
b) angry
c) short
d) tempered

7. What type of government did Hobbes advocate?
a) direct democracy
b) free republic
c) harsh dictatorship
d) absolute monarchy


social contract - agreement and consent of people to be governed by their chosen form of government

state of nature - the state of man without government

right of revolution - argument by Locke of the right of the people to withdraw consent to be governed and overthrow the current form of government

Works Cited:

Uzgalis, William. "John Locke." (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). N.p., 2012. Web. 19 Sept. 2012. <>.

"Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy." Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Sept. 2012. <>.