A political philosophy is a way of thinking about government. It includes answers to the most important questions about government. What is the purpose of government? Who has the right to run the government? What rights do we have if the government is not doing a good job? All of these (and more) are questions answered by political philosophers.
John Locke's Natural Rights Philosophy
John Locke (1632-1704) was an English political philosopher. He did not take part in the American Revolution, but he had more influence on Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers than anyone else. Locke's ideas about government are called the natural rights philosophy. The natural rights philosophy is just one of many ways of thinking about government, but it is the one that most Americans at the time of the Revolution shared.
The most important idea of the natural rights philosophy is that we are all born with certain rights (natural rights). All people have an equal right to life, liberty, and property (Jefferson later changed this to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence). This means that we all have the right to live freely, to do as we wish, and to own property. We get these rights from God because we are human beings. No one else has the right to interfere with our natural rights.
The "State of Nature"
What does this have to do with government? Well, to figure that out, John Locke imagined what life would be like if there were no government. What if there were no laws, no police, no government at all? Locke decided to call this imaginary place without government a state of nature. The idea was that this is what man would be like in his natural state, before any governments had been created.
What would life be like in a state of nature? Remember that Locke thought we all have natural rights to life, liberty, and property, and that no one has the right to interfere with these. The problem, according to Locke, was that in a state of nature, without any laws or any government, some people would always be trying to violate your rights. They would try to steal your property, threaten your life, or make you a slave and take away your freedom. According to Locke, without government your rights would be in constant danger.
The Social Contract
For Locke the problem was to find a way to protect our natural rights so we can all live in peace. Locke thought the best solution was for all the people to agree to create a government which would have the power to make laws and enforce them. Locke called this agreement the social contract.
Under the social contract, the people agree to follow the laws established by the government. In return, they get the safety and security of knowing that their natural rights are being protected. It is important to note that, according to Locke, the government gets its power from the consent of the people. This means that the people create the government and give it the power to make laws. Without the people's consent (agreement), the government has no power. This is the fundamental principle of democracy known as popular sovereignty.
The Right to Revolution
1. Define: political philosophy, natural rights, state
of nature, social contract, right to revolution.
2. What is the problem with the "state of nature?"
3. According to Locke, what is the purpose of
4. According to Locke, where does government get
Finally, Locke said that because the people give the power to the government, the people have the right to take the power away if the government is not doing a good job. Locke argued that if a government does not protect the people's rights, the people have a right to revolution. They have the right to overthrow the government and start a new one. The Founding Fathers used this idea to justify the American Revolution.