Saturday, February 28, 2009

John Locke as the Father of Modern Democracy

John Locke is frequently called the father of modern democracy for his political theory that he developed in Two Treatises of Civil Government (1680-1690). Of the two treatises, the second treatise is specially important in the history of political philosophy. The second treatise was published just one year after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the treatise also justifies the revolution. The political philosophy Locke developed in this work is highly democratic and had much influence on English politics and also on the American constitution. The relationship between the ruler and the ruled he proposes here is of more democratic than any other theories given before him. The ideas that he discusses include equality of men,the consent of the majority,the division of power and the right to rebellion.

State of nature and the equality of men

Locke begins his political philosophy with the treatment of the state of nature.He describes the condition very differently from his contemporary political thinker Hobbes.To Locke the state of nature is not the war of all against all as described by Hobbes.On the other hand men living together according to their reason without a common superior on earth with an authority to judge between them is termed by Locke as the proper state of nature.So,Locke gives emphasis of the equality of men.All men are created by God as equal and no one is superior to other.This concept of equality later influenced Jefferson when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

Private property

To Locke man has some basic rights including the right to property.Even in the state of nature men had the right to property and the justification of property is labor.So,whatever a man transforms from its original condition by his own labour becomes his.By property he also means the life ,liberty and happiness.

Social contract and the consent of the majority

The contract by which men avoided the state of nature and entered into the civil government is the social contract.Men entered into the civil government mainly to preserve his property,that means his life,liberty and happiness.Men also entered into the civil to have an independent and neutral judge. The civil government will also be based on the consent of the majority people. So,the consent of the majority is another democratic element in his theory.According to Locke the absolute government is not the right kind of government as it is not based on the consent of the majority.

Sovereign power

But Locke’s most democratic principles deal with his definition of the sovereign power.The sovereign power is the power of the government.At first,Locke divides the sovereign power into two quarters, namely, legislative and executive .The legislative power should be separated from the executive power is the most revolutionary democratic principle of Locke’s philosophy.The legislative means the parliament which makes the laws.But the legislative body is selected by the general people.To Locke legislative power is held as a trust and is,therefore,only a fiduciary power.So,there remains in the hands of the general people a supreme power to remove or alter the legislative power when they find the legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them.

This leads to the second great democratic principle namely the right to rebellion.According to Locke the transfer of the right to rule from the people to the sovereign is revocable and the people retain the right to make rebellion.Locke says that if the legislative or the executive body engages in the wicked acts the people will take decision to punish accordingly.Locke places sovereignty into the hands of the people.

To sum up, Locke's model consists of a civil state, built upon the natural rights common to a people who need and welcome an executive power to protect their property and liberties; the government exists for the people's benefit and can be replaced or overthrown if it ceases to function toward that primary end.

Locke for the first time introduced the representative government. His ideas heavily influenced, however, both the American and French Revolutions. His notions of people's rights and the role of civil government provided strong support for the intellectual movements of both revolutions.For this reason he is called the father of modern democracy.