Historical Complexity Behind Writings Of Rousseau And Locke

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Historical complexity behind writings of Rousseau
  3. Historical complexity behind writings of Locke
  4. Conclusion
  5. Reference


Immanuel Kant answered the question of what is enlightenment. He said: 'It is the departure of human from the stage of mental failure and reaching the age of maturity or age of majority.' (2009). The Enlightenment was a broad political, social, cultural and philosophical movement that developed significantly in the 18th century in Europe. It originated in England but the real development was in France. The views of philosophers, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Charles de Montesquieu, who studied their writings, state of nature, The Social Contract, and sovereignty according of their political and social thought. The age of English Enlightenment was absolutely different from French Enlightenment in 18th century, the English knew the Enlightenment before the French, and the most famous enlightenment philosophers in England are John Locke, and Adam Smith. And without John Locke, the French Voltaire would not have been. But the events of each of Franc and England were aimed at human orientation; human was the first and last goal of each English and French philosopher, but since each of them came from a different time and lived within a different events each of them had different ways and different answer for the same question and that is how they affected the society and took them to the same aim through different roads and ways. And in the first section of this article I tried to explain the political background of Rousseau and how he influenced the French society and led them to a bloody revolution in 1789 by his writings and ideas. And in the second section I also explained the political background of Locke and his influences over the English people that led to the glories revolution in 1642.

Historical complexity behind writings of Rousseau

In his book Discourse on the origin of inequality Jean-Jacques Rousseau changed reader’s consideration of each social, political issue and about causes of establishing a states and law, and also about social contract. In this book Rousseau determined the origin of the existence of differences, and discord among people, the causes and the historical development of this inequality. He believes that human being or an individual in a pre-social or in nature of state was all equal in exercise of their freedom. But first stage that devoted differences between people began when they asked for a law and social contract and that is how there became someone who owns property and also those who not. And he thinks privet property has led to differences or inequality and people divided in to reach and poor. Second stage, started with creating authoritarians and ruling and in this term people divided in to those who have power and authority to rule and normal people who don’t have power, and that produced a new kind of differences which they are strong people and weak people. Third phase began when legitimate authority replaced with authoritarian authority, and this stage has produced masters and slaves. And all this was not acceptable for Rousseau and he said that people or individuals they has already given up so much to have a system or law in order to maintain security and to protect their life. While in state of nature there was equal freedom, but after third stage there was equal in slavery, individuals became slaves to the ruler and ruler became a slave to his desires and lust and power. (Rousseau, 2011) Since one of the reasons for taking taxes from people was that king does not have money to hold parties, especially after seven years’ war with Britain and American war of independence. And this brought society into a state of corruption and vice. In the Estates-General in 1789 the representative protested and separated from the council and they formed National Assembly and call for drafting a new constitution, and they issue the Declaration right of people. And here we see the influence of Rousseau of Franc revolution, for Rousseau the only solution is to change and he explained to ways of changing which they are peaceful change which is based on education and upbringing and second way is change via violence and revolution. In his book he explained the need for a revolution as only way to change and at the end of his book he explained that tyrannical ruler will remain in strong as long as he is has power and can only be removed by force from greater or at least equal power. He thinks use of violence in the revolution is legitimate as much as the power of the king. (McDonald, 2013) Therefore, people stormed the Bastille prison, which was a symbol of royal power and weapon store and they also arrested the king and executed on charges of treason in 21 January 1793 and that is how French got rid of absolutism and republican age began. In his book Rousseau also mentioned new civilization he thinks that interaction between individual interests even if intended to promote a new civilization could not result in any natural harmony. And this lead to Reign Of Terror in 5 September 1793, when commit of public safety which lead by Robespierre they killed 400000 people on charges of treason of revolution in order to make social and cultural changes.

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Historical complexity behind writings of Locke

English were one of the first peoples to move towards democracy in the age of enlightenment and they did not get their gains at once but it was a gradual issue. And in that period, john Locke lived in England and experienced political, social conflicts, civil wars and many conflicts between parliament and the king. And the most prominent of these conflicts that lasted for a long time between the individual and the king over the powers and authority, and this conflict has many forms sometimes it was directly with the king and sometimes it was with those who were supported the expansion and strengthening the power of the king and there was also a historical conflict between stat authority and church authority. The most important events of emancipation and democracy are the English revolution that took place in England in seventeen century. On the contrary of democracy although the majority was Protestants but they ruled by a minority catholic monarchy and the caused conflict between people and king. It was impossible for kings to change the doctrine of most people and this was a threat of their absolute power. Locke explained the need of limiting the church authority and not to interfere in the political and social life in general. Although parliament supported Protestant people but the king’s authority was absolute and he appointed to the highest position and the royal court only those who from Catholics and the army were taking orders from a king and people rebelled and revolted. Locke was in favor of parliament against the king and against the absolute power of the king because he believed that those religious’, sectarian wars in England in that period and even before has been led to loss of the lives of millions of people. Because of all this John Locke felt the need to define a clear concept of power or governance, and the relationship of this authority to society, and how it is formed? For Locke the social contract depends on to sides ruling and people. The task of ruler is to protect liberty, property, and equality and the common good of the people, and also people have an obligation to abide by the laws, duties, and resolve their disputes by resorting to the judiciary. He also said that it is the right of people to cancel the contract, and remove the ruler if he neglects his duties and this right came from people who give up their rights to this authority for the public interest not in favor of the king. (Boucher, Kelly, 2017, p. 184) And this exactly happened in Glorious Revolution when people united with parliament against the king or Catholicism and in the first step the began the right of anti-Catholic in 1679, and they refused to let the catholic dynasty lasts in England after the birth of the sun of king James||, that is why parliament offered the crown to the Dutch prince William orange, he was husband of Mary the daughter of James ||they said that Locke had met the prince in 1687 and he tried to persuade him to comes to England (LG Schwoerer, 1990, p. 3). And because he was a protestant and he also accepted the contract that wanted by people which based on limiting royal power, freedom of speech, and free elections. The English Revolution differed from the French Revolution, which was peaceful and it was not bloody like the French Revolution, but still achieved its objectives.


We note in this quick and simplified view that the era of English and French revolutions, and the West in general in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, provided a fertile ground for the ideas that followed these two centuries, in liberalism, democracy and human rights, as we also note how much the West preceded us in philosophy, thought, politics and the study of morality and virtue From a high human perspective, while we stand today reluctant to adopt or reject Western thought, but if we study each of those philosophers and their theory’s we can know or choose the most appropriate ideas that fits with geospatial and temporal geography in which we are now.


  1. Boucher, D. and Kelly, P. eds., 2017. Political thinkers: from Socrates to the present. Oxford University Press.
  2. Rousseau, J.J., 2011. Discourse on the Origin and the Foundations of Inequality among Men. Bedford/St. Martins.
  3. McDonald, J., 2013. Rousseau and the French Revolution 1762-1791. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  4. Kant, I. and Nisbet, H.B., 2009. An Answer to the Question ‘What is Enlightenment'?. London: Penguin Books.
  5. Schwoerer, L.G., 1990. Locke, Lockean Ideas, and the Glorious Revolution. Journal of the History of Ideas, 51(4), pp.531-548.
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Historical Complexity Behind Writings Of Rousseau And Locke. (2021, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/historical-complexity-behind-writings-of-rousseau-and-locke/
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