John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were two very important philosophical thinkers of their time. John Locke was a prominent thinker from England, sometimes revered as the Father of Classical Liberalism due to his philosophical writings. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a philosopher, writer and composer from Geneva who greatly influenced the French Revolution as well as the development of politics, sociology, and education. Both famous philosophers are two of the most prominent Enlightenment theorists of social contract.
The social contract is a theory that originated during the Enlightenment, it usually addresses the origins of typical society and it questions and discusses the legitimacy of the authority of the state and government over the individual. Even though they are both major contributors to the social contract theory, their views vary and differentiate in many ways. John Locke believed that individuals in a state of nature would be bound morally, this would usually not make them harm each other, but without a government to protect them from those willing to break the moral code, they would have no sense of security and would live in constant fear.
At the same time Locke also stated “that all government in the world is merely the product of force and violence, and that men live together by no other rules than that of the beasts, where the strongest carries it… ”(Uzgalis) and this belief was the basis for his educated view and explanation of the social contract. Even though John Locke believed in this, in some way it would also mean that he would be negating a very central distinction between legitimate and illegitimate government.
He believed that legitimate government could come through violence as long as the people being governed give consent. John Locke’s view of government was that its legitimacy is derived from “just powers from the consent of the governed” (Friend). Jean-Jacques Rousseau has two different social contract theories. The first one explains the political and moral progression of human beings over time, from a young state of nature to a modern society (Friend). He believes this one to be problematic, because it has a naturalized account of the social contract.
The second theory is meant to provide answers in which to help alleviate the problems that modern society has created. Rousseau also implied in his social contract that “there was no meaningful difference between the authority of a despot and that of a monarch” (Doyle p. 66). He based political rights on popular sovereignty. The main differences between the two philosophers social contract theories were the basis of political rights. Locke believed that representative government was a good thing, while Rousseau believed that the people as a whole should be involved with lawmaking.
This difference can be clearly linked to the English and French revolutions. Just as Locke wanted the people to submit themselves to a government, the English during the revolution wanted to have a government that would represent them, while Rousseau stated that the government should be made of all people as a whole when it comes to lawmaking, just like the French Revolution wanted an end to a government that did not provide them with their needs and did not properly represent them.
Citations Doyle, William. The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001. Print. Friend, Celeste. “Social Contract Theory. ” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N. p. , 15 Oct. 2004. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. . Uzgalis, William, “John Locke”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed. ), URL = .