Which philosophers did John Locke influence

Summary of Two treatises on government

From monarchy to parliamentarism

The 17th century was the time of absolutism. In most European countries, kings or princes had absolute power. England was an exception: there was a parliament here, but for a long time it was just an assembly of loyal subjects. However, it grew stronger as the 17th century progressed. The dispute with the king escalated, a civil war ensued, and in 1649 the parliament decided to have the defeated and deposed king executed. In one fell swoop, England was formally a republic - albeit a very fragile one, because with Oliver Cromwell soon a new, strong man rose to become the sole ruler. Just a few years later, after Cromwell's death, it was recognized that it might be better to restore the monarchy in order to let the country rest. And so the heir to the throne was brought Charles II Stuart returned from exile in France and installed him as the new king.

In 1688, England's political system was completely redefined once again. Jacob II had ascended the throne in 1685 and made more and more enemies through his pro-Catholic policy. In July 1688, Jacob's opponents asked William III. of Orange, a Protestant from Holland, for help. In November of the same year he landed with an army on the English coast and forced Jacob II to flee. This bloodless coup was in retrospect called the "Glorious Revolution". Wilhelm was offered the crown of England on one condition: he had to sign a paper strengthening the rights of Parliament. Wilhelm accepted and was crowned king in 1689. The document he signed became common law as the "Bill of Rights". It regulated, among other things. the parliament's obligation to approve laws and taxes, guaranteed parliamentary freedom of speech, created the right to petition and created a jury. With this, England made the transition from autocratic rule to parliamentary monarchy.

What happened in England during these 40 years (between 1649 and 1689) - the people as sovereign, the separation of powers, the protection of individual freedom and property and, above all, the regulation of society through formal laws and not through arbitrary decrees by a ruler - was crucial for the further development of western civilization. But there was still no theory that would explain all of this. This was first created by John Locke with his Two Treatises on Government.


John Locke was considered an important philosopher during his lifetime, especially after his main work An Essay Concerning Human Understanding was published in 1690. It was not until the beginning of the 18th century that it became known that the Two Treatises of Government (Zwei Treatises on the government) came from his pen, for fear of reprisals he had published the pamphlet anonymously in 1690. The political background in Locke's time was explosive: England was torn between monarchy, civil war and parliamentarism. Locke vehemently opposed the "divine right" of the monarchists and developed a state model that could be described as liberal.

Impact history

Locke's ideas first influenced the French Enlightenment. The idea of ​​a social contract can be found in the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau again. Rousseau himself drafted a social contract (Contrat social), which provided for the political order through agreements. Charles de Montesquieu propagated just like Locke the separation of powers in order to limit the abuse of power by a ruler. Its variant of the separation of powers, which is still valid today, consists of the legislature (legislative power), executive (executive power) and jurisdiction (judicial power). In Germany Locke could never achieve the same reputation as in France: his bourgeois philosophy seemed too peasant and clumsy to the Germans. Locke's book was reprinted far more often in England, France and the USA than in Germany.

Locke's ideas fell on fertile ground, especially in early America. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the American Declaration of Independence of 1776: “We take the following truths for granted: that all human beings are created equal; that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights by their Creator; that this includes life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness; that in order to safeguard these rights, governments are set up among the people who derive their rightful power from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government proves to be detrimental to these ends, it is the right of the people to change it or to abolish it and to set up a new government, and to build it on such principles and organize its powers as it suits them to guarantee its Security and happiness seem to be the order of the day. "Locke's ideas have become political reality almost word for word.