The Philosophies Of Locke And Rousseau

Rousseau and Locke had many opposing views. The Founding Fathers were most likely more influenced by Rousseau's belief in freedom.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau makes it explicitly clear in his writings, "The Social Contract and Discourses" that he believes strongly in personal freedom and autonomy. Rousseau believed that a truly free government is one where everyone votes, every citizen. Rousseau argues that by everyone surrendering his or her rights to the sovereign equally they maintain freedom. He believes man has the most freedom in the state of nature, but because man has the ability to rationalize and the desire to be social, he must enter a social contract with others in order to have a free and equal society. Rousseau adamantly defends his belief in autonomy in his Discourses on the State of Nature, the Social Contract, and Sovereignty.

Rousseau believes that for man to exit a State of Nature he must agree to a Social Contract. Rousseau's "Social Contract" in the simplest terms is, "each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and in our capacity, we receive each member as indivisible part of the whole" (Rousseau. P. 192). Unfortunately, this Social Contract will require all individuals to relinquish their rights to the legislative whish is to be made up of all citizens, and raises a question about personal autonomy and freedom in Rousseau's philosophy. The Social Contract allows individuals in the State of Nature to establish a whole community. It may be argued that by asking people to give up their rights, that they are subjecting themselves to inequality. Rousseau counters that argument:

These clauses, properly understood, may be reduced to one, the total alienation of each associate, together with all his rights, to the whole community; for, in the first place, as each gives himself absolutely, the conditions are the same for all; and, this being so, no one has any interest in making them burdensome to others. (Rousseau, John-Jacque. "The Social Contract." The Social Contract and Discourses, P. 191)

If people did not give up their rights, they could not leave the State of Nature. Rousseau claims that everyone gives up his or her rights equally:

Finally, each man, in giving himself to all, gives himself to nobody; and as there is no associate over which he does not acquire the same right as he yields others over himself, he gains an equivalent for everything he loses, and an increase of force for the preservation of what he has. (Rousseau. P.192)

The Social Contract also keeps people from being totally alienated and affords them better protection. If a large group of people enter a Social Contract, they can more easily defend themselves against their enemies, and criminals who live in societies with no Social Contract. Thus in spite of giving up some individual rights for the Social Contract, they have not lost any more freedom, because all within the society have surrendered their rights freely and equally, and suffer the same inequality. In other words, all things being equal, man is still free, and maintains autonomy. Everyone must surrender his or her rights for the social contract to work. If one person gives up their rights and another does not, the person who does not has power over the other person and there is no contract. However, it is to a person benefit to agree to the social contract, because by giving up the freedom of Natural Liberty an individual gains Civil Liberty. Natural Liberty is the freedom man maintains in the State of Nature. Civil Liberty is freedom you have in society, freedom gained from the social contract. Rousseau argues in chapter eight of the Social Contract, What man loses by the social contract is his natural liberty and an unlimited right to everything he tries to get and succeeds in getting; what he gains is civil liberty and the proprietorship of all he possesses. If we are to avoid mistake in weighing one against the other, we must clearly distinguish natural liberty, from civil liberty. . . (Rousseau, P.196)



John Locke was the son of a wealthy family who sought to maintain and justify his family's wealth in the chapter "Of Property" in his Second Treatise of Government. Locke believes that the purpose of government is to protect property and that societies were set up to avoid civil or foreign wars that may occur over the dispute of property. Locke attempts to rationalize the right of men having "unequal possessions of the earth" (Locke 29), but fails because he does not recognize that unequal ownership of property does not allow for the basis of his argument that ownership of property is only justified if there is good and enough for others (Locke, 20).

Locke believes that at the beginning man lived in common ownership of the earth (Locke, 18). Man is blessed with the ownership of property in his own person (Locke, 19). Rousseau argues, the contrary, saying man is not property. When man combines his labour, with land that is common to all men, he appropriates property in the land he tilled (Locke, 20). Ownership of anything was the fruit of man's labor. The man who picks the apples has ownership in those apples, because he combined his labour with that of nature (Locke, 19). Like Rousseau, Locke discusses the State of Nature. Locke's State of Nature differs from Rousseau's. Locke believes man in the State of Nature has the right to:

as much as any one can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils, so much he may by his labour fix a property in: whatever is beyond this, is more than his share, and belongs to others. Nothing was made by god for man to spoil or destroy. (Locke, 20)

Man obtained property through his labour and the availability that there was good and enough for others and that he would not appropriate more than he can use. Locke's argument so far is sound, but greedy. However, when he tries to use this argument as the foundation of his justification for unequal property he contradicts himself.

Locke argues that man would use the goods of his labour to barter with others and appropriate different goods. No man was allowed to appropriate more than he could barter or use. Some goods were worth more than others; for example, maybe one year there is a shortage of corn but an abundance of mutton, obviously the corn has more value and the person who grew the corn therefore more wealth. Locke claims that eventually man agreed to allow a certain metal or jewel common to all, that was not perishable, serve as money to appropriate goods. Locke states "and as different degrees of industry were apt to give men possessions in different proportions, so this invention of money gave them the opportunity to continue and enlarge them" (Locke, 29).

Locke's argument would be valid if there was good and enough for others to labour upon and gain wealth (Locke, 20), but since there is not because of unequal property, he has merely set up a system in which the government could be overthrown, but wealth maintained in the same hands. If no man should appropriate more than he can use and beyond this share is for others (Locke, 20), what right does man have to massive property when others are starving and have none? Locke would probably argue that the fruits of their labour will grant them property and that they should work harder, but on what property should they labour upon, if all property has been divided? Today, farmers are paid not to grow or to burn excess grain and food. Does not this unused share of land and the right to labour upon it then belong to others? If unequal ownership is started with the appropriation of property, do not the laws that applied to that appropriation apply ad infinitum?

Rousseau and Locke differ in many ways. Rousseau creates a utopian society designed to give all men equal representation under the law. Rousseau claims that from Civil Liberty man gains "what is called Moral Liberty which alone makes him master of himself; for the impulse of appetite is slavery, while obedience to a law which we prescribe to ourselves is liberty" (Rousseau, P.196). In the state of nature, there are certain natural inequalities, strength, age, and sex that allow some individuals to have more liberties than others hold. The social contract removes these inequalities, and, because all inequalities are given up before forming a Commonwealth, it makes all men equal under the law. The society Locke creates, known as capitalism, is a system of greed and unequality that can not be justified. No man has the right to appropriate more than his share. If he does this takes away from the ability of others to self persevere and we will have reverted back to a state of war that both Locke and Rousseau claim was the reason for setting up a society. The Second Treatise on Government should be renamed the Second Treatise on Maintaining, Greed, Wealth, and Power, because that is what it is. Locke's arguments favor those who have wealth. Those who have none are left to try to obtain property and wealth in a system designed to maintain the status quo of those with wealth and property. Therefore, the factory worker who labours ninety hours a week never obtains wealth and property although he has laboured long and hard. However, the wealthy son of the landowner, who has never worked a day in his life, maintains the wealth of his ancestry without the least bit of labour. Under Rousseau's system the people, who are supposed to act for the general good, could pass legislation creating greater economic equality amongst the population.

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