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"Two Treatises of Government"

What makes government good? John Locke's answer was that good government came from the people, was for the people, and was by the people. Locke was so influential on a minority revolution in North America in a country that would come to be called The United States.
John Locke was one of the great intellectual thinkers of the 17th century.  He was born in the 1630’s and he is considered in some ways the father of liberal political thought, as well as, many say, the intellectual father of the American Revolution. John Locke was an intellectual from the get-go. His father was a lawyer and he grew up educated at the best private schools of his region and day.

He would attend Oxford University, but, typical of an educated man in his era, he wasn’t just educated in one thing. He was a physician by trade who was educated in medicine, but would make his name for himself as an empiricist. As a scientific experimenter, Locke was part of the small group of men in his age that were dedicated to the proposition that truth came from observing evidence.

Locke got into writing about politics because many of the great questions of his age were political in nature. He came up in the age of the great British Civil War in which it was important to have political ideas and to take sides in politics that was dividing families and townships at the time. Locke spoke into that violent milieu with ideas about good government andhow we could protect ourselves from the sort of instability that was ruining so many lives in his country.
Social Contract
Social Contract
Locke was a prolific author but his grand work is considered to be Two Treatises of Government. The first essay was against patriarchal-ism, the idea that people governed because they had an inherent right to govern. This included Kings who gained leadership either through blood or by some concept of God-given power. The idea that government could be a summation of individuals and could guarantee those individual rights was revolutionary. 

The second treaty on government was about the origin and the proper extent of government in the Lockean ideal. Here he talked about the social contract. He said that government was a deal between the people who were governed and the people doing the governing. And the people who were doing the governing had certain obligations to provide benefits to the people who were being governed. The people being governed had an obligation to bear responsibilities toward government.

Locke’s contribution to social contract theory was to defend the idea of the individual. They were fairly responsible they just needed a little help from government to provide common welfare for everybody involved. People were essentially good, rational, and responsible.If the government that was ruling became odious or flawed, then the people not only had a right but a responsibility to overthrow that government.
This idea was fantastically influential in the American Revolution and then a short while later in the French Revolution itself. In fact, the leaders of both revolutions quoted Locke. Locke was the first person to systematically argue for a separation of powers in government. It was necessary for a just government to have checks and balances so that authority did not become odious and did not forget that it was supposed to serve the people. 

This idea of separation of powers, that no one man or no one institution should call all the shots, became very influential to the founding fathers of America. They set up a government system based on a separation of executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Another idea that Locke championed was the idea of the separation of church and state. In his society there were two great authorities: there was the monarchical government and the church authority, which ostensibly was a faith and moral authority but had become politically powerful. Locke argued that church and government should be separated. 

The political power of the church in Europe in his age was sometimes large and often abusive. Of course, American settlement by early British colonists had a strong religious separatist aspect to it. They loved the idea that religion should be pursued in freedom. No one had previously thought that the individual human had inherent rights given by the creator. People only had a social rights in Locke’s day. It took Locke and a few men like him to convince people that the idea of individual rights was valid.
Pursuit of Happiness
Pursuit of Happiness
If Locke showed up today in the United States he would be blown away by the success of what was sort of a Lockean experiment. I think he would be flattered to see the extent of representation. The discourse of individual rights has become just part of the way that we think and interact in America and even in his native England. 

John Locke did not specify that good government had to be representative democratic government; he just thought it had to be answerable to the people. It could be an answerable oligarchy. It might even be an answerable monarchy if the king or queen was particularly good at responding to the people. I think Locke’s goal in writing the second treaties was to place before people an idea of just government that was both operative and sustainable. If he could manage to help create a government like this, a social contract that truly worked for everyone, then people would be happy. Some say that the phrase life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is drawn directly from Locke. It certainly encapsulates what he wanted to see through a just government and in a just society.

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