John Locke and the French Revolution
John Locke’s theories had a profound impact on French thinkers and the revolution. Locke believed that a government’s primary goals should be to foster moral responsibility and protect individuals within that government and viewed civil society as an artificial condition that enforced the laws of man. Locke’s views were aimed toward modern democracies and were meant to clarify the relationships between man and state. He believed that government should be selected by and follow the will of the majority, which was a fundamental assertion of the Revolution.
In Two Tracts on Government, Locke argued that the state resulted from a voluntary agreement between individuals who established a sovereign power to protect them from the insecure conditions that accompanied the state of nature that existed without prior to a government and laws. However, Locke insists that there must be limits to political authority, which the French monarchy did not have. Locke contended that the aim of a supreme power is to preserve the state and improve the quality of life for individuals in that society, and the authority of the government must be limited by the will of the people. Contrary to the practice of a monarchy, Locke asserted that the majority of the people are responsible for the nomination and appointment of that government, rather than a divine succession based on bloodlines. This means that the individuals in a society may appoint new leaders if they are unhappy with their government’s actions, as in the case of the French population in 1789. Locke’s concept of limited sovereignty is fundamental to a democratic society, it is the basis of majority rule in which the majority of citizens elects the leaders of the sovereign nation.