The period of the Renaissance in European history (14th Century to 17th century) showed the advancement in literature, culture, architecture. It gave new meaning to art and the development of society.
During the Renaissance, less attention was given to supernatural and religious themes and more thought to humanity and human interaction.
Following the Renaissance period came the enlightenment period (17th and 18th century). This period produced books, scientific discoveries, industrialisation, and, not to forget revolutions ( the French and American Revolution were directly influenced by new ideas – new ideas to make conditions better for humankind ).
The enlightenment thinkers gave importance to science, reason, religious tolerance, and developed theories on how to govern and be governed to help create better societies and better people. This period is the turning point as new principles came and became powerful legacies of Locke, Newton, and Voltaire, etc.
The time before the Renaissance, often referred to as the medieval era or middle ages, was dominated by Church, religion, and feudal lords. The culture of feudalism where feudal lords who were at top of the hierarchy owned lands, and peasants at the bottom, worked and fought for them. During the Renaissance, people were more freer and began to doubt and develop new ideas.
After enlightenment came liberalism. How so and why? The Enlightenment movement established that man is rational. Since man is rational, he should be given the opportunity to questions customs, religion, Church, etc. To do that man can be given rights – the right to question the culture and tradition. So liberalism believes in the concept of the rational man. Hence in liberal societies, the change in politics is through the method of dialogue rather than the method of violence.
Therefore, liberal countries go for the adoption of the theory of social contract by creating a constitution that is made by man, not God. So you do not live under God-made laws (medieval era theory or maybe theocratic states) but man-made laws. That is why their constitution says “We the people”.
Secondly, rights are given to man. These rights limit the powers of the State.
Theocracy is that type of government that uses the power of religious texts to make laws as well as guide government decisions e.g Saudi Arabia.
John Locke ( 1632 – 1704 )
Before Locke, there was Thomas Hobbes who said there is a need for common authority i.e. State, who should govern the people. Both were English philosophers. So, to understand Locke, we need to discuss Hobbes.
Hobbes created an absolute State with no power in the hands of the people whereas Locke believed in a limited State i.e. a State with a minimum role (only to maintain law and order) with power majorly in hands of the people in the form of rights.
For complete article on Hobbes – Click here
Locke is not ready to accept that any rational person will transfer all of his rights to the State and will prefer State absolutism.
Works of John Locke
His books are known as the two treatises on civil government.
Content of Ist treatise on civil government – Locke in his first treatise on civil government, has attacked Robert Filmer. Locke wanted to criticize Hobbes because he gave the theory of State absolutism. But Locke was a person with a practical bent of mind. Hobbes’s books already became very controversial. So he did not want to mention his name. He did not want to land up in any sort of controversy. Instead of attacking Hobbes directly, he directed his criticism against Filmer who had also justified State absolutism.
Filmer also says that the State is the representative of God. Filmer is still relying upon medieval theory. There are two philosophies that justify private property. One is capitalism, but they justify on a rational basis. Another is conservatism or rightist. They justify based on tradition. So Filmer’s concept is conservative.
Content of 2nd treatise on civil government
Locke has witnessed a more stable phase in British politics and especially the glorious Revolution. Hence his description of human nature is not as pessimistic as that of Hobbes.
According to Locke, man is self-centered by nature, but man is rational enough to understand that to serve self-interest, one has to take care of the interest of others. The reason in a man tells him not to harm others. In Locke – reason and passion are present in a balanced way.
State of nature– State of nature is a hypothetical concept to show the state of human life if they are left naturally i.e. when there is no government. As per Hobbes, the State of nature is a state of war as man has no reason, but Locke describes the State of nature as a state of peace. The two scholars take two different views of human nature based on their experiences.
Since the State of nature was a state of war for Hobbes, that is why he prescribes that government and central authority should be there. But for Locke, man was enjoying rights in the State of nature. The presence of reason in man, made him respect the right to life, liberty, and property. So why Locke suggests the need for government?
Locke suggests so because when there is no common authority, every person is a lawmaker, executive, and judge. Reason suggests that no one should be a judge in his own case. Hence to remove the inconvenience, Locke says man enters into a social contract to create a government.
What inconveniences – Since everyone is understanding the reason and law in their own way, it will create confusion because of multiple interpretations which are not convenient for capitalism. Therefore government was needed.
Moreover, it is rational not to leave things on goodwill. For example, a rational person will take insurance. Similarly, for capitalists, it is rationality on their part to create a government – State, a tool of convenience.
Locke also gave the theory of separation of powers – between the three branches of government – Legislatures, Executive, and Judiciary. As reason commands that they should not be fused or concentrated.
What type of State or government will come into existence? Since State or government is just a tool of convenience rather than an absolute necessity, Locke will give only limited powers to the State.
Man has transferred only three right : Right to make law , Right to execute the law , and Right to adjudicate Law.
Man has not transferred all the natural rights – the right to life, liberty, and property. These rights are fundamental rights, fundamental to human existence given to every man by God. Even a State cannot make laws that limit these rights.
In the US, there are absolute rights. There is Freedom of speech and expression (freedom of the press) that assumes you are living in a society where people are rational, where people respect my freedom of speech and yours. This freedom means that I should be tolerant of those with whom I disagree.
As per the statement of Voltaire – I will protect and defend your right to speak even at the cost of my life.
The doctrine of waiver is a USA doctrine – You can give up your rights voluntarily, otherwise, nobody can take it away from you.
He is also talking about equality as modern scholars had started talking about it. The same thing is repeated in the US declaration that God has created all men free and equal.
The right to equality and the right to freedom is natural rights. So no one ought to harm anybody’s life, liberty, property, and health. It means everyone was having these rights even when the State was not created. Therefore, they are natural rights. The State has not created these rights.
The modified version is there in the US declaration of Independence that God has created everyone equal and free and given everyone the right to life, liberty, and pursuit for happiness. Private property is necessary for the pursuit of happiness which is the ultimate end of life. Locke is the source of inspiration to the founding fathers of the USA constitution.
Locke on law and liberty
His Statement – No Law, No Liberty – We do not expect this statement from Locke but he means natural law, not State law.
In the State of nature, man was enjoying liberty because of the presence of natural law i.e. reason. According to Locke, reason in man instructs him not to have the life, liberty, and property of other people.
How liberty is ensured even after creating the State? Even after a State or government is created, man continues to enjoy liberty. why? This is because man has not transferred his life, liberty, and property to the State. Man’s rights remained ensured because the state cannot make any such law that limits these liberties. The law made by the State has to conform to the principle of natural law or reason. Any law that goes against reason will not have validity.
The right to liberty ensures that man is not subject to arrest and detention except as provided for by law.
Thus we see the emergence of the doctrine of ‘due process of law’. The phrase originated in the USA. It empowers the judiciary to even examine the fairness of law that seeks to deprive an individual of its liberty.
For example – when somebody’s detention is challenged before the court. The court first examines whether the executive has been authorized by law to take such an action. Secondly, whether the law has been passed by the competent legislature by following the procedural formalities. Thirdly, whether the law is just, fair and reasonable by applying the principles of natural justice. The judiciary can protect the individuals not only against the arbitrary action of the executive but against the legislature too.
On the other hand, there is a “ procedure established by law” that is followed in England. Under this doctrine, if a person is arrested and detained and is deprived of his life and liberty and his detention is challenged before the court of law, the court will first examine whether there exist any law passed by the legislature that authorizes the executive to deprive the individual of his life and liberty. If such a law is found then the judiciary will examine whether the legislature that passed the law has the competence to pass such a law as per procedures. If the above two conditions are satisfied, the court upholds the detention of the person and will not go behind the intentions of the law and does not test it in terms of being just, fair and reasonable. Thus judiciary protects the individual only against arbitrary action of the executive.
Theory of Property
Locke discusses this in detail – According to him the most important fundamental right.
Locke uses the right to property in an inclusive sense to include life and liberty. He does so because these rights are man’s property only. If a person does not have property, life and liberty carry no significance as the purpose of life is to lead a good happy life, and property is the source for that.
Locke says that the right to property is a natural right or given by God. God has created Apple, milk, and meat. God has created these things so that man can eat, drink and be happy. God has given life to man. God wants man to be happy.
The earlier theory says that God has punished Adam for eating the apple. But Locke refutes this and states that God has created all these things not because a man should sacrifice and not eat, but God wants him to eat as God has no enmity with humans.
Ancient philosopher Buddha teaches us to leave State, power, and aim for moksha. Indian philosophy or way of life is fasting and sacrifice. Materialism is not given any importance.
But ultimately, the material world is the real world. Therefore, Locke and others are bigger philosophers. West has progressed because they are very practical and scientific in their attitudes. We also accept their way is best considering their progress.
The Communist argument is that property is common. Locke agrees that this was in the beginning but common sense says that it will not remain common as the population will increase thereby leadin to gap in demand and supply.
He called the State a night watchman. The chief purpose for which man has created a State is the preservation of property. The only function State has is to protect the property by establishing law and order.
John Locke as a thinker
John Locke is a scholar of possessive individualism. It is a philosophy that is based on the belief that the achievements of men are because of his own efforts and man need not pay back to society.
He is not talking about the rights of the poor. That is why he is known as a scholar of possessive individualism. He is a scholar of the capitalist class. Poor would want the State to have power, take the property, and distribute. His theory of democracy serves the interest of the propertied class. His theory limits the government.
No one talked about the property as much as Locke. So capitalists made him the father.
According to Locke, the State should take minimum tax as State is only like a night watchman. Later on, in capitalism came the concept of the welfare state. So from the welfare state, they have changed the concept from possessive individualism to social individualism. They emphasize man is social and society contributes to our well-being. That is why came the concept of Corporate social responsibility (CSR) – where private business houses contribute to societal goals.
Features of Liberal State
When talking about the liberty of man, we are limiting the authority of the State. As political ideology liberalism stands for a limited State.
- Provision for Fundamental rights,
- Rule of Law,
- Representative Government,
- Separation of powers,
- Secularism / toleration / peaceful co-existence,
- Peaceful methods of changing the persons in the ruling structure.
In liberal countries constitution is the product of an act of man ( social contract rather than given by God ). The USA is nearest to the idea of a liberal State. We can see Lockian’s ideas in operations in the USA.
So how liberal is your country today?