5 Great Thinkers of the Enlightenment _Molony_

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					                           Five Great Thinkers Driving Enlightenment Ideals

Hobbes: Moral and Political Philosophy

The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) is best known for his political thought, and deservedly
so. His vision of the world is strikingly original and still relevant to contemporary politics. His main concern is
the problem of social and political order: how human beings can live together in peace and avoid the danger
and fear of civil conflict. He poses stark alternatives: we should give our obedience to an unaccountable
sovereign (a person or group empowered to decide every social and political issue). Otherwise what awaits us
is a “state of nature” that closely resembles civil war – a situation of universal insecurity, where all have
reason to fear violent death and where rewarding human cooperation is all but impossible.

One controversy has dominated interpretations of Hobbes. Does he see human beings as purely self-
interested or egoistic? Several passages support such a reading, leading some to think that his political
conclusions can be avoided if we adopt a more realistic picture of human nature. However, most scholars now
accept that Hobbes himself had a much more complex view of human motivation.
Political Philosophy of John Locke

John Locke (1632-1704) presents an intriguing figure in the history of political philosophy whose brilliance of
exposition and breadth of scholarly activity remains profoundly influential.

Locke proposed a radical conception of political philosophy deduced from the principle of self-ownership and
the corollary right to own property, which in turn is based on his famous claim that a man earns ownership
over a resource when he mixes his labour with it. Government, he argued, should be limited to securing the
life and property of its citizens, and is only necessary because in an ideal, anarchic state of nature, various
problems arise that would make life more insecure than under the protection of a minimal state. Locke is also
renowned for his writings on toleration in which he espoused the right to freedom of conscience and religion
(except when religion was deemed intolerant!), and for his cogent criticism of hereditary monarchy and
patriarchalism. After his death, his mature political philosophy leant support to the British Whig party and its
principles, to the Age of Enlightenment, and to the development of the separation of the State and Church in
the American Constitution as well as to the rise of human rights theories in the Twentieth Century.

However, a closer study of any philosopher reveals aspects and depths that introductory caricatures (including
this one) cannot portray, and while such articles seemingly present a completed sketch of all that can ever be
known of a great thinker, it must always be remembered that a great thinker is rarely captured in a few pages
or paragraphs by a lesser one, or one that approaches him with particular philosophical interest or bias: the
reader, once contented with the glosses provided here, should always return to and scrutinize Locke in the
original – just as an academic exposition of Beethoven’s Eroica symphony will always be a sallow reflection of
the actual music.

Locke is rightly famous for his Two Treatises of Government, yet during his life he repudiated his authorship,
although he subtly recommended them as essential reading in letters and thoughts on reading for gentlemen.
The Treatises swiftly became a classic in political philosophy, and its popularity has remained undiminished
since his time: the ‘John Locke academic industry’ is vibrant and broad with an academic journal (John Locke
Studies) and books regularly coming out dealing with his philosophy.
Charles de Montesquieu:
                                                                     HistoryWiz Primary Source
The Spirit of the Laws 1748, Excerpts

Montesquieu, [Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (16891755)],
was an influential French enlightenment political thinker. His Spirit of the
Laws is his best known work. It is in this work that he explains his theory of
separation of powers and checks and balances, ideas which powerfully
influenced the American constitution.

In every government there are three sorts of power; the legislative; the
executive, in respect to things dependent on the law of nations; and the
executive, in regard to things that depend on the civil law.

By virtue of the first, the prince or magistrate enacts temporary or perpetual laws, and amends or abrogates
those that have been already enacted. By the second, he makes peace or war, sends or receives embassies;
establishes the public security, and provides against invasions. By the third, he punishes criminals, or
determines the disputes that arise between individuals. The latter we shall call the judiciary power, and the
other simply the executive power of the state.

The political liberty of the subject is a tranquility of mind, arising from the opinion each person has of his
safety. In order to have this liberty, it is requisite the government be so constituted as one man need not be
afraid of` another.

When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of
magistrates, there can be no liberty; because apprehensions may anse, lest the same monarch or senate
should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical manner.

Again, there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive
powers. Were it joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary
control, for the judge would then be the legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might
behave with all the violence of an oppressor.

There would be an end of every thing were the same man, or the same body, whether of the nobles or of
the people to exercise those three powers that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions,
and that of judging the crimes or differences of individuals.

Most kingdoms in Europe enjoy a moderate government, because the prince, who is invested with the two
first powers, leaves the third to his subjects. In Turkey, where these three powers are united in the sultan's
person the subjects groan under the weight of a most frightful oppression.

In the republics of Italy, where these three powers are united, there is less liberty than in our monarchies.
Hence their government is obliged to have recourse to as violent methods for its support, as even that of
the Turks witness the state inquisitors, and the lion's mouth into which every informer may at all hours
throw his written accusations.

What a situation must the poor subject be in, under those republics! The same body of magistrates are
possessed, as executors of the laws, of the whole power they have given themselves in quality of legislators.
They may plunder the state by their general determinations; and as they have likewise the judiciary power
in their hands, every private citizen may be ruined by their particular decisions.

The whole power is here united in one body; and though there is no external pomp that indicates a despotic
sway, yet the people feel the effects of it every moment.

Hence it is that many of the princes of Europe, whose aim has been leveled at arbitrary power, have
constantly set out with uniting in their own persons, all the branches of magistracy, and all the great offices
of state.

Jean Jacques Rousseau


With the famous phrase, "man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains," Rousseau asserts that modern
states repress the physical freedom that is our birthright, and do nothing to secure the civil freedom for the
sake of which we enter into civil society. Legitimate political authority, he suggests, comes only from a social
contract agreed upon by all citizens for their mutual preservation.

Rousseau calls the collective grouping of all citizens the "sovereign," and claims that it should be considered in
many ways to be like an individual person. While each individual has a particular will that aims for his own best
interest, the sovereign expresses the general will that aims for the common good. The sovereign only has
authority over matters that are of public concern, but in this domain its authority is absolute: Rousseau
recommends the death penalty for those who violate the social contract.

The general will finds its clearest expression in the general and abstract laws of the state, which are created
early in that state's life by an impartial, non-citizen lawgiver. All laws must ensure liberty and equality: beyond
that, they may vary depending on local circumstances.

While the sovereign exercises legislative power by means of the laws, states also need a government to
exercise executive power, carrying out day-to-day business. There are many different forms of government,
but they can roughly be divided into democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy, depending on their size.
Monarchy is the strongest form of government, and is best suited to large populations and hot climates. While
different states are suited to different forms of government, Rousseau maintains that aristocracies tend to be
the most stable.
The government is distinct from the sovereign, and the two are almost always in friction. This friction will
ultimately destroy the state, but healthy states can last many centuries before they dissolve.

The people exercise their sovereignty by meeting in regular, periodic assemblies. It is often difficult to
persuade all citizens to attend these assemblies, but attendance is essential to the well-being of the state.
When citizens elect representatives or try to buy their way out of public service, the general will shall not be
heard and the state will become endangered. When voting in assemblies, people should not vote for what
they want personally, but for what they believe is the general will. In a healthy state, the results of these votes
should approach unanimity. To prove that even large states can assemble all their citizens, Rousseau takes the
example of the Roman republic and its comitia.

Rousseau recommends the establishment of a tribunate to mediate between government and sovereign and
government and people. In cases of emergency, brief dictatorships may be necessary. The role of the censor's
office is to voice public opinion.

While everyone should be free to observe their personal beliefs in private, Rousseau suggests that the state
also require all citizens to observe a public religion that encourages good citizenship.

Jean Jacques Rousseau

As soon as any man says of the affairs of the State "What does it matter to me?" the State may be given up for

Jean Jacques Rousseau

Happiness: a good bank account, a good cook and a good digestion.

Jean Jacques Rousseau

He who is slowest in making a promise is most faithful in its performance.

Jean Jacques Rousseau

Never exceed your rights, and they will soon become unlimited.

Jean Jacques Rousseau

To renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to surrender the rights of humanity and even its duties. For he
who renounces everything no indemnity is possible. Such a renunciation is incompatible with man's nature; to
remove all liberty from his will is to remove all morality from his acts.

Jean Jacques Rousseau

Your first appearance, he said to me, is the gauge by which you will be measured; try to manage that you may
go beyond yourself in after times, but beware of ever doing less.

The happiest is the person who suffers the least pain; the most miserable who enjoys the least pleasure.

Jean Jacques Rousseau, Emile, 1762
Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.

Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract

The strongest is never strong enough to be always the master, unless he transforms strength into right, and
obedience into duty.

Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, 1762


Voltaire at 70. Engraving from 1843 edition of his Philosophical Dictionary.

In a 1763 essay, Voltaire supported the toleration of other religions and ethnicities: "It does not require great
art, or magnificently trained eloquence, to prove that Christians should tolerate each other. I, however, am
going further: I say that we should regard all men as our brothers. What? The Turk my brother? The Chinaman
my brother? The Jew? The Siam? Yes, without doubt; are we not all children of the same father and creatures
of the same God?"[36]

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