What was John Locke's impact on European society?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Locke's major influence on European society, and democratic societies everywhere, was his authorship of his Two Treatises on Civil Government, published just after the British Glorious Revolution of 1688. In his first Treatise, he discusses the reasoning used to justify absolute monarchy and divine right as espoused by Hobbes. Ultimately he dispenses with this form of government as not justifiable with the laws of nature:

He, that shall consider the distinct rise and extent, and the different ends of these several powers, will plainly see, that paternal power comes as far short of that of the magistrate, as despotical exceeds it; and that absolute dominion, however placed, is so far from being one kind of civil society, that it is as inconsistent with it, as slavery is with property. Paternal power is only where minority makes the child incapable to manage his property; political, where men have property in their own disposal; and despotical, over such as have no property at all.

In his Second Treatise, Locke argues that all men are born with certain "natural rights," those rights being life, liberty and estate (property.) He argues that governments were created to protect those rights and people have the right to change their government if it no longer protects those rights.

The idea of rights which the people possess naturally was used by many European people to justify constitutional monarchies, those in which the monarch himself is not above the law. It was relied upon extensively by Thomas Jefferson in writing America's Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.