The Enlightenment

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What were the views of Locke and Montesquieu on government?

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Locke and Montesquieu were both Enlightenment thinkers who questioned government and its role in society. Both Locke and Montesquieu held views that differed from traditional views regarding the role of government in society. Locke and Montesquieu both developed progressive beliefs that focused on reducing the corruption of government, while increasing...

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rights and quality of living for citizens.

Locke's major development during the Enlightenment was the idea of natural rights. Locke believed that all individuals were born with three natural rights (life, liberty, and property) and that the role of government was to protect those natural rights. Locke also held the belief that if a government failed to properly protect these rights, or otherwise became destructive towards its people, the people had a right to remove and replace the government.

Montesquieu's major development also focused on the power and role of government. Montesquieu believed that providing one person or small group all of the powers given to a government would lead to corruption and abuse of power. Montesquieu argued, therefore, that the powers of government should be separated in an attempt to avoid this abuse. He believed that the powers of legislation (making laws), executing/enforcing the laws, and ruling on the laws should be separated and that certain checks and balances should be in place to ensure one of these groups did not gain too much power.

The ideas of Locke and Montesquieu had wide-ranging influence. We can very clearly see their ideas being put into action during the formation of the United States. Thomas Jefferson, for example, made reference to Locke's three natural rights in the Declaration of Independence. With the later creation of the Constitution, we can clearly see three separate and defined branches of government, which were based off of the ideas of Montesquieu.

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John Locke is known as the father of Liberalism for his thoughts on natural rights and liberties. Locke believed that all people were equal and independent, and all people had the right to defend their “life, liberty and possessions” from destruction or theft. Locke also believed that people had to establish a civil society to resolve conflicts. He also believed that power within a civil government should be separated, and if governments become reckless with their powers, then revolution should occur.

Baron de Motesquieu’s views were similar is some respect. He also believed in a separation of legislative executive and judicial power. This was a radical departure from feudalistic structures in France. Montesquieu also believed that free governments had to rely on constitutional agreements to remain free.

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