FOUNDATION: Unit II. What Are Human Rights and Where Do They Come From? 4 of 15

John Locke and Human Rights

John Locke
Enlightenment philosophers and political theorists further explored the idea that the power of monarchs (kings) should be limited and should be based on the consent of the people, and that monarchs should respect the rights of their subjects.

One of the first and most important of these Enlightenment thinkers was the English philosopher John Locke. Locke was part of the Early Enlightenment. Most of his writings were published in the late 1600s. He was among the first to advocate the view that people have natural rights simply because they are human beings, and that these natural rights should be protected by the government.

Locke’s most important piece of political philosophy is his Second Treatise of Civil Government. But in his first treatise, Locke explicitly refuted the idea that kings rule according to divine right (from God), and argued that human beings have natural rights upon which the government may not infringe.

Locke knew that that it was necessary to have a powerful government in order to maintain enough stability to keep people from taking the law into their own hands and harming one another. But he was dissatisfied because he found this type of government was also oppressive, exercising absolute power over people and depriving them of the liberties and freedoms that he believed all people had by nature.

How do modern states reconcile freedom
with order?

The Second Treatise of Civil Government
John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government