FOUNDATION: Unit II. What Are Human Rights and Where Do They Come From? 5 of 15

John Locke’s Dilemma

Seeing all of the chaos in his home country, John Locke was confronted with a fundamental dilemma: How can you reconcile the need for political stability and order (which had basically been provided by oppressive and heavy-handed monarchs) with the people’s desire for liberty and freedom (which had resulted in social chaos and upheaval)?

In his Second Treatise of Civil Government, Locke set out to resolve this dilemma by arguing that there could be effective government to enforce stability, but it had to be justified by the consent of the governed and must belimited by the ends for which it was created. He believed government was created to preserve the more effective and secure enjoyment of the individual liberty and freedoms that people had in the state of nature.

For Locke, people lived in a state of perfect freedom and perfect equality in nature — that is, before the “invention” of government had taken away these liberties.

However, since there was no government in the state of nature, there was inevitably confusion, disorder, and danger. Thus, Locke argued, people must each give up a certain amount of their individual liberty to a common authority (a government), whose goals would be to:

  • provide order and stability, and
  • provide for the more secure enjoyment of people’s natural liberties and rights.

To what extent has the belief in “human rights” grown out of a history of wrongful behavior?

How does the belief in human rights mirror the evolution of democracy and in what way might there be a relationship between the two concepts?

John Locke