Second Treatise of Government

Locke and Rousseau

Students and scholars alike are often deceived by the association between Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau as founders of the social contract. Grouping these authors together often causes people to forget the essential variations presented by each man. The issue of liberty, for example, takes on an entirely different meaning when viewed from the eyes of either Locke or Rousseau.

In understanding John Locke's opinions on liberty in The Second Treatise of Government, it is important to begin with his definition of the idea. Fundamentally, Locke identifies liberty as the ability to do whatever one pleases without ever having to be dependent on another (Locke 2.4:116). However, Locke also recognizes that there are certain logical restrictions on this freedom, which he terms natural law: "A state of perfect freedom...within the bounds of the law of nature" (Locke 2.4:116). These natural laws prevent an individual from harming another man's "life, health, liberty, or possessions" (Locke 2.6:117), and thus maintain order within a society. By restricting certain actions, natural laws shape a new form of freedom called societal liberty, where citizens may be under the control of a legislative power, but only one...

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