John Locke (1632–1704) is among the most influential politicalphilosophers of the modern period. In the Two Treatises ofGovernment, he defended the claim that men are by nature free andequal against claims that God had made all people naturally subject toa monarch. He argued that people have rights, such as the right tolife, liberty, and property, that have a foundation independent of thelaws of any particular society. Locke used the claim that men arenaturally free and equal as part of the justification forunderstanding legitimate political government as the result of asocial contract where people in the state of nature conditionallytransfer some of their rights to the government in order to betterensure the stable, comfortable enjoyment of their lives, liberty, andproperty. Since governments exist by the consent of the people inorder to protect the rights of the people and promote the public good,governments that fail to do so can be resisted and replaced with newgovernments. Locke is thus also important for his defense of the rightof revolution. Locke also defends the principle of majority rule andthe separation of legislative and executive powers. In the LetterConcerning Toleration, Locke denied that coercion should be usedto bring people to (what the ruler believes is) the true religion andalso denied that churches should have any coercive power over theirmembers. Locke elaborated on these themes in his later politicalwritings, such as the Second Letter on Toleration andThird Letter on Toleration.


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