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Happy Birthday, John Locke!

Sunday marked the 389th anniversary of the birth of the John Locke Foundation’s namesake.

So who was this Locke fellow? Why should we wish him a happy birthday? As the JohnLocke.org website reminds us:

[T]he man was an intellectual titan, one whose thoughts and ideas can be found throughout our country’s earliest political documents, including and especially the Declaration of Independence.

George Stephens goes even further in a biographical essay at JohnLocke.org:

John Locke is the intellectual father of our country. While a number of thinkers, stretching from Plato and Aristotle to Blackstone and including Thomas Aquinas, Grotius, Pufendorf, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Hume, and Hobbes made important contributions, this political and social philosopher of 17th century England influenced the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Framers of the Constitution more than any. …

… This Contract of Society was the foundation of the Contract of Government, under which all political power is a trust for the benefit of the people, and the people themselves are at once the creators and beneficiaries of that trust. The State is based on a contract between ruler and subjects, who give him power only so that their own welfare is increased and their property protected in a way not possible in the State of Nature, where it may be taken away by unprincipled forces. They, if he keeps the contract, owe him their loyalty.

It was Thomas Jefferson’s passionate belief in these ideals that made him base the powers of government on “unalienable rights.” Most of his Declaration of Independence is a bill of particulars in an indictment of King George III for his failure to keep the contract with his American subjects. He had broken it, and it was therefore void. The signers agreed with him. Contract, therefore, is fundamental to our system of government.

The state, Locke maintained, was concerned only with public order. It extended solely to those aspects of behavior which had to be regulated for the protection of the public.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...