Rousseau, Locke, and Hobbes

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From the mid seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, there was an ‘Enlightenment' movement that swept across Europe. The theorists behind this act rejected the ‘original sin' concept, maintained the argument that humans could grow and progress, and stated that humans could reorganize society on the grounds of equality, justice, and freedom. Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were all members of The Enlightenment movement, and each had their own idea on how human society should be structured and run. Locke and Hobbes lived around the same time, and some of their political theories were the same, however, by the time Rousseau came along, much had changed.

Born in Geneva to a middle class watch maker, Jean-Jacques Rousseau was to become one of the most influential thinkers of the eighteenth century. Being well educated in music and reading, he entered an essay contest in a newspaper. The topic: "Has the revival of the arts and sciences done more to corrupt or purify morals?", sprung a moment of clarity for Rousseau, and he won the essay contest, launching his career as a philosopher. After losing his second essay contest he began attacking the ideas of Enlightened thinkers. Because of this, historians see Rousseau as a "transition figure, from Enlightenment to Romanticism" (lecture, Jan 29th).

Rousseau published his book "The Social Contract" in 1762, and it was almost immediately it was banned in Geneva and burned in France. He was declared a criminal and had to flee the country. The book asks the crucial question: ‘If civilization is bad for us, how can we structure a government that will allow people to remain as free and happy as they were in the state of nature?' Rousseau decided that it was only possible to do so in a direct democracy where all power is in the General Will of the people. To start this, individuals must engage in a ‘social contract'. In this contract every individual must give up his or her rights to the whole...
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