|| Age of Enlightenment, History of liberalism and French Revolution|
Age of Enlightenment, History of liberalism and French Revolution
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Age of Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment, History of liberalism and French
John Locke, the "Father of classical liberalism"
Elements of libertarianism can be traced as far back as the
ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu and the higher-law concepts of the Greeks
and the Israelites. In 17th-century England, libertarian ideas began to take
modern form in the writings of the Levellers and John Locke. In the middle of
that century, opponents of royal power began to be called Whigs, or sometimes
simply "opposition" or "country" (as opposed to Court)
During the 18th century, classical liberal ideas flourished
in Europe and North America. Libertarians of various schools were influenced by
classical liberal ideas.
John Locke greatly influenced both libertarianism and the
modern world in his writings published before and after the English Revolution
of 1688, especially A Letter Concerning Toleration (1667), Two Treatises of
Government (1689) and An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). In the
latter he established the basis of liberal political theory: that people's
rights existed before government; that the purpose of government is to protect
personal and property rights; that people may dissolve governments that do not
do so; and that representative government is the best form to protect
rights. The United States Declaration of Independence was inspired by Locke
in its statement: "to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among
Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever
any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the
People to alter or to abolish it..." Nevertheless scholar Ellen Meiksins
Wood says that "there are doctrines of individualism that are opposed to
Lockean individualism(...)and non-lockean individualism may encompass
According to Murray Rothbard, the libertarian creed emerged
from the classical liberal challenges to an "absolute central State and a
king ruling by divine right on top of an older, restrictive web of feudal land
monopolies and urban guild controls and restrictions", the mercantilism of
a bureaucratic warfaring state allied with privileged merchants. The object of
classical liberals was individual liberty in the economy, in personal freedoms
and civil liberty, separation of state and religion, and peace as an alternative
to imperial aggrandizement. He cites Locke's contemporaries, the Levellers, who
held similar views. Also influential were the English "Cato's Letters"
during the early 1700s, reprinted eagerly by American colonists who already were
free of European aristocracy and feudal land monopolies.
In January of 1776, only two years after coming to America
from England, Thomas Paine published his pamphlet "Common Sense"
calling for independence for the colonies. Paine promoted classical liberal
ideas in clear, concise language that allowed the general public to understand
the debates among the political elites. Common Sense was immensely popular in
disseminating these ideas, selling hundreds of thousands of copies. Paine later
would write the Rights of Man and The Age of Reason and participate in the
French Revolution. Paine's theory of property showed a "libertarian
concern" with the redistribution of resources.
In 1793, William Godwin wrote a libertarian philosophical
treatise, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on Morals and
Happiness, which criticized ideas of human rights and of society by contract
based on vague promises. He took classical liberalism to its logical anarchic
conclusion by rejecting all political institutions, law, government, and
apparatus of coercion, as well as all political protest and insurrection.
Instead of institutionalized justice he proposed that people influence one and
other to moral goodness through informal reasoned persuasion, including in the
associations they joined, and that this would facilitate human happiness.
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