Revolution in Political Thought:

1. What were three features of the emerging modern state?

 In its maturity, a modern state would be supreme in its own territory with a strong central government that issues laws which apply throughout the land. The modern state would maintain and pay a permanent army of professional soldiers as well as employ trained bureaucrats who would collect taxes, enforce laws and administer justice. It would be a secular state in which churches would not determine state policy.

2. According to Machiavelli, why should a leader avoid morality in his administration of government?

Machiavelli had no patience with theories that sought to shape political life in accordance with ideal standards. Indeed, utopian visions would bring ruin to the state. The ruler should do whatever is necessary to protect the state from domestic and foreign threats and the passions of his subjects.

3. What was Hobbes’ vision of human nature?

Focusing on the dark side of human nature, both he and Machiavelli believed society was threatened by insatiable human desires and ambitions.

His basis axioms reflected a bleak view of human nature: people are innately selfish, grasping, envious, distrustful and treacherous. Competition and dissension, rather than cooperation, characterize human relations, and their society will naturally and inevitably disintegrate into violence. Passion governs action more than reason. People are driven by avarice to sacrifice peace and virtue to power, but people are also driven by insecurity and fear to take power to safeguard their lives, property and status. Society in the state of nature in Hobbes’ view was an incessant war of all against all. Hobbes’ theory of government was intended to contain the strife provoked by a flawed human nature.

4. What is Hobbes’ version of the social contract?

Although Hobbes supported absolute monarchy, he dismissed the idea that the monarch’s power derived from God. The state was a human invention organized by humans to deal with human problems, and its legitimacy derived from human authority.  Desiring peace and security, each person contracts to renounce the freedom of his natural condition. To preserve their lives and property, men surrender their rights to one ruler, or to an assembly, and agree to submit to the will of authority. The rulers instill a fear of punishment in the subjects, for people are dissuaded from harming each other only when they realize that the punishment outweighs the possible gain from a criminal act.

5. Why was an absolute monarchy necessary in Hobbes’ state?

The ruler must be granted absolute authority, for if the ruler’s power is shackled, he cannot protect the lives of the subjects. The people cannot call their ruler to account; they have no legitimate justification for rebellion. The sovereign must have absolute power or society will collapse, and the anarchy of the state of nature will return. The possibility of abuse of sovereign power was preferable to the alternative of civil war and anarchy.

6. What was Locke’s vision of human nature?

Unlike Hobbes who saw human beings as selfish creatures who promote perpetual strife with their relentless pursuit of creature comforts, fame and power, Locke held that individuals participate in a moral order whose existence can be grasped through reason. Locke believed that rational people could recognize that their behavior ought to correspond to the requirements of the moral order. They are capable of transcending narrow selfishness and respecting the inherent dignity of others.

7.  What was Locke’s theory of natural rights?

 Locke believed that the human ‘state of nature’ before the creation of the state had been free, rational, and equal. God had not set some people above others. Locke considered it to be self-evident that all men, because they belong to the same species and have the same nature, are created equal.

Locke regarded people as rational beings endowed by nature and God with fundamental rights: the right to their life, liberty and property. Locke’s theory of natural rights is derived from the ancient stoical conception of natural law that applies to all human beings.

This recognition of a law above human law, which people and governing authorities are obligated to obey, is the cornerstone of modern liberalism.

8. Under what conditions does a citizen have the right to rebel, according to Locke?

In establishing a government, people do not surrender these natural rights to any authority; instead, the new political society is formed to recognize and secure these rights. A ruling authority that attempts to govern absolutely and arbitrarily fails to fulfill the purpose for which it has been established. Under these circumstances, the people have the moral right to dissolve the government.  


The Enlightenment

9.  How did the philosophes believe they would inaugurate an enlightened age?

The philosophes rejected theology as an avenue to truth, denounced the Christian idea of people’s inherent depravity, and sought to understand nature and society through reason alone, unaided by revelation or priestly authority. They believed that they were inaugurating an enlightened age. Through the power of reason, humanity was at last liberating itself from the fetters of ignorance, superstition, and despotism with which tyrants had bound it in past ages

10. How did the philosophes apply Newton’s discovery of universal laws governing motion to the problems of society and government?

The philosophes sought to expand knowledge of nature and to apply the scientific method to the human world in order to uncover society’s defects and to achieve appropriate reforms.

The philosophes believed that the true laws of society are laws of nature.  The social world was defective because it lacked the rationality evidenced in nature. Using Newton’s and Bacon’s method of analysis and synthesis, by drawing inferences and eventually universal principles from a careful evaluation of observed phenomena, the philosophes examined society as if it were a physical entity. From its component parts, carefully observed and analyzed, they constructed general laws that applied to the individual and society.

Voltaire fought for freedom of the press, religious toleration, a fair system of criminal justice, proportional taxation, and striking down the privileges of the clergy and aristocracy. He believed that enlightened rulers who used their power to end abuses and promote the common good were the best hope for reform.

11. What were the deists’ religious beliefs?

While some philosophes were atheists, most were deists, who rejected miracles, mysteries, prophecies and other fundamentals of revealed Christianity and sought to fashion a natural religion that accorded with reason and science. To deists it seemed reasonable that this magnificently designed universe, operating with clockwork precision, was created at a point in time by an all-wise Creator. But once God had set the universe in motion, he had refrained from interfering with its operations. Deists rejected entirely revelation, miracles and original sin. They denied that the Bible was God’s revelation, rejected clerical authority, and dismissed Christian mysteries, prophecies and miracles as violations of a lawful natural order. To the philosophes, Jesus was not divine but an inspiring teacher of morality.

12. What was Locke’s theory of epistemology, the way humans learn?

In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), Locke argued that humans are not born with innate ideas (the idea of God, principles of good and evil, and rules of logic, for example), divinely implanted in their minds as Descartes had maintained. Rather, said Locke, the human mind is a blank slate (a tabula rasa) upon which are imprinted sensations derived from contact with the phenomenal world. Knowledge is derived from experience.


13. How does Locke’s epistemology refute the Church’s idea of original sin?

 If there are no innate ideas, then human beings, contrary to Christian doctrine, are not born with original sin, are not depraved by nature. All that individuals are derives from their particular experiences. If people are provided with a proper environment and education, they will behave morally; they will become intelligent and productive citizens.

14. What reform movements were inaugurated by the philosphes? How did they believe a utopian society could be created?

Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, The End to Cruel and Inhuman Punishment, The Abolishment of Slavery and the Slave Trade