English philosophers of the enlightenment period

English philosophers of the Enlightenment Period

Hobbes and Locke: John Locke was one of the most influential English philosophers of the Enlightenment Period. His views on liberty, the social contract, rights of the individual, and liberalism transcended time and geography and, in fact, became the very basis of thought for the framers of the United States Constitution and Declaration of Independence. His ideas also had tremendous influence on the Continental Philosophers of the time, Voltaire, Rousseau, Hume, Kant, and more. In many ways, his views were the very bridge between the Renaissance and the modern world, in that he viewed humans in a non-Cartesian and completely Biblical manner as blank slates, tabula rasa, born good without innate ideas but a predisposition towards self-actualization (Cassier, 1968).

Locke is often contrasted with Thomas Hobbes, a contemporary who viewed society in a far different manner. However, both men looked at the contemporaneous situations around them, but came to varying conclusions. When Thomas Hobbes described the life of man in wartime as "nasty, brutish, and short," he was speaking more about the manner in which the majority of the population lived in 16th and 17th century Europe. Life was quite different during this time for 90% of the populace; there was a small merchant/middle class, an even smaller aristocratic class, and a large peasant and poor class ("The Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes," n.d.). In many ways, then, the views of the framers of the Constitution were of the belief that Locke was more correct in his assumptions about humanity than Hobbes.

In politics, Locke's view of the social contract and natural rights was central to the way he viewed the progress of mankind. The idea of natural rights is quite ancient, having ground in the Greek and Roman philosophers. These rights, also called moral rights, are essentially the thought that everyone is born with certain rights that should be expressed, regardless of the law or circumstances of their birth. Natural rights are universal, not limited to one time period or country, and are thus quite debatable and often contingent upon the interpretation of those who exercise the greatest power within that particular society - even though this is against the basis of natural rights itself (Magee, 2001). Thus, as early as the Greek stoics, rights were being used to debate the idea of slavery, and as the philosophers of the Enlightenment began to reexamine the rights of kings, they found that humans clearly have certain needs and means to express their own actualization- natural rights, or as John Locke indicated, the right to, "life, liberty, and property" (Tuck, 1982).

Cassier, E. et.al. (1968). The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, Princeton University Press.

Magee, B. (2001). The Great Philosophers: An Introduction To Western Philosophy. Oxford University Press.

O'Connor, K. & Sabato, L. J. (2008) American government: continuity and change (9th ed.). New York: Pearson Education.

"The Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes," (1994). Cited in: www.radicalacademy.com.

Tuck, R. (1982). Natural Rights Theories: Their Origin and Development. Cambridge University Press.

Anti-Federalist Scenario: The Anti-Federalists were primarily for State's rights, the lower classes, and the uneducated. The opposed a standing Army and a strong centralized government, thinking that each individual State should act as its own entity. They believed that a strong central government risked the rights of the common people. We must remember that the people at the time had never lived under any system but a King. This power structure, centered at the top, continued to frighten most of them. The looked at the past 500 years and saw tyranny under Charles I, and even with the 1688 English Bill of Rights most of the law flowing from top down. Now, the people of the United States were facing a change in government and the northern colonies (by in large) wanted a strong central government in which the power rested. The Anti-Federalists movement, then, believed that unless rights were completely spelled out, there was an innate dispensation towards tyranny (Cornell, 1999).

The United States under this paradigm would not actually be the United States- it would be a loose configuration of a number of States. However, the States, without a central system, would be at the mercy of their own particular population and economic means which would be quite unequal depending on rural versus urban. In addition, without a strong central government, the new Republic would likely have been defeated by Great Britain in 1812 since there would not have been a standing army. In addition, the Federal system provided an agreed upon currency and exchange rate, the ability to negotiate foreign treaties (and purchases) internationally, and the ability to act like a country rather than a set of Colonies. Finally, the anti-Federalists were opposed to the omission of God in the Constitution, and would allow less separation between Church and State ("Federalists vs. Ant-Federalists,").

Nonetheless, the Anti-Federalists were still very patriotic, very much supporters of the revolution, and although they opposed the Constitution on moral and intellectual grounds, it was out of fear that the new laws were a direct threat to democracy. It was not that they disliked or even distrusted some of the men who were ardently Federalist - James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, for instance. It was that they believed a future government might stray from the appropriate principles of the revolution. For instance, they saw the lifetime tenure of Supreme Court Justices as proof that the people's vote was already being diminished. Indeed, the debate was really not settled completely until the 20th century, when the Warren Court of the 1950s and 1960s legislated that States must adhere completely to the Bill of Rights. Many see the Civil War as an actual outgrowth over the Federalist debate, specifically issues surrounding a State's right to secede from the Union (Siemers, 2002).

Cornell, S. (1999). The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828. University of North Carolina Press.

"Federalists vs. Antifederalists." (n.d.) Cited in: http://staff.gps.edu/mines/APUSH%20-antifederalists_vs_federalists.htm

O'Connor, K. & Sabato, L. J. (2008) American government: continuity and change (9th ed.). New York: Pearson Education.

Siermers, D. (2002). Ratifying the Republic: Antifederalists and Federalists in Constitutional Times. Stanford University Press.

Articles of Confederation: The Articles of Confederation were approved in November, 1777 and were the basic format for what would become the Constitution and Bill of Rights for the United States. There were, of course, deficiencies in the document, this was a new experiment and getting the delegates to agree in kind to pass any sort of document was challenging at best. The Articles did allow a semblance of unity, the further impetus to remain at war with the British, and the conclusion that there would be some sort of Federal government. The Articles, however, failed to require individual States to help fund the Federal (National) government, a template for an Executive and National Judicial Branch, or the issuance of paper money and a central banking system. In essence, the largest failure was the Articles' inability to allow a Federal government to regulate commerce, tax, or impose laws upon the States. As a position of power, the large, populated States continued to hold the most influence, and rather than centralized authority, tended to favor whatever application was best for their individual State, as opposed to what might be best for the nation as a (Klos, 2004).

Most scholars see the Articles as a very effective idea, but not an effective governmental template. Since the articles did not allow a national government to function as a government, in that sense it was a failure and required additional buttressing (Bill of Rights, Constitution, etc.). The Articles are more of a backlash against the fear of a centralized and powerful government, but possibly in that fear the framers went too far. Because the individual States had so much authority, many opted to legislate popular items, but not necessarily wise legislation that would contribute to a more cohesive Republic. For instance, some States inflated their own currencies, cancelled debts, ratified or closed trade barriers with other states, and, in violation of the Treaty of Paris, confiscated loyalist property (Isaacs, 2008).

In essence, then, the Articles of Confederation, being documents that were careful not to allow a strong centralized government resulted in too weak a government that was unable to protect and defend individual liberties. While they promoted the essence and spirit of liberty and equality, the loose confederation was not up to the task of ruling under the circumstances. To the west of all the colonies was unexplored and potentially dangerous country, some staffed by British fortifications, much of Europe was not convinced America would last and therefore remained unwilling to develop long-term banking and/or trade relations. The Articles were, though, an important step in the framing of a Constitution, again, remembering that this was a new, untried experiment in government. Without the Articles, and the various factions believing that without a stronger central government, it is unlikely the American experiment would have succeeded (Swaine, 2000).

Isaacs, S. (2008). Understanding the Articles of Confederation. Crabtree.

Klos, S. (2004). President Who? Forgotten Founders. Evisium Press.

O'Connor, K. & Sabato, L. J. (2008) American government: continuity and change (9th ed.). New York: Pearson Education.

Swaine, E. (2000). "Negotiating Federalism." Duke Law Journal. 49 (5); 1127+/

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