Classical Liberalism: John Locke

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Liberalism is a political philosophy premised on liberty and equality. John Locke championed the pursuit and protection of liberty and he is widely regarded as one of classical liberalisms most significant philosophers. John Lock is considered the father of Classical Liberalism as he was the first to clearly express the ideas of liberty and equality in which liberalism stands.

According to Locke, all citizens possess natural rights, and the only legitimate exercise of government authority is to ensure those rights are protected. Locke argued that no government should ever be able to remove these natural rights of life, liberty, health and property. Locke also believed all people are created equal and free, “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will consult it, that being all equal and independent (Locke, 4).” All men are equal to one another because they were created as such by God; they are all expected to preserve mankind and not interfere with anybody else’s natural rights. Locke’s theories regarding natural rights form the basis of classical liberalism as it is understood today.
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Locke advocated for separation of powers and that the state should not have absolute power over its people. Locke argued that “absolute monarchy, which by some men is counted the only government in the world, is indeed inconsistent with civil society, and so can be no form of civil-government at all” (Locke, 105). Locke’s contention is not with monarchy, but with absolutism. According to Locke, a legitimate government is one with constraints on the exercise of government authority. Without such limits, Locke feared an absolute ruler could exercise government authority arbitrarily and capriciously, in a self-serving manner and violate the natural rights of the