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Weber and Legitimacy1

Compare/Contrast
By: Bec
E-mail: [emailprotected]
Although their ideologies sometimes clashed, and they came from two
distinctly different epochs in the course of political development, John Locke
and Jean-Jacques Rousseaus fundamental arguments address several similar
points. These five main themes which significantly overlap and thus cannot be
addressed separately, are the state of nature, the basis for the development of
government, the primary intent of government, the state of war, and the
ultimate effect of the state on the individual and vice versa. Despite these
contradictions in belief, both men proved to be greatly influential in the course
of the United States democratic development. In both Lockes and
Rousseaus state of nature, the only agreement they have is that men are born
free and equal, with no higher authority with the exception of divine power.

Locke adamantly believed that in nature, anarchy and a strong sense of
insecurity among the people was prevalent. Rousseau, on the other hand,
believed that people are unable to live life to its fullest in the chaotic state of
nature, and no rights are inherent. For Locke, nature was an ideal, a utopia,
of sorts, the ultimate goal, while for Rousseau, it was an unnatural and
tumultuous ordeal that could neither prevail in theory or practice. If the
aforementioned ultimate goal were ever achieved, though, it would not last
because it would degenerate into a state of war. Locke and Rousseaus
foremost point of agreement is that the people must demonstrate consent in
order for a successful government to begin to evolve. Locke maintained that
this permission was generally tacit, implied solely by remaining a member of
the civil society, or living under a governments rules. Ultimately, the first
formation of government is by the consent of all. Rousseau states that consent
must be explicit to form a community at first, also presuming that since the
lives of people are unable to live their lives to the fullest potential in nature,
that forming a community and government is the only logical means by which
to form a fulfilling and meaningful life for all. Perhaps the issue over which
Rousseau and Locke most fervently disagree is the role of government. Both
philosophers establish that government is the ultimate way to ensure justice,
morality, liberty, and protect the rights of the citizens, but that is where the
similarities in the mens tenets end. Locke took a stance similar to that of
modern-day republicans and libertarians. He believed the role of government
is to create a perfect equilibrium between protecting the individuals natural
rights and as well as maintaining security and protecting the individuals
property. Rousseau, on the other hand, adhered to a greater reverence for
the establishment of society, and felt that individual rights are subservient to
the rights of society as a whole. In a state of nature, he claimed, citizens
rights are nonexistent, for there is no structure to foster them, and moreover,
rights are derived from society. They do not occur naturally. He also believed
that society must come together to find a general will, or the closest facsimile
thereof, for no group of people have or will ever be able to reach a
consensus as to what is best for all. Rousseaus general will is really very
idealistic, as it is not the sum of individual wills, but rather one for the overall
public good. In short, he believed that one must sacrifice natural freedom for
civil freedom. Rousseau also held a negative view of human nature, claiming
that that historically executives have cared very little about the best interest of
their people. He did not believe, though, that an executive is sovereign, but
that right lies in the people. Subsequently, Rousseau maintained that every
government is subject to change that will inevitably occur when the will of the
people changes, or when an executive doesnt follow the general will.

Rousseaus aforementioned theory is very similar to the government the
United States has today. Oftentimes individual freedoms are conceded for the
good of society as a whole. Although each individual in the U.S. today may
not agree to agree with the decisions made by our leaders, we are bound to
the rules that the sovereign, the people, have created. Locke and Rousseau
extensively contradicted each other on the concept of the nature of war, also.

Rousseau pragmatically claimed that a state of war can only occur between
two or more nations, never among individuals. Locke dissented, asserting that
the state of war is simply a revolution against an invasion on sovereignty, be it
individual or governmental. Although the ideas of both Locke and Rousseau
elusively present themselves in U.S. government today, the concepts
stemming from Rousseaus severe distrust of government manifest themselves
strongly in American political culture. As a result of his theories concerning
the executives natural tendency to abuse power, elected officials are held
much more accountable for their actions, and they are heavily scrutinized to
ensure they are maintaining the public good. Several of John Lockes ideas
also appear predominantly in American politics today. In The Second
Treatise, Locke makes allusion to a need for some protection of victims
rights, a topic that has been heatedly debated in the modern American
political system for some time. Locke also comes out as a strong proponent
of capital punishment, another issue that has been timelessly controversial in
our society. He also placed a very strong emphasis on limited government,
which is a fundamental component of the ideologies of both the modern
republican and libertarian parties. Despite the fact that Locke and Rousseaus
ideas clearly exemplify both sides of the modern political spectrum (Locke
representing the right, and Rousseau the left), a balance between Lockes
desire for protection of the individual liberties and Rousseaus need for a
structured society had managed to balance itself out quite well.
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