Historical Figures Enlightenment thinkers




Historical Figures Enlightenment thinkers


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Historical Figures Enlightenment thinkers

Historical Figures

Plato (b. 428 BC)
In his work The Republic, Plato describes his ideal form of government and society.
Plato attacked democracy as mob rule where the ignorant and uneducated majority governs, but he also disliked autocracy as being too likely to become tyranny. Plato believed that the best government would be ruled by philosopher-kings, the most educated and smartest people in society. These kings would NOT be hereditary, but would be chosen by the people based on their individual talent. There would also be a careful division of labor so that the rulers would not be warriors or workers and vice-versa. Plato argued that the state exists based on the consent of the people and should act for their good, but in the end the people's primary duty is obedience.

Aristotle (b. 384 BC)
Aristotle, a student of Plato, believed that people are not born good, but can learn to be good through the use of reason. Society is necessary for people to learn to be good; without society they revert to selfishness and evil. Aristotle describes 3 positive forms of government:  monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. Monarchy and aristocracy are good forms of government so long as the rulers are good; but because this is hard to guarantee, democracy is the least dangerous form of government. In his ideal government, the middle class would be given most of the power because the rich are too arrogant and the poor are too vengeful toward the the rich. Because this ideal is too difficult to achieve in reality, Aristotle would accept a monarch who took advice from wise advisers.

Queen Elizabeth I (b. 1533)
Elizabeth believed that God had chosen her to be queen, but did not believe that this gave her absolute power over her subjects. She believed that society should be based on a strict hierarchy with each member performing his or her proper role. Elizabeth had a maternal attitude towards her subject; she was as dedicated to their well being as a mother would be towards her own children. She also understood though, that mothers must do what is right for their children often to their protests.

Thomas Hobbes (b. 1588)
Influenced greatly by the chaos of the English Civil War, Hobbes argued in The Leviathan that humans are naturally evil and desire power, and left to their own devices will live lives that are "nasty, brutish, and short." Believing that humanity's natural evil makes it possible for people to be both free and at peace, Hobbes argued that government must have a great deal of power in order to protect people from themselves.  Democracy would never be able to restrain people's natural tendencies, so there needed to be a king or queen to control the people.  The king's power came not from God but from the people, who had rationally decided to form the government.  In order to defend against the possibility of bad monarchs, Hobbes also argued for a group of advisers who represented the people so that they could voice their desires and concerns to the government.

John Locke (b.1632)
An English, Puritan, Locke believed in the need for religious freedom (or at least the freedom to be a Protestant) and that people have the gift of reason and the natural ability to rule themselves.  Attacking the Divine Right theory, Locke argued for a monarchy whose power is limited to ensure the rights of the people, namely the rights to life, liberty, and property.  Locke argued that an ideal government would be divided into 3 branches to limit temptation to do bad things. Locke also believed that people were entitled to natural rights. His social contract theory states that it is the duty of the government to protect the rights of the people. Locke further argued that if a government fails to protect the rights of the people, the people have the right to overthrow the government and create a new one.

King Louis XIV (b. 1643)
Named the Sun King, Louis ruled France based on the idea of the Divine Right theory, that God had chosen Louis to rule France.  The Catholic Church supported Louis in this belief, and both Louis and the Church believed that rebellion against the king (treason) was also rebellion against God (a mortal sin).  As God's chosen on Earth, Louis was responsible only to God: if Louis ruled well God would reward him, and if he ruled poorly God would punish him; the people had no right to take God's place and punish their rulers.

Baron de Montesquieu (b. 1689)
Many of Montesquieu's ideas were laid out in his On the Spirit of the Lawsin which he argued that there are 3 forms of government: monarchy, aristocracy, and republicanism (rule be elected leaders).  Montesquieu argued that the best form of government was one where power was separated between three branches: one branch that makes laws (legislative), on that enforces laws (executive), and one that interprets the laws (judicial).  Not only should government's roles be separated between the three branches, but there must also be a system of checks and balances so that no one branch can become too powerful and create a tyranny.  Montesquieu also believed in religious tolerance, approved slavery, and believed that women (who are weaker than men) should obey their husbands.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (b.1712)
Rousseau believed that people are born good, independent, and compassionate.  In his book The Social Contract, Rousseau argued that life in the state of nature is free and ideal and it is society that artificially creates inequality and corrupts naturally good individuals.  Rousseau famously wrote that "Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains." Rousseau argued that direct democracy, where the people themselves help make the laws, is the only way to preserve freedom.



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Historical Figures Enlightenment thinkers