John Locke

This third strand of research explores John Locke’s thinking about civil society. Locke thought about civil society in at least two ways: in contradistinction to religious society, to mean the state as against a church, and in contradistinction to what he called ‘the state of nature’, a condition of life in which people lived without government. It shows how Locke transformed the conceptions he had inherited from the Aristotelian and Ciceronian traditions, among others, in developing an account of civil society at odds with the views expressed by his great and alarming predecessor Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes had taken up and developed Jean Bodin’s view of sovereignty in what amounted to nothing less than a conceptual counter-revolution, which redefined politics in terms of the possession of absolute sovereign power by the commonwealth and away from the idea of politics as sovereign self-government. Locke argued that subjection to absolute rule was not a legitimate political order at all and that it was incompatible with the values that genuinely civil societies uphold.