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Modern Theories of Politics


Evangelia Sembou

Everything you ever wanted to know about modern political theory, but never dared to ask …
This book offers a concise introduction to the main ideas and arguments of the major political thinkers of modernity. It considers the following key thinkers: Hobbes, Locke, Bentham, J. S. Mill, Rousseau, Burke, Hegel and Marx.
Perhaps the best way to understand the ideas of a thinker is to read from their work. This book devotes each chapter to the main writings of a single thinker, providing excerpts from their work and explaining their views in detail. Readers are not expected to have any previous knowledge of the writings of these eight political philosophers, but by the end they should have a solid grasp of their central ideas. This book serves as an essential guide to some of the most important writings on political philosophy of modern times.


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Chapter 2 John Locke


John Locke lived from 1632 to 1704. He was born to a well-of f, landed, Puritan family in Wrington, Somerset. His family supported the parliamen- tarians during the Civil War. He was educated first at Westminster School and then at Christ Church, Oxford. Although – at least initially – not particularly noteworthy as a scholar, Locke was to remain in Oxford for around thirty years. He did not study philosophy in Oxford at all; rather he received a bachelor’s degree in medicine. Politics had been one of his interests however – his major concerns being the separation of political from religious matters, as well as Natural Law. In those early days his politics was rather authoritarian, although even then he was against arbitrary authority. Locke was always a constitutionalist, concerned with legal authority. But, it seems, Peter Laslett has got a point in arguing that The uneasy, anarchical months between the death of Oliver Cromwell and the Stuart Restoration had made this slightly sceptical, unselfconfident Oxford don into the determined defender of authority, a man prepared to go to great lengths to secure quiet.1 While at Oxford he wrote the Essays on the Law of Nature (1660) and An Essay on Toleration (1667), but his mature political theory was the result of his long association with the First Earl of Shaftesbury, a famous Whig politician. Lord Ashley, later first earl of Shaftesbury was of ill health how- ever. He had a chronic af fection of the liver and after one of his attacks...

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