Locke, Rosseau, and the Idea of Consent: An Inquiry into the Liberal-Democratic Theory of Political Obligation

Locke, Rosseau, and the Idea of Consent: An Inquiry into the Liberal-Democratic Theory of Political Obligation

Locke, Rosseau, and the Idea of Consent: An Inquiry into the Liberal-Democratic Theory of Political Obligation

Locke, Rosseau, and the Idea of Consent: An Inquiry into the Liberal-Democratic Theory of Political Obligation

Synopsis

Steinberg addresses such questions as: How did the notion of a social contract develop? What did social contract mean to Locke and Rousseau? Can social contract describe the working basis of representative democracy?

Excerpt

Liberal political thought represents a tradition of political thinking that is not very easy to identify, since it includes a number of seemingly diverse philosophical and ideological perspectives which initially might not appear to form anything approaching a coherent doctrine. the conceptual ambiguity characteristic of liberal political thought is largely a function of the historical development and transformation of liberalism, in which changing historical circumstances have required the adaptation of the basic ends and values professed by liberal political theorists to a variety of different means. When liberal political thought is viewed unhistorically, then, it appears to be almost intellectually incoherent, given the diversity of ideas and influences which serve to define the liberal tradition of political thought. Thus, it is only when liberalism is approached from a historical perspective and viewed as a movement of ideas developing over time that it becomes possible to comprehend the intellectual coherence of liberal political thinking.

Since the seventeenth century, liberal political thought has alternately been influenced by the acceptance of natural law and natural rights theories, the rejection of such theories by those accepting the doctrine of utilitarianism, and subsequently the rejection of utilitarianism in favor of the moral idealism of T.H. Green and his followers. Second, the development of liberal political thought includes the affirmation of the "negative" state by proponents of laissez-faire economic theories and the eventual rejection of the negative state in favor of the "positive" state by those questioning the desirability of laissez-faire capitalism. Third, there is the matter of the relationship of liberal political thought to democratic government, a relationship in which liberalism arises in opposition to democracy, becomes aligned with democratic theory and practice . . .

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