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Locke, Revolution and the Midterm Elections

November 3, 2010

As we learned throughout the last week talking about Locke. Many his of political ideas shaped the way our government was formed way back in the 18th century by the founding fathers. His ideas on the natural rights of life liberty and property are directly used in our Declaration of Independence among other of his ideas.  His idea of a social contract where people will willingly come together to  form a society to protect these rights is another prominent theme that shaped American government. Once of his most important ideas pertaining to the social contract is his ideas on revolution, where people should have the right to amend their government through a new legislature and government structure.

The midterm elections are a great example of how Locke’s ideas on revolution and social contract still are quite prevalent today. When Obama was elected he took  with him a democratic House of Representatives as well as  a democratic Senate. I remember thinking when this happened that it would take years for the democrats to lose their majority in either house, with the republicans taking so much heat during the Bush Administration .  In reality quite the opposite happened yesterday  and the Democrats lost their majority to the Republicans, giving them a healthy majority of their own now. The Republicans also gained a lot of ground in the Senate.

These results are Locke’s theory at work when the Democrats took control of the whole legislative branch and executive from the Republicans, they formed a new contract with the people. However, these midterm elections showed that the people though they had not upheld  this contract between them,   and they responded with sweeping reforms. Reforms which are consistent with Locke’s view that when the government violates their side of the contract  that people should be able to peacefully reform the legislature and form a new contract with a new purpose with this new legislature. It would not surprise me, due to the extent of the midterm election results,  if the Republicans make even more advances in the next election, solidifying   the contract between government and the people, something that the Democrats, by not getting much done,  could not do for their two years of power.

  1. joshuacy permalink
    November 3, 2010 4:50 PM

    The midterm elections also show the truth of Rousseau’s belief of politics in general.
    “By itself the populace always wants the good, but by itself it does not always see it. The general will is always right, but the judgment that guides it is not always enlightened” (On Social Contract, Book II, Chapter 3).

    Most of those who voted Republican are under the belief that Obama is increasing national debt, trying to take away their guns, imposing Socialist healthcare, and ruining the sanctity of marriage. (

    Well, those people are just wrong. Obama’s stimulus helped the economy, national debt is back to where it was when Bush left office, and no one’s guns have been taken away, nor have gays gotten married (in most states).

    Is this a revolution, or is the right wing deliberately misinforming the public?

  2. Nick Weeks permalink
    November 3, 2010 8:05 PM

    Going off what Josh said, Rousseau’s idea of politics puts a very interesting lens on the Midterm elections. especially with the idea of the General will and the will off all. When Obama won in 2008 the media depicted it as a sweeping mandate by the voters against the powers that be, and again with these midterms elections. Then what is the general will here? if the same people who just 2 years ago taken out of office are now restored. Then according to Rousseau the general will changed, but this is where I have an issue with Rousseau’s argument, he describes the general will to be almost permanent and needs to be for a functioning government, but our country’s “general will” is changing constantly.

    What do you think does Rousseau’s idea of general will apply here?

  3. Shan Lin permalink
    November 3, 2010 11:50 PM

    After reading your post, I felt like you were been very bias toward the Republican Party. I also agree with what josh said. I don’t believe the midterm result can technically be labeled as a “revolution”. Revolution indicates a completely changed government, and I don’t think it is fit to call this minor shift of control from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party a revolution. More Republicans seats in the House or the Senate does not mean the system of our government is totally changed; and besides the Democrats can still have huge impacts our policies. Although Democrats and Republicans have their different views on different matters, they are still both parts of a single government. Right now the only things that have changed are the fact that there are just simply more Republicans than Democrats running our country. I can understand why you would apply Locke’s theory to this particular situation because I does seem like we are making some changes to our government, but change is different than revolution. I think what happens at the poll every year is not us (the people) deciding to overthrow our government, but rather to express our thoughts and opinions about the current government. According to Locke, the most important role of the government is to protect us and our property. Only when the government fails to do that, then we have the right to overthrow it. Which in this situation, we don’t have the right because the government didn’t fail to protect us or our property. They might have failed in other ways that caused us to dislike them, but according to Locke, that’s not enough reason to overthrow them. I think the example you provided in your post is more like us exercising what Rousseau called the “will of all”. Everyone has a different opinion about how our government should run and by whom; voting allows all of our individual voices to be heard, and the result from the voting is our general wills (what the general public comes to agree on) of what we would like to see in the future.

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