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Locke, N. Africa and Middle East protests

February 20, 2011

As unrest continues to spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East, I debated over what John Locke would think about the current uprisings. Locke clearly is in favor of rule by the majority and would not support the various autocratic governments. People enter into a society, giving up their freedom and natural rights,because the ruling body promises to act in the best interest of all people that consent to join the commonwealth. The unrest that has plagued these various countries is rooted in the governments failure to protect the common welfare of its people. Corruption, human rights abuses, unemployment, and the lack of providing basic services to its citizens has led to the people of these nations to call for change.

Protesters in Yemen calling for the resignation of leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled since 1978

I believe that Locke would justify the protests and the call for reform by the people of nations such as Libya, Yemen and Bahrain because the common authority in these nations has not acted justly and has infringed upon the freedoms of the people. Therefore, it would be reasonable to think that Locke would argue they have no choice but to in an act of self-preservation demand reform. The lack of free elections, most recently in Iran in 2009, contradicts the purpose of the election process itself. If the majority can not justly determine the authority who will oversee and protect the majority’s well being, the elections serve no benefical purpose for the commonwealth. Clearly Locke could find fault in all of these governments and unlike Hobbes who we concluded opposes revolution, would be in favor of arguably all the North African and Middle East uprisings. Addtionally, Locke would approve of Bahrain’s response to the unrest, who has begun dialogue with opposition groups, over a country like Libya which has promised to restore order through force at “any price”. The son of Libya’s leader, Moammar Gadhafi, responded to the unrest with this comment, “Each one of us wants to be a leader, each one of us wants to be a prince”( From article, Libyan leader’s son blames criminals, foreigners and warns of chaos by CNN wire staff, 2.20.11). I believe that Locke would criticize Gadhafi’s interpretation of the uprisings and instead argue that the people dont want to rule or become prince, they simply want their natural rights protected and their freedom ensured.

Do you agree that Locke would be in favor of the Middle East and North African uprisings. Voice your opinion.


4 Comments
  1. Anthony Sinishtaj permalink
    February 21, 2011 7:07 PM

    I would say that Locke would definitely be for the people’s revolutions throughout North Africa. However, I find Locke’s choice of worlds somewhat humorous. Natural rights have to be protected? And that people want their freedom ensured? I know that these things do have to be protected by a government, but the word chosen to describe these things is deplorable. I think the word civil right would work better than natural right. For rights are not natural, they are given and protected by a government and society, making them civil.

  2. Jeff DeClaire permalink
    February 21, 2011 9:32 PM

    I do think that Locke would be in favor of the Middle East and North African uprisings but he may believe that there are better ways to approach it. Locke believes in equality for all people in a state of nature, so the majority deserves their rights and freedom. As opposed to Hobbes, Locke does not believe that the people should give all the power and control to the sovereign power. With that being said, Locke may not necessarily agree with the ways to overcome these governments. I do not think that he would agree with using force and violence to overcome a government, because that would go against his state of nature. Locke believes that we do not have the power to do anything we want. Therefore, it is not right to uprise against the government in a rebellious fashion, like some of these countries are doing. While the notion of freedom is contradicted in the original government, the state of natures involving no license and no harm to others may be contradicted in the uprisings against the government. Ultimately, I believe that Locke would support these uprisings for the most part, but try to find more peaceful ways to come about this change.

  3. Krista Carney permalink
    February 22, 2011 3:18 PM

    I agree that Locke would be supportive of the uprising agains the Middle Eastern and North African countries. There were a few points that I came across in my readings (and from reading ahead) that support this progressive idea of the time period.

    Locke says that individuals must submit themselves to the rule of the majority and follow their regulations if they follow the beliefs of civil society. However, on the same token, he states that individuals are born free and therefore able to make their own decision of whether to follow the majority or rebel. I feel in the recent cases of uprising against oppressive governments Locke would believe that the younger individuals had developed a new mentality and therefore created a new majority not consistent with the goverment currently in place. Then they would be fed up with oppressive behaviors and create a new majority and therefore a new civil society and rule.

    Also when reading ahead, Locke specifically points out the unjust behaviors of tyrants or governments that are not supportive of the majority and peoples’ rights. He also supports the idea of dissolving a state in order to maintain individuals’ rights and then do what they feel is necessary to create a goverment that coencides with the law of nature.

    Overall, I agree that Locke may not have been in favor of the violent acts that have taken place in order to dismantle oppressive governments in the North African and Middle Eastern regions, however he would totally support the idea of the government acting only for the interests of the people and the majority.

  4. Adam Evanski permalink
    March 6, 2011 9:20 PM

    Without a doubt Locke would support the revolutions unfolding in the Middle East. He was a man who stood behind the idea that all people were entitled to life, liberty and property. It doesn’t take an expert to see that one or more of these pillars are being infringed in each country going through a revolution. He believed that individuals should submit to the the rule of majority but also at the same time they were born free. So bearing this in mind I think its safe to say he would be more than supportive of the revolutions taking place, in fact maybe encouraging them?

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