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The Egyptian Crisis: What Would Locke Say?

March 20, 2011

So much has been told and heard about the current protests taking place in Egypt. What I am curious to know, however, is what Mr. John Locke himself would have to say about all of this if he were alive today. It seems to be that Locke see’s mankind in a more positive light than other politicians and for this reason, when thinking in Lockean terms, I think he would see this attempted overthrow as a good thing.

He highlights the need for a political state in the absence of one because of the insecurity created. If need be, however, Locke advocates that citizens have a right to overthrow a government if it ceases to serve their natural rights. For this reason, would Locke see this current situation in Egypt as a time that will take its country back to a state of peace after all is said and done? After all, Locke does say that if a government violates the natural rights of its citizens they should revolt.

Think back in America’s history, for example, to the very start of our formation with the Declaration of Independence. The United States broke away from Great Britain and were now independent states. In our history, citizens revolt when their rights are not being respected. So does this mean that Locke would see this violent crisis in Egypt as another stepping stone in history? As a way for Egyptian citizens to gain their rights back, regardless of his belief of a peaceful state of nature?

Ultimately what I am getting at is this idea of giving up some of your natural rights when it is necessary for the formation of a working political state. Although it contradicts one aspect of Locke’s idea of the state of nature, in that all men are naturally in a state of perfect freedom, it simultaneously supports it. Humans have the right to displace a government that violates the laws of nature and its social contract, whether it be peacefully or violently, to gain their original, peaceful state of freedom and liberty back.

I think Locke would leave those revolting in Egypt with these following words: do not fear the state of nature, for it is your natural duty to rise against that which fails to uphold your natural rights rather than to live in an unhappy existence under those who deprive you of your rights.

  1. Rian Handler permalink
    March 20, 2011 8:07 PM

    I thought your post was very well thought out. I agree with you in that I also believe Locke would support the uprising in Egypt. Its citizens’ rights were violated, and according to Locke, this is grounds for civil disobedience.

  2. Chris J permalink
    March 21, 2011 12:41 AM

    Is this revolution justified, though? Locke makes a reservation that the people have to desire the revolt, but what portion of the people?

    I ask this because you brought up parallels to the US revolutionary war, but the closest parallel is that of the civil war, where the nation was divided between the standing government and organized revolutionaries.

    This was a war where the revolutionaries, from a modern standpoint, were unjust in their actions. But what made them so different? The vast majority of Confederation members agreed with their actions and sought revolution, so were they justified?

    I do feel that Locke would support the revolution in Egypt, but the parallels to the US brought that question to mind. I am wondering what other Lockian reasons could be used to justify the revolution beyond simple majority approval.

  3. chelseahoedl permalink
    March 21, 2011 12:44 PM

    I also believe that Locke would support the revolution in Egypt because it is necessary in returning natural rights to citizens.

    With regards to the comment above, I wonder if Locke only supports revolution when it is approved by the majority? Would he support a revolution brought about by the minority group? I believe that he would as long as it is done in order to restore natural rights.

    Furthermore I think it is interesting to note that with regards to human knowledge or natural rights, Locke argues that we all are capable of understanding what is wrong versus right, lawful versus unlawful. Here I believe that Locke is suggesting that we are born with the ability to reason and comprehend the rights that are inherently ours. Our ability to do this allows citizens to recognize whether or not their natural rights are being met and from there take action. Because we have this ability to reason, we have the duty to protect ourselves and our freedoms.

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