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Enlightenment philosophers have had a profound impact on the progress of society, they quite simply have provided the structure for government today. European thinkers such as John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are some of the European political thinkers who have changed the course of history.
John Locke was a 1600s English thinker that brought forth ideas which became the key to the Enlightenment. He believed that people have a natural right to life, liberty, and property. These rights belonged to all humans from the time of birth. Locke argued that rulers have a responsibility to protect it's subjects, but if the government fails in doing so the people have the right to overthrow the ruling party. The United States Declaration of Independence and the French revolutionaries were both influenced by Locke's ideas. His thoughts have been extended to include equality for women and minorities. Locke's views on humanity is what cleared the way for other Enlightenment thinkers to follow.
Montesquieu studied the governments of Europe, China, and Native America. He felt that the powers of government should be separated into executive, legislative, and judicial branches. He became aware of this structure from the British, who at the time had a limited monarchy. By dividing the powers the possibility of one group gaining to much power is eliminated. Montesquieu said, "In order to have liberty, it is necessary that government be set up so that one man need not be afraid of another". His idea of separating the powers in government is part of the framework of the United States Constitution, which even today is being used. Montesquieu's ideas helped structure the government of many countries around the world.
Rousseau, was considered one of the most controversial philosophes. He believed that people are basically good but it is society that corrupts them. In an ideal society, Rousseau believed, people would make the laws and would obey them willingly. He felt that the 'general will' was all that mattered, those who did not agree with the majority were forced to conform. Today Rousseau is hailed as a champion of democracy for his idea that political authority lies with the people.
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