Two Treatises of Government is a work of political philosophy published anonymously in 1689 by John Locke.
John Locke, (born August 29, 1632, Wrington, Somerset, England—died October 28, 1704, High Laver, Essex), English philosopher whose works lie at the foundation of modern philosophical empiricism and political liberalism. He was an inspirer of both the European Enlightenment and the Constitution of the United States. His philosophical thinking was close to that of the founders of modern science, especially Robert Boyle, Sir Isaac Newton, and other members of the Royal Society. His political thought was grounded in the notion of a social contract between citizens and in the importance of toleration, especially in matters of religion. Much of what he advocated in the realm of politics was accepted in England after the Glorious Revolution of 1688–89 and in the United States after the country’s declaration of independence in 1776.
Locke’s family was sympathetic to Puritanism but remained within the Church of England, a situation that coloured Locke’s later life and thinking. Raised in Pensford, near Bristol, Locke was 10 years old at the start of the English Civil Wars between the monarchy of Charles I and parliamentary forces under the eventual leadership of Oliver Cromwell. Locke’s father, a lawyer, served as a captain in the cavalry of the parliamentarians and saw some limited action. From an early age, one may thus assume, Locke rejected any claim by the king to have a divine right to rule.
After the first Civil War ended in 1646, Locke’s father was able to obtain for his son, who had evidently shown academic ability, a place at Westminster School in distant London. It was to this already famous institution that Locke went in 1647, at age 14. Although the school had been taken over by the new republican government, its headmaster, Richard Busby (himself a distinguished scholar), was a royalist. For four years Locke remained under Busby’s instruction and control (Busby was a strong disciplinarian who much favoured the birch). In January 1649, just half a mile away from Westminster School, Charles was beheaded on the order of Cromwell. The boys were not allowed to attend the execution, though they were undoubtedly well aware of the events taking place nearby.
As a final comment on his achievement, it may be said that, in many ways, to read Locke’s works is the best available introduction to the intellectual environment of the modern Western world. His faith in the salutary, ennobling powers of knowledge justifies his reputation as the first philosopher of the Enlightenment. In a broader context, he founded a philosophical tradition, British empiricism, that would span three centuries. In developing the Whig ideology underlying the exclusion controversy and the Glorious Revolution, he formulated the classic expression of liberalism, which was instrumental in the great revolutions of 1776 and 1789. His influence remains strongly felt in the West, as the notions of mind, freedom, and authority continue to be challenged and explored.