The work of Thomas Hobbes made theories based upon a state of nature popular in 17th-century England , even as most of those who employed such arguments were deeply troubled by his absolutist conclusions. Locke's state of nature can be seen in light of this tradition. There is not and never has been any divinely ordained monarch over the entire world, Locke argues. However, the fact that the natural state of humanity is without an institutionalized government does not mean it is lawless. Human beings are still subject to the laws of God and nature. In contrast to Hobbes, who posited the state of nature as a hypothetical possibility, Locke takes great pains to show that such a state did indeed exist. Actually, it still exists in the area of international relations where there is not and is never likely to be any legitimate overarching government (., one directly chosen by all the people subject to it). Whereas Hobbes stresses the disadvantages of the state of nature, Locke points to its good points. It is free, if full of continual dangers (2nd Tr., § 123). Finally, the proper alternative to the natural state is not political dictatorship/tyranny but democratically elected government and the effective protection of basic human rights to life, liberty, and property under the rule of law.
Centered on the dialogues and publications of the French “philosophes” (Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Buffon and Diderot), the High Enlightenment might best be summed up by one historian’s summary of Voltaire’s “Philosophical Dictionary”: “a chaos of clear ideas.” Foremost among these was the notion that everything in the universe could be rationally demystified and cataloged. The signature publication of the period was Diderot’s “Encyclopédie” (1751-77), which brought together leading authors to produce an ambitious compilation of human knowledge.
The “Two Treatises of Government” (1690) offered political theories developed and refined by Locke during his years at Shaftesbury’s side. Rejecting the divine right of kings, Locke said that societies form governments by mutual (and, in later generations, tacit) agreement. Thus, when a king loses the consent of the governed, a society may remove him—an approach quoted almost verbatim in Thomas Jefferson’s 1776 Declaration of Independence . Locke also developed a definition of property as the product of a person’s labor that would be foundational for both Adam Smith’s capitalism and Karl Marx’s socialism.