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General History/I have a question that im trying to find the "red thread" in..


Hi, i am sitting here trying to grasp the entire "red thread" in a period of time..

Was wondering if you could, just fairly briefly explain to me the political evolution through the following philosophers, starting with Thomas Aquinas who came up with the natural law?

Thomas Aquinas, through to Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Edmund Burke, Immanuel Kant, Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, George W.F Hegel, Karl Marx, Eduard Bernstein, Lenin, John Keynes, Jürgen Habermas ??

What did happen politically and in terms of rights of the people in that period? I know its quite a long period of time but you don´t have to go into alot of details.

I would really appreciate it if you have the knowledge of that period..


In the middle ages, "government" tended to be the domain of a local King or Prince who ruled because he had the military power to control the people within his domain.  People living under the control of such a monarch had no legal protection.  If the King decided he did not like you, he could have you killed and no one could complain.  Of course, to allow society to function, most rulers had laws that they decreed so that people would know the rules of society and not get into trouble.

Thomas Aquinas noted that there were certain "natural laws" that just seemed to make sense in any society at any time.  There should be rules that people should not be allowed to kill one another, rape or kidnap one another, steal from one another, etc.  These were basic laws that all rulers had to one extent or another at all time periods.  Aquinas understood these natural laws as God given laws that rulers (who were anointed by God to rule) were expected to enforce.  This was a change from absolute monarchy in that it argued that a monarch could behave in a way that was unjustified and which did not allow him to rule.

Thomas Hobbes took this one step further.  He challenged the divine right of Kings.  That is the theory that God permitted a King to take control of a country and therefore his right to rule was derived from God and could not be challenged by men.  Hobbes said that rulers derived authority based on a social contract.  That is, people could not live without government because there would be no one stop other people from trying to kill you, steal from you, or do other things to you.  There had to be a set of rules that everyone followed so that people could focus on other things, like growing food and taking care of life's other necessities.  Kings provided that set of rules under which everyone could live.  If a ruler made life better than the chaos of a world without laws, people had an obligation to obey the ruler and follow any laws that the ruler created.

Most of the other philosophers that you mention built on the two above theories.  They took the idea that government is a social compact between the leader and his people.  They also developed the notion of natural rights.  These are the rights that almost all people have to live their lives under a government.  

John Locke took Hobbes' social contract theory a step further by arguing that if the people lost faith or trust in the leader, they could revolt and put a new leader in place.  Most of the others you mention built on this to establish certain basic rights that no government could take and still be justified to rule.  I cannot get into all the details of each philosopher here.  But essentially each argued that there were certain lines government could not cross or the people would be justified in overthrowing the leaders and creating a new government.

Some of the later philosophers that you mention, such as Marx, extend this idea beyond political rights and liberties to economic rights.  Government has a duty, they argued, beyond simply setting up basic rules of behavior.  Government must ensure that wealth and the economic benefits of society were fairly distributed among the people.  

This line of thought essentially reversed the theory of government, from one that held that the people must blindly obey the leader without question or suffer the consequences to one where government must do the bidding of the people or be replaced by one that would.

I hope this helps!
- Mike  

General History

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Michael Troy


My specialties are 17th through 19th Century history, especially in the Americas and Europe. I also have a fair knowledge of ancient Greek and Roman History, and some knowledge of Medieval European history. My expertise is focuses on Military and political history, but I`ll take a crack at anything.


I have been a guest lecturer at George Washington University. Mostly, I have just read hundreds of books about world history.


J.D. Univ. of Michigan B.A. George Washington University

Awards and Honors
Truman Scholar

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