The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, vol.II

Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, Vol. 2 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978).


“With the publication of the major Huguenot treatises of the 1570s, Protestant political theory passes across a crucial conceptual divide. Hitherto even the most radical Calvinists had vindicated the lawfulness of resistance in terms of the paramount duty of the powers that be to uphold the true (that is, the Protestant) faith. But with Beza, Mornay, and their followers, the idea that the preservation of religious uniformity constitutes the sole possible grounds for legitimate resistance is finally abandoned. The result is a fully political¬†theory of revolution, founded on a recognizably modern, secularized thesis about the natural rights and the original sovereignty of the people.

If we pause once more, however, to compare this argument with the one presented by John Locke in the Two Treatises of Government, we find that, in spite of these developments, the thesis advanced by the Huguenots still differs at two important points from the classic version of early-modern constitutionalism. Locke not only vindicates the lawfulness of resistance entirely in the language of rights and natural rights, but goes on to locate the authority to resist with ‘the body of the people’ and even with ‘any single man’ if ‘deprived of their right’.”