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John locke

By Lin-Vincent Mar 02, 2015 2114 Words
Noted by Franklin (1978, pp9), since the start of English civil war, the attempts to combine king’s authority and the right of resistance had come into question. During this one of most transformative period in English history, Locke offers his opinion and provides an adequate solution to sovereignty resistance for all citizens (Franklin, ibid, pp10). This essay will introduce Locke’s definition of the state of nature and the law of nature, and describe how it would influence the creation of a social contract. Following this I will discuss Locke’s arguments of government power and responsibility, power separation and endowed human right of rebelling, in order to validify human’s natural rights and social contract legitimate the resistance of political power.

Before the establishment of government, people lived under a circumstance called the state of nature. The term ‘state of nature’ and ‘law of nature’ are referred to by Locke in his Second Treatise of Government (Locke, 2014, Chap2). In this state, human beings enjoyed freedom, and created equally by god. (Locke, 2014, Chap2, Sec4) Hence, for Locke, men are believed to be free, equal and independent. Locke’s argument follows religious fundamentals to argue for equality: god created human, endowed humans rights to live. Resulting from that, they are duty-bound to protect their own life and freedom. Pointed out by Locke, besides life and freedom, the right to property is also gifted by god in The Second Treaty (ibid, Ch5). Although God has given the world to men, humans privately have potential to own their own property and land (such as farms from which they obtain the fruits from nature). Therefore, life, liberty and property are the three most significant rights for each human being, given by god and these rights are inalienable to each of them.

Whereas, the state of nature is described as a state of war and conflict by Hobbes (1996, pp86). Suffered from human beings’ endless power chasing interference, self-preservation is primarily concerned by men (Hobbes, ibid, pp86). Hobbes (1996, pp91-93) demonstrates the fundamentals for the law of nature - that people voluntarily seek peace by signing a certain contract under the fear of death to hand over all their rights to an absolute ruler. The commonwealth, or sovereignty, claimed by Hobbes (ibid, pp117-121), is the best and the only alternative for humans in front of state of nature, for the civil government to preserve people from the threat of war and conflict.

On the other side, as it was argued by Locke (ibid, Ch2, Sec 6), that in the state of nature, law of nature existing as a boundary for human behaviour. State of nature is pre-political, but it does not equate to it being pre-moral. According to Locke (ibid, Ch2, Sec6), since that human are created equally and all the natural rights are given by god, people are obligated to, and intend to protect their own rights and respect others rights, which is the law of nature. Whenever a person hurt another’s natural rights, he or she is antagonistic to god, which is intolerable. Therefore, it is not solely to preserve others, but also essential to preserve the law of nature. In this circumstance, men are live with tolerance and life is relatively harmonious. Additionally, Locke (ibid, Ch2, Sec6) insist that people will and should punish whom they regarded as offender to law of nature due to their morality. Under the control of law of nature, the social life and development of civilization becomes feasible in the state of nature.

However, within this is a paradox: people are equal with each other, once someone needs to be punished, there is no one holds the sovereign power to choose the executor and define content of punishment in the state of nature (Locke, ibid, Sec6-9). In other words, the state of nature does not lead to a natural coherent executive, legislature and judiciary. Locke (ibid, Ch3, Sec13-19 and Ch5, Sec 45-49) note that population increases leads to a lacking of resources, and money introduced generates conflicts. Therefore, regulators and laws are needed. In order to deal with this inconvenience, people come together to sign a social contract. Based on the social contract between individuals in a society, a sovereignty is created as executive, legislature and judiciary for ensuring the implementation of the law of nature (Locke, ibid, Sec 91-92).

Therefore, Argued by Gauthier (1977,pp134), for Locke, civil government is not a primary social relationship for human being. The government needs to be created to regulate disagreements and conflicts in a neutral manner. In addition, the foundation of power that government is able to express, is granted by its citizens. Hence, the outset of government, is substantially to submit people willing and serve its citizens, rather than the relationship Hobbes argued that humans take all their obedience to the sovereignty (Gauthier, ibid).

As a resistance to political power, the sovereignty is not allowed to involve itself in ones beliefs and religion according to terms Locke’s social contract. Kraynak (1980) mentioned that, in A Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke lists reasons why the government is not permitted to disturb the church and people’s belief. According to Locke’s social contract, every right that the government has, need to be coherent by the citizen. Noted by Locke (2007,pp61), citizens have not hand over their right of belief when entering the social contract. Additionally, this is a kind of liberty given by god naturally in Locke’s opinion (Graf, 2007, pp141). Therefore, government breaching people’s right of belief, is not merely break social contract, but against God’s will.

However following the reasons for religion tolerant, Locke demonstrated situations for restriction. Tuckness (2002,p288) doubted to what extent does Locke advocate a government with a passive tolerant stance on individuals religious beliefs. Tuckness points out in the Tolerant, Locke shows no tolerance towards Catholics, who is not tolerant to other religions and take loyal to other ruler outside of state, should be restricted by power of politics. Subsequently, it would appear Locke does not believe government should tolerate all religious beliefs and that the magistrates can interpose religion sanction in the cause of nation security. On the other side, it still could be regarded as a resistance of political power. Goldie (1992, pp557) notes that when Locke wrote the Tolerant, King James II was a Roman Catholic. Locke’s work appeared to be written in a time under fear that Catholicism might be taking over England. Argued by Goldie (ibid), Locke’s intolerance for Catholicism was due to fear of the possibility that Catholics control politics power to despoil people’s property and liberty. Substantially, the intolerance of Catholics is another way to impose restriction on government.

Power separation is legitimated by the law of nature and social contract for preserving people natural rights from sovereignty corruption. Locke (2014, sec77) expressed his concerns of the corruption of government power in the Chapter 7, by comparing sovereignty as a lion, in contrast with powerful individual in the state of nature as a pole-cat. It would be ironic for people to run away from such a risk and then to put themselves into another risk, which is far more dangerous than the rule broker in state of nature. In Chapter 10, Locke (2014, Sec143) points out that people who hold power face the temptation to abuse their power and in turn violate people natural rights. Avoiding the potential risk for citizens, the institutional control of rulers is crucial for government resistance.

Specifically, Locke (2014, Sec150) insists that the Legislative is the highest power, as it creates the constitution by which all citizens abide to, others authorities are descendent from it and depend to it. Besides, Locke (2014, Sec159) described the distinctions between function of legislative and executive, and it essentially calls for the separation of the legislative and executive. Although in Locke’s theory the judicial is not mentioned and the part of power separation is not wrote about significantly, the influence of separation power theory proved to be a key part of civil societies in the following centuries. Recognized by Kurland (1986, pp592), the separation of power becomes a main approach and characteristic for democratic governments in modern times. It provided a systematic chain for government and ensured sovereign authority of citizens (Kurland, ibid). For instance, Tarlton (1985) argues that the Two Treaties as a theoretical foundation have afforded the revolution of 1688 transforming the balance of power timelessly from the king to parliament in England.

Even the separation of power cannot perfectly ensure that government will keep away from corruption. Illustrated by Locke (ibid, Sec218-219), in that situation, the most powerful and realistic resistance that people hold is the right to revolt the revolution an illegitimate government who do not respect and protect people natural rights. In the chapter XVIII of Two Treatises (Locke, ibid), any kinds of exercise of power beyond rights should be considered as a tyranny. The social contract argues that a government should protect people’s rights, once it has failed to preserve or even hurt these rights it would be seen as overstepping the social contract. In such circumstances, the social contract no longer exists. As consequence people do not need to maintain their obedience to sovereign anymore, and citizens are entitled to rebel against the legislators (Locke, ibid, Sec222). Hence, as Locke (ibid, Sec222) emphasized, the revolution becomes an obligation instead of a choice. While, the practice of revolution cannot be taken randomly. The occasionally and less significant mismanagements are tolerable, only if continuous breaches of the contract and fatal abuse of power were to happen, would the rebelling have to come out.

Controversially, Locke does not go in to detail of the specific condition in which people can legitimatize their rebellion. This judgment was left to people themselves to define. Proposed by Laslett(1988, pp7), Locke writing the Two Treaties actually managed to remind citizens that King James II of England was to endeavor his own interest, and meanwhile, encroach citizens’ rights. Locke provided a precise theory for supporting the legitimacy of overturning government. Mentioned by Dunn (1982,pp8-10), Locke’s revolution theory historically made a turning point for western politics. The following revolutions such as 1776 American Revolution and 1789 French Revolution, are all derived from the Second Treatise. (Dunn, ibid) The history actually shows the condition of revolution, and supreme position of citizen for sovereignty.

In conclusion, for Locke, humans behave in accordance with law of nature, which request people to protect and respect individual’s natural rights. People come together create a social contract for implement law of nature. Sovereignty is created based on social contract, using consented authorities to submit people natural rights. Reasonable restrictions of political power such as forbidden intervention to religion, requested power separation, people’s reserved right of rebelling are all legitimated by human natural rights and law of nature.

Words count: 1804

Dunn, J. (1982) The Political Thought of John Locke‬:

Franklin, J. H. (1978) John Locke and the theory of sovereignty: Mixed Monarchy& The right of resistance in the political thought of the English Revolution. Cambridge university press. pp 9-10.

Gauthier, D. (1977) The Social Contract as Ideology. Philosophy & Public Affairs. Published by Wiley. Page 134 of 130-164.

Goldie, M. (1992) John Locke's circle and James II. The Historical Journal, 35, pp 557-586

Graf E. C. (2007) Cervantes and Modernity: Four Essays on Modernity. Bucknell University Press, pp 141-55.

Hobbes, T. (1996) Hobbes: Leviathan: Revised Student Edition. Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. Accessed 21st November, 2014.

Kraynak R. P.(1980) John Locke: From Absolutism to Toleration. The American Political Science Review. Page 53 of 53-69

Kurland, P. B. (1986) The Rise and Fall of the "Doctrine" of Separation of Powers. Page 592 of 592-613. Accessed 21st November, 2014.

Laslett, P. (1988) "Introduction." Two Treatises of Government. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 9.

Locke ,J (2014) SECOND TREATISE OF GOVERNMENT. Accessed 23rd November, 2014.

Locke, J (2003). Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration. Yale University Press.

Schochet, G.J. (1967) Thomas Hobbes on the Family and the State of Nature. Political Science Quarterly. Page 427 of 427-445

Tarlton, C.D. (1985) ‘The Rulers now on Earth’: Locke's Two Treatises and the Revolution of 1688. The Historical Journal, 28, page 279-298.

Tuckness, A. (2002) Rethinking the Intolerant Locke. American Journal of Political Science. vol.46,Page 288 of 288-298

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