John Locke is considered one of the most influential English philosophers of the Enlightenment era. Influenced by Francis Bacon’s ideas, Locke developed empiricist’s ideology. He considered the constitutional monarchy the best form of government. According to Locke, the way to build it was by dividing the government into three branches: parliamentary, federal, and executive. He was the first thinker to advocate individual right for happiness. His influence spread on other philosophers who later would work on the ideas of mind and self (Verney 200).
Unlike other modern philosophers, Locke believed that that tolerance and reason were the keys to individual freedom. However, he stated that the society ruled by natural law needed the governance (Locke 107). Thus, he developed the mechanisms of creating societies and governments. He also upheld the theory of governmental division of powers and believed that the only most powerful force was society itself. He stressed that in case the government failed to represent society, it should rebel against it (Dunn 154).
John Locke’s Second Treatise on the Government was created opposing the major ideas of Sir Robert Filmer. His main work Patriarcha, published in 1680, contains the ideas of absolute monarchy (Filmer 96). Filmer stresses the point of the nature of king’s power to be divine. By defining the royalist principles of duty of obedience and the divine nature of the power, he explains that the paternal power over the children and king’s power are the same. Filmer advocates the thesis about the power given to the men by God from the beginning of time (Filmer 20). Thus, Adam was the first king. He attacks the ideas of protestant Christianity for their way to express the rights of the individual to be free of his will.
Ten years after the Patriarchy was published, John Locke published his Two Treatises of Government. In his work, Locke persistently argues with Filmer’s statements on the divine nature of the power and encloses the definitions of natural rights and laws. John Locke states:
The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker. (191)
The paper will discuss how the main idea of society and the government that form on the basis on the natural rights, expressed in the quote, became the ground rule for all the mechanisms described by John Locke.
In the Second Treatise, Locke particularly argues with absolutism. It explains the mechanisms of forming societies and governments. The Chapter 1 of the Treatise uncovers the controversy of Locke’s ideas against Filmer’s. He also expressed hopes that the rule of King William I, who successfully invaded England in 1689, would be just (Ackroyd 443). First of all, John Locke opposes Filmer’s ideas by pointing out that it would be impossible to grant power to Adam’s heirs since it is impossible to identify them. Secondly, he emphasizes the difference between different powers: familiar, political, and paternal. Thus, he defines the political power as limited and supported by communities interests.
Locke presents the definition of the state of nature. It defines the natural rights of every individual. He addresses the point that every person is free and no one should have the power over another one; however, no one has a right to abuse the freedom of others. For the natural law to work, the community should create a general law to govern it. The law is to protect the rights and freedoms, the property, etc. A person cannot be under the power of foreign government. However, if the one commits the crime under the jurisdiction of this government, he or she will be punished according to its laws. The simple philosophy of natural law states that the punishment fits the crime.
John Locke gives the clear definition of the war and explains the difference between the war and the state of nature. The state of nature demands that people live together ruled by the reason and common sense, when the state of war is defined by the force applied against other people without any rules or an authorized judge. It is important to understand that Locke talks about the war meaning the conflict. He addresses the point about the conflicts between individuals, but not necessarily forces of different countries. At the same time, Locke stresses that according to natural law, people can rebel against the government that fails to perform its responsibilities (122). Just as people have a right to fight against the injustice of other people, they can fight against offensive politics of the leaders.
John Locke’s Second Treatise also raises the question of social liberty. It reasonably comes out of the previous thought about the conflict between the individuals. Locke defines slavery as an extension of the war between individuals when the winner tries to force another one to obedience, thus violating his rights. John Locke addresses the question of slavery as an unnatural phenomenon (134). Since one is free by natural laws as well as he or she is socially liberated, thus, he or she does not depend on or does not obey any other individual or power by nature, one cannot voluntarily become a slave. It means that slavery is by definition violation of natural and social rights.
John Locke develops an idea of property starting with individual property – the body, the labor, which is performed by this body, and the thought. This way, Locke develops a formula for the individual property: a body, which performs labor towards the objects, makes the objects an individual property because the tools used to perform the action are private. However, in terms of appropriation, it also gives an owner the responsibility to make only a limited amount of property his own. At the same time, the person needs to consider the amount of property he needs. If he appropriates too much and wastes it – he will overextend his natural right. Thus, any object or land can become an individual property as long as the owner performs actions upon it without wasting it. Money, in turn, becomes an instrument of trade and evaluation but not the object to perform actions upon.
The main idea is seen throughout all the chapters as John Locke bases his entire thesis upon the natural individual right for freedom. Although every person is born as a free individual, parents still control him or her in one way or another. The reason is the main factor that helps individuals to survive in nature and society. However, people are born without it. Parent remains powerful over the child up until the last one can function independently within the community. The ability to reason and function independently brings the responsibility because a reasonable individual is capable of being responsible for his actions and thoughts. In turn, responsibility brings the freedom of action and reasoning. It means that reason leads to freedom. Locke’s purpose for this chapter was to explain the nature and mechanisms of monarchical power. He particularly argues with Robert Filmer and his thesis on the divine nature of parental power of kings (Locke 157). The reason for the comparison of kings and fathers lies in Locke’s modern tradition to compare them. Political power cannot be paternal. If individual freedom arises within one’s ability to reason, the government either assumes that people are not capable of it or becomes powerless after acknowledging their reason. These thoughts were significant because it was the first time someone presented the mechanism of creating civil society.
Locke describes civil society as a group of individuals that is governed by common rules and is under the authority of a chosen leader. In turn, the leader develops the legislation system to govern the actions of the people, protect their rights and property, and ensure their well-being. The goal is to show how absolute monarchy breaks these principles and violates the social rights. It happens when legislative and executive power is placed into one authorized person. In order to reach the commonwealth, society invests the trust to govern into different leading bodies.
John Locke consistently argues that the governing power is the majority. He offers practical side of this approach: people agree to follow the established rules when they enter society (Locke 170). Thus, they claim society’s power and agree to common decisions. He also assumes two arguments against this organizational model (Locke 173). First, there is no historical evidence of this model to work for any country. Secondly, in terms of law, it is impossible to create a new government for people who were born under the power of operating authorities. Locke stresses that history remains silent about many facts, but it does not mean that they were never true (177).
John Locke discusses different forms of government. He also takes a close look at the legislative power because he considers it as the most important part of government (Locke 185). The majority is in charge of authorizing the legislative body. In turn, its main roles are to present society and advocate its interests. The members of society are to obey the rules established by the legislative body. However, unlike monarchs, members of the legislative body are not granted the limitless power. They are limited to govern by the common rules, eligible for everyone; they are not to change the property regulations without the approval of society. Thus, all the laws are fixed for the good of the people. Although, Locke expresses the favor towards the legislative body, he also expresses concern about people’s natural appetites and presumes that at some point, long-term office holders can start governing in their own interests (192). However, Locke is clear on the fact that the most power is concentrated in the hands of the social majority.
The Second Treatise on Government suggests the schedule of work for governing systems: there is no need for the legislative branch to be always active, unlike the executive – it enforces the laws that are passed by the legislative. International relations are as well under control of natural laws. However, the highest authority is the social majority. Locke introduces the reader to the division of labor and powers inside the government. He also offers an idea, unpopular at that time, that the national policy goes beyond the borders of the country, maintaining foreign policies (Kelly 50).
Locke states that the only way the conqueror can rule the conquered is by maintaining justice and unjust leaders have no right to lead society (Locke 203). At the same time, those who invested the power into the leader should not suffer from their action. In the state of war, the aggressor only takes over the conquered government, but never the people. This way, he cannot force to obedience those who did nothing for him to conquer the power. Thus, his power is limited by certain factors: the conquered government has no right to interact with the individual property and the conqueror has the power to govern the life of the people but not limit their freedom. Usurpation is the change of leading powers that are not eligible unless people decide to give the power to the usurper. In these statements, Locke expresses the mechanisms of successful war and explains what can or cannot be done due to the principles of natural rights (125).
These ideas were desperately needed in England at that time, the first years after William’s invasion in England and Glorious Revolution. By including this into his Treatise, Locke expresses the hope that new rules would maintain just and efficient governance, working for the good of people. Essentially, John Locke sets ground rules for the new leaders (Ackroyd 482).
By the end of the Treatise, John Locke successively comes to the definition of tyranny. After he explains the natural rights, provides the ways of interference between the individuals and between the government and society, and defines the forms of government and its components, he expresses the meaning and danger of tyranny because of all prior processes. Locke states that tyranny is the power beyond any rights used to act in tyrant’s own interests (224). By the end of the treaty, the thought arrives at the mechanisms of forming the new government. It becomes clear that John Locke aimed to uncover the dissolution of just governing powers influenced by the tyranny (362). He consistently covers every detail on the social interaction and the way to govern it. He also makes a strong, persistent statement that the only power that can judge the legislation is the society.
Locke advocated the liberal ideas of private property and governmental non-interference. He upheld the concept of limited government based on individual rights and dignity; however, he also advocated the unlimited personal property. This merger of concepts made the Second Treatise the perfect argument against unjust government and absolutism (Kelly 61).
Essentially, the Treatise puts the decision-making tools into hands of people. However, it also emphasizes that people need executive power to protect their rights and property. In case the elected representatives are not able to perform their tasks, people are in power to change the governing officials.
The Treatise was not popular when it was published. In the period between 1689 and 1694, around 200 treatises were published to discuss the Glorious revolution. Locke’s ideas became popular at the beginning of the next century due to the public debates over the Two Treatises. In the middle of the 18th century, Locke’s popularity increased. The debates invoked Locke’s ideas discussing the slavery as a violation of natural rights, as well as rights of American colonies (Dunn 188).
In the modern world, the ideas of John Locke are at the base of Western political philosophy. The concepts of French Revolution were built upon Locke’s ideas as well as the Constitution of the United States of America. John Locke sets ground rules for creating successful societies and efficient governments. The Second Treatises of Government advocates the concept of state of nature. Natural rights and laws are at the basis of the relations within society as well as between society and the government. In fact, the chosen government is the result of healthy society. John Locke bases his philosophy on natural rights, where any violation of them leads to the new challenges.