Two Treatises of Government

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Two Treatises of Government
Locke treatises of government page.jpg
Title page from the first edition
Author John Locke
Country England
Subject Political philosophy
Publisher Awnsham Churchill
Publication date
(dated 1690)
Media typePrint

Two Treatises of Government (or Two Treatises of Government: In the Former, The False Principles, and Foundation of Sir Robert Filmer, and His Followers, Are Detected and Overthrown. The Latter Is an Essay Concerning The True Original, Extent, and End of Civil Government) is a work of political philosophy published anonymously in 1689 by John Locke. The First Treatise attacks patriarchalism in the form of sentence-by-sentence refutation of Robert Filmer's Patriarcha , while the Second Treatise outlines Locke's ideas for a more civilized society based on natural rights and contract theory.


This publication contrasts former political works by Locke himself. In Two Tracts on Government , written in 1660, Locke defends a very conservative position; however, Locke never published it. [1] In 1669, Locke co-authored the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, which endorses aristocracy, slavery and serfdom. [2] [3] Some dispute the extent to which the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina portray Locke's own philosophy, vs. that of the Lord proprietors of the colony; the document was a legal document written for and signed and sealed by the eight Lord proprietors to whom Charles II had granted the colony. In this context, Locke was only a paid secretary, writing it much as a lawyer writes a will.

Historical context

King James II of England (VII of Scotland) was overthrown in 1688 by a union of Parliamentarians and the stadtholder of the Dutch Republic William III of Oranje-Nassau (William of Orange), who as a result ascended the English throne as William III of England. He ruled jointly with Mary II, as Protestants. Mary was the daughter of James II, and had a strong claim to the English Throne.

This is now known as the Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688. Locke claims in the "Preface" to the Two Treatises that its purpose is to justify William III's ascension to the throne, though Peter Laslett suggests that the bulk of the writing was instead completed between 1679–1680 (and subsequently revised until Locke was driven into exile in 1683). [4] According to Laslett, Locke was writing his Two Treatises during the Exclusion Crisis, which attempted to prevent James II from ever taking the throne in the first place. Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, Locke's mentor, patron and friend, introduced the bill, but it was ultimately unsuccessful. Richard Ashcraft, following in Laslett's suggestion that the Two Treatises were written before the Revolution, objected that Shaftesbury's party did not advocate revolution during the Exclusion Crisis. He suggests that they are instead better associated with the revolutionary conspiracies that swirled around what would come to be known as the Rye House Plot. [5] Locke, Shaftesbury and many others were forced into exile; some, such as Sidney, were even executed for treason. Locke knew his work was dangerous—he never acknowledged his authorship within his lifetime.

Publication history

The only edition of the Treatises published in America during the 18th century (1773) LockeTreatiseAmerica.png
The only edition of the Treatises published in America during the 18th century (1773)

Two Treatises was first published anonymously in December 1689 (following printing conventions of the time, its title page was marked 1690). Locke was dissatisfied with the numerous errors and complained to the publisher. For the rest of his life, he was intent on republishing the Two Treatises in a form that better reflected its intended meaning. Peter Laslett, one of the foremost Locke scholars, has suggested that Locke held the printers to a higher "standard of perfection" than the technology of the time would permit. [6] Be that as it may, the first edition was indeed replete with errors. The second edition was even worse, in addition to being printed on cheap paper and sold to the poor. The third edition was much improved, but still deemed unsatisfactory by Locke. [7] He manually corrected the third edition by hand and entrusted the publication of the fourth to his friends, as he died before it could be brought out. [8]

Two Treatises is prefaced with Locke announcing what he aims to achieve, also mentioning that more than half of his original draft, occupying a space between the First and Second Treatises, has been irretrievably lost. [9] Peter Laslett maintains that, while Locke may have added or altered some portions in 1689, he did not make any revisions to accommodate for the missing section; he argues, for example, that the end of the First Treatise breaks off in mid-sentence. [10]

In 1691 Two Treatises was translated into French by David Mazzel, a French Huguenot living in the Netherlands. This translation left out Locke's "Preface," all of the First Treatise, and the first chapter of the Second Treatise (which summarised Locke's conclusions in the First Treatise). It was in this form that Locke's work was reprinted during the 18th century in France and in this form that Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau were exposed to it. [11] The only American edition from the 18th century was printed in 1773 in Boston; it, too, left out all of these sections. There were no other American editions until the 20th century. [12]

Main ideas

Two Treatises is divided into the First Treatise and the Second Treatise. The original title of the Second Treatise appears to have been simply "Book II," corresponding to the title of the First Treatise, "Book I." Before publication, however, Locke gave it greater prominence by (hastily) inserting a separate title page: "An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent and End of Civil Government." [13] The First Treatise is focused on the refutation of Sir Robert Filmer, in particular his Patriarcha, which argued that civil society was founded on a divinely sanctioned patriarchalism. Locke proceeds through Filmer's arguments, contesting his proofs from Scripture and ridiculing them as senseless, until concluding that no government can be justified by an appeal to the divine right of kings.

The Second Treatise outlines a theory of civil society. Locke begins by describing the state of nature, a picture much more stable than Thomas Hobbes' state of "war of every man against every man," and argues that all men are created equal in the state of nature by God. From this, he goes on to explain the hypothetical rise of property and civilization, in the process explaining that the only legitimate governments are those that have the consent of the people. Therefore, any government that rules without the consent of the people can, in theory, be overthrown.

First Treatise

Title page from Filmer's Patriarcha (1680) Patriarcha; or the Natural Power of Kings.jpg
Title page from Filmer's Patriarcha (1680)

The First Treatise is an extended attack on Sir Robert Filmer's Patriarcha. Locke's argument proceeds along two lines: first, he undercuts the Scriptural support that Filmer had offered for his thesis, and second he argues that the acceptance of Filmer's thesis can lead only to slavery (and absurdity). Locke chose Filmer as his target, he says, because of his reputation and because he "carried this Argument [jure divino] farthest, and is supposed to have brought it to perfection" (1st Tr., § 5).

Filmer's text presented an argument for a divinely ordained, hereditary, absolute monarchy. According to Filmer, the Biblical Adam in his role as father possessed unlimited power over his children and this authority passed down through the generations. Locke attacks this on several grounds. Accepting that fatherhood grants authority, he argues, it would do so only by the act of begetting, and so cannot be transmitted to one's children because only God can create life. Nor is the power of a father over his children absolute, as Filmer would have it; Locke points to the joint power parents share over their children referred to in the Bible. In the Second Treatise Locke returns to a discussion of parental power. (Both of these discussions have drawn the interest of modern feminists such as Carole Pateman.)

Filmer also suggested that Adam's absolute authority came from his ownership over all the world. To this, Locke responds that the world was originally held in common (a theme that will return in the Second Treatise). But, even if it were not, he argues, God's grant to Adam covered only the land and brute animals, not human beings. Nor could Adam, or his heir, leverage this grant to enslave mankind, for the law of nature forbids reducing one's fellows to a state of desperation, if one possesses a sufficient surplus to maintain oneself securely. And even if this charity were not commanded by reason, Locke continues, such a strategy for gaining dominion would prove only that the foundation of government lies in consent.

Locke intimates in the First Treatise that the doctrine of divine right of kings (jure divino) will eventually be the downfall of all governments. In his final chapter he asks, "Who heir?" If Filmer is correct, there should be only one rightful king in all the world—the heir of Adam. But since it is impossible to discover the true heir of Adam, no government, under Filmer's principles, can require that its members obey its rulers. Filmer must therefore say that men are duty-bound to obey their present rulers. Locke writes:

I think he is the first Politician, who, pretending to settle Government upon its true Basis, and to establish the Thrones of lawful Princes, ever told the World, That he was properly a King, whose Manner of Government was by Supreme Power, by what Means soever he obtained it; which in plain English is to say, that Regal and Supreme Power is properly and truly his, who can by any Means seize upon it; and if this be, to be properly a King, I wonder how he came to think of, or where he will find, an Usurper. (1st Tr., § 79)

Locke ends the First Treatise by examining the history told in the Bible and the history of the world since then; he concludes that there is no evidence to support Filmer's hypothesis. According to Locke, no king has ever claimed that his authority rested upon his being the heir of Adam. It is Filmer, Locke alleges, who is the innovator in politics, not those who assert the natural equality and freedom of man.

Second Treatise

In the Second Treatise Locke develops a number of notable themes. It begins with a depiction of the state of nature, wherein individuals are under no obligation to obey one another but are each themselves judge of what the law of nature requires. It also covers conquest and slavery, property, representative government, and the right of revolution.

State of Nature

Locke defines the state of nature thus:

To properly understand political power and trace its origins, we must consider the state that all people are in naturally. That is a state of perfect freedom of acting and disposing of their own possessions and persons as they think fit within the bounds of the law of nature. People in this state do not have to ask permission to act or depend on the will of others to arrange matters on their behalf. The natural state is also one of equality in which all power and jurisdiction is reciprocal and no one has more than another. It is evident that all human beings—as creatures belonging to the same species and rank and born indiscriminately with all the same natural advantages and faculties—are equal amongst themselves. They have no relationship of subordination or subjection unless God (the lord and master of them all) had clearly set one person above another and conferred on him an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty. [14] [15]

In 17th-century England, the work of Thomas Hobbes popularized theories based upon a state of nature , 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 (i.e., 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 a government that has been established with consent of the people and the effective protection of basic human rights to life, liberty, and property under the rule of law.

Nobody in the natural state has the political power to tell others what to do. However, everybody has the right to authoritatively pronounce justice and administer punishment for breaches of the natural law. Thus, men are not free to do whatever they please. "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... no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions" (2nd Tr., § 6). The specifics of this law are unwritten, however, and so each is likely to misapply it in his own case. Lacking any commonly recognised, impartial judge, there is no way to correct these misapplications or to effectively restrain those who violate the law of nature.

The law of nature is therefore ill enforced in the state of nature.

IF man in the state of nature be so free, as has been said; if he be absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest, and subject to no body, why will he part with his freedom? Why will he give up this empire, and subject himself to the dominion and control of any other power? To which it is obvious to answer, that though in the state of nature he hath such a right, yet the enjoyment of it is very uncertain, and constantly exposed to the invasion of others: for all being kings as much as he, every man his equal, and the greater part no strict observers of equity and justice, the enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe, very unsecure. This makes him willing to quit a condition, which, however free, is full of fears and continual dangers: and it is not without reason, that he seeks out, and is willing to join in society with others, who are already united, or have a mind to unite, for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name, property. (2nd Tr., § 123)

It is to avoid the state of war that often occurs in the state of nature, and to protect their private property that men enter into civil or political society, i.e., state of society.

Conquest and slavery

Ch. 4 ("Of Slavery") and Ch. 16 ("Of Conquest") are sources of some confusion: the former provides a justification for slavery, the latter, the rights of conquerors. Because the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina provided that a master had perfect authority over his slaves, some[ who? ] have taken these chapters to be an apology for the institution of slavery in Colonial America.

In the rhetoric of 17th-century England, those who opposed the increasing power of the kings claimed that the country was headed for a condition of slavery. Locke therefore asks, facetiously, under what conditions such slavery might be justified. He notes that slavery cannot come about as a matter of contract (which became the basis of Locke's political system). To be a slave is to be subject to the absolute, arbitrary power of another; as men do not have this power even over themselves, they cannot sell or otherwise grant it to another. One that is deserving of death, i.e., who has violated the law of nature, may be enslaved. This is, however, but the state of war continued (2nd Tr., § 24), and even one justly a slave therefore has no obligation to obedience.

In providing a justification for slavery, he has rendered all forms of slavery as it actually exists invalid. Moreover, as one may not submit to slavery, there is a moral injunction to attempt to throw off and escape it whenever it looms. Most scholars take this to be Locke's point regarding slavery: submission to absolute monarchy is a violation of the law of nature, for one does not have the right to enslave oneself.

The legitimacy of an English king depended on (somehow) demonstrating descent from William the Conqueror: the right of conquest was therefore a topic rife with constitutional connotations. Locke does not say that all subsequent English monarchs have been illegitimate, but he does make their rightful authority dependent solely upon their having acquired the people's approbation.

Locke first argues that, clearly, aggressors in an unjust war can claim no right of conquest: everything they despoil may be retaken as soon as the dispossessed have the strength to do so. Their children retain this right, so an ancient usurpation does not become lawful with time. The rest of the chapter then considers what rights a just conqueror might have.

The argument proceeds negatively: Locke proposes one power a conqueror could gain, and then demonstrates how in point of fact that power cannot be claimed. He gains no authority over those that conquered with him, for they did not wage war unjustly: thus, whatever other right William may have had in England, he could not claim kingship over his fellow Normans by right of conquest. The subdued are under the conqueror's despotical authority, but only those who actually took part in the fighting. Those who were governed by the defeated aggressor do not become subject to the authority of the victorious aggressor. They lacked the power to do an unjust thing, and so could not have granted that power to their governors: the aggressor therefore was not acting as their representative, and they cannot be punished for his actions. And while the conqueror may seize the person of the vanquished aggressor in an unjust war, he cannot seize the latter's property: he may not drive the innocent wife and children of a villain into poverty for another's unjust acts. While the property is technically that of the defeated, his innocent dependents have a claim that the just conqueror must honour. He cannot seize more than the vanquished could forfeit, and the latter had no right to ruin his dependents. (He may, however, demand and take reparations for the damages suffered in the war, so long as these leave enough in the possession of the aggressor's dependants for their survival).

In so arguing, Locke accomplishes two objectives. First, he neutralises the claims of those who see all authority flowing from William I by the latter's right of conquest. In the absence of any other claims to authority (e.g., Filmer's primogeniture from Adam, divine anointment, etc.), all kings would have to found their authority on the consent of the governed. Second, he removes much of the incentive for conquest in the first place, for even in a just war the spoils are limited to the persons of the defeated and reparations sufficient only to cover the costs of the war, and even then only when the aggressor's territory can easily sustain such costs (i.e., it can never be a profitable endeavour). Needless to say, the bare claim that one's spoils are the just compensation for a just war does not suffice to make it so, in Locke's view.


In the Second Treatise, Locke claims that civil society was created for the protection of property. [16] In saying this, he relies on the etymological root of "property," Latin proprius, or what is one's own, including oneself (cf. French propre). Thus, by "property" he means "life, liberty, and estate." By saying that political society was established for the better protection of property, he claims that it serves the private (and non-political) interests of its constituent members: it does not promote some good that can be realised only in community with others (e.g., virtue).

For this account to work, individuals must possess some property outside of society, i.e., in the state of nature: the state cannot be the sole origin of property, declaring what belongs to whom. If the purpose of government is the protection of property, the latter must exist independently of the former. Filmer had said that, if there even were a state of nature (which he denied), everything would be held in common: there could be no private property, and hence no justice or injustice (injustice being understood as treating someone else's goods, liberty, or life as if it were one's own). Thomas Hobbes had argued the same thing. Locke therefore provides an account of how material property could arise in the absence of government.

He begins by asserting that each individual, at a minimum, "owns" himself, although, properly speaking, God created man and we are God's property; [17] this is a corollary of each individual's being free and equal in the state of nature. As a result, each must also own his own labour: to deny him his labour would be to make him a slave. One can therefore take items from the common store of goods by mixing one's labour with them: an apple on the tree is of no use to anyone—it must be picked to be eaten—and the picking of that apple makes it one's own. In an alternate argument, Locke claims that we must allow it to become private property lest all mankind have starved, despite the bounty of the world. A man must be allowed to eat, and thus have what he has eaten be his own (such that he could deny others a right to use it). The apple is surely his when he swallows it, when he chews it, when he bites into it, when he brings it to his mouth, etc.: it became his as soon as he mixed his labour with it (by picking it from the tree).

This does not yet say why an individual is allowed to take from the common store of nature. There is a necessity to do so to eat, but this does not yet establish why others must respect one's property, especially as they labour under the like necessity. Locke assures his readers that the state of nature is a state of plenty: one may take from communal store if one leaves a) enough and b) as good for others, and since nature is bountiful, one can take all that one can use without taking anything from someone else. Moreover, one can take only so much as one can use before it spoils. There are then two provisos regarding what one can take, the "enough and as good" condition and "spoilage."

Gold does not rot. Neither does silver, or any other precious metal or gem. They are, moreover, useless, their aesthetic value not entering into the equation. One can heap up as much of them as one wishes, or take them in trade for food. By the tacit consent of mankind, they become a form of money (one accepts gold in exchange for apples with the understanding that someone else will accept that gold in exchange for wheat). One can therefore avoid the spoilage limitation by selling all that one has amassed before it rots; the limits on acquisition thus disappear.

In this way, Locke argues that a full economic system could, in principle, exist within the state of nature. Property could therefore predate the existence of government, and thus society can be dedicated to the protection of property.

Representative government

Locke did not demand a republic. Rather, Locke felt that a legitimate contract could easily exist between citizens and a monarchy, an oligarchy or some mixed form (2nd Tr., sec. 132). Locke uses the term Common-wealth to mean "not a democracy, or any form of government, but any independent community" (sec. 133) and "whatever form the Common-wealth is under, the Ruling Power ought to govern by declared and received laws, and not by extemporary dictates and undetermined resolutions." (sec 137)

Locke does, however, make a distinction between an executive (e.g. a monarchy), a "Power always in being" (sec 144) that must perpetually execute the law, and the legislative that is the "supreme power of the Common-wealth" (sec 134) and does not have to be always in being. (sec 153) Furthermore, governments are charged by the consent of the individual, "i.e. the consent of the majority, giving it either by themselves, or their representatives chosen by them." (sec 140)

His notions of people's rights and the role of civil government provided strong support for the intellectual movements of both the American and French Revolutions.

Right of revolution

The concept of the right of revolution was also taken up by John Locke in Two Treatises of Government as part of his social contract theory. Locke declared that under natural law, all people have the right to life, liberty, and estate; under the social contract, the people could instigate a revolution against the government when it acted against the interests of citizens, to replace the government with one that served the interests of citizens. In some cases, Locke deemed revolution an obligation. The right of revolution thus essentially acted as a safeguard against tyranny.

Locke affirmed an explicit right to revolution in Two Treatises of Government: “whenever the Legislators endeavor to take away, and destroy the Property of the People, or to reduce them to Slavery under Arbitrary Power, they put themselves into a state of War with the People, who are thereupon absolved from any farther Obedience, and are left to the common Refuge, which God hath provided for all Men, against Force and Violence. Whensoever therefore the Legislative shall transgress this fundamental Rule of Society; and either by Ambition, Fear, Folly or Corruption, endeavor to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other an Absolute Power over the Lives, Liberties, and Estates of the People; By this breach of Trust they forfeit the Power, the People had put into their hands, for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the People, who have a Right to resume their original Liberty". (sec. 222)

Reception and influence


Although the Two Treatises would become well known in the second half of the 18th century, they were somewhat neglected when published. Between 1689 and 1694, around 200 tracts and treatises were published concerning the legitimacy of the Glorious Revolution. Three of these mention Locke, two of which were written by friends of Locke. [18] When Hobbes published the Leviathan in 1651, by contrast, dozens of texts were immediately written in response to it. As Mark Goldie explains: "Leviathan was a monolithic and unavoidable presence for political writers in Restoration England in a way that in the first half of the eighteenth the Two Treatises was not." [19]

While the Two Treatises did not become popular until the 1760s, ideas from them did start to become important earlier in the century. According to Goldie, "the crucial moment was 1701" and "the occasion was the Kentish petition." The pamphlet war that ensued was one of the first times Locke's ideas were invoked in a public debate, most notably by Daniel Defoe. [20] Locke's ideas did not go unchallenged and the periodical The Rehearsal, for example, launched a "sustained and sophisticated assault" against the Two Treatises and endorsed the ideology of patriarchalism. [21] Not only did patriarchalism continue to be a legitimate political theory in the 18th century, but as J. G. A. Pocock and others have gone to great lengths to demonstrate, so was civic humanism and classical republicanism. Pocock has argued that Locke's Two Treatises had very little effect on British political theory; he maintains that there was no contractarian revolution. Rather, he sees these other long-standing traditions as far more important for 18th-century British politics. [22]

In the middle of the 18th century, Locke's position as a political philosopher suddenly rose in prominence. For example, he was invoked by those arguing on behalf of the American colonies during the Stamp Act debates of 1765–66. [23] Marginalized groups such as women, Dissenters and those campaigning to abolish the slave trade all invoked Lockean ideals. But at the same time, as Goldie describes it, "a wind of doubt about Locke's credentials gathered into a storm. The sense that Locke's philosophy had been misappropriated increasingly turned to a conviction that it was erroneous". [24] By the 1790s Locke was associated with Rousseau and Voltaire and being blamed for the American and French Revolutions as well as for the perceived secularisation of society. [25] By 1815, Locke's portrait was taken down from Christ Church, his alma mater (it was later restored to a position of prominence, and currently hangs in the dining hall of the college).

North America

Locke's influence during the American Revolutionary period is disputed. While it is easy to point to specific instances of Locke's Two Treatises being invoked, the extent of the acceptance of Locke's ideals and the role they played in the American Revolution are far from clear. The Two Treatises are echoed in phrases in the Declaration of Independence and writings by Samuel Adams that attempted to gain support for the rebellion. Of Locke's influence Thomas Jefferson wrote: "Bacon, Locke and Newton I consider them as the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical & Moral sciences". [26] [27] The colonists frequently cited Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England , which synthesised Lockean political philosophy with the common law tradition. Louis Hartz, writing at the beginning of the 20th century, took it for granted that Locke was the political philosopher of the revolution.

This view was challenged by Bernard Bailyn and Gordon S. Wood, who argued that the revolution was not a struggle over property, taxation, and rights, but rather "a Machiavellian effort to preserve the young republic's 'virtue' from the corrupt and corrupting forces of English politics." [28] Garry Wills, on the other hand, maintains that it was neither the Lockean tradition nor the classical republican tradition that drove the revolution, but instead Scottish moral philosophy, a political philosophy that based its conception of society on friendship, sensibility and the controlled passions. [28] Thomas Pangle and Michael Zuckert have countered, demonstrating numerous elements in the thought of more influential founders that have a Lockean pedigree. [29] They argue that there is no conflict between Lockean thought and classical Republicanism. [30] [31] [32] [33]

Locke's ideas have not been without criticism with Howard Zinn arguing that the treatise "ignored the existing inequalities in property. And how could people truly have equal rights, with stark differences in wealth"? [34] and others taking issue with his Labour theory of property

Controversies regarding interpretation

Locke's political philosophy is often compared and contrasted with Thomas Hobbes Leviathan . The motivation in both cases is self-preservation with Hobbes arguing the need of an absolute monarch to prevent the war of "all against all" inherent in anarchy while Locke argues that the protection of life, liberty, and property can be achieved by a parliamentary process that protects, not violates, one's rights.

Leo Strauss and C. B. Macpherson stress the continuity of thought. In their view Locke and Hobbes describe an atomistic man largely driven by a hedonistic materialistic acquisitiveness. Strauss' Locke is little more than Hobbes in "sheep’s clothing". [35] C. B. Macpherson argued in his Political Theory of Possessive Individualism that Locke sets the stage for unlimited acquisition and appropriation of property by the powerful creating gross inequality. Government is the protector of interests of capitalists while the "labouring class [are] not considered to have an interest". [36] [37]

Unlike Macpherson, James Tully finds no evidence that Locke specifically advocates capitalism. In his A Discourse on Property, Tully describes Locke's view of man as a social dependent, with Christian sensibilities, and a God-given duty to care for others. Property, in Tully's explanation of Locke, belong to the community as the public commons but becomes "private" so long as the property owner, or more correctly the "custodian", serves the community. [38] Zuckert believes Tully is reading into Locke rights and duties that just aren’t there. [39] Huyler finds that Locke explicitly condemned government privileges for rich, contrary to Macpherson's pro-capitalism critique, but also rejected subsidies to aid the poor, in contrast to Tully's social justice apologetics. [40]

The Cambridge School of political thought, led principally by Quentin Skinner, J. G. A. Pocock, Richard Ashcraft, and Peter Laslett, uses a historical methodology to situate Locke in the political context of his times. But they also restrict his importance to those times. [41] Ashcraft's Locke takes the side of the burgeoning merchant class against the aristocracy. [42] Neal Wood puts Locke on the side of the agrarian interests, not the manufacturing bourgeoisie. [43]

Jerome Huyler and Michael P. Zuckert approach Locke in the broader context of his oeuvre and historical influence. Locke is situated within changing religious, philosophical, scientific, and political dimensions of 17th century England. Objecting to the use of the contemporary concept of economic man to describe Locke's view of human nature, Huyler emphases the "virtue of industriousness" of Locke's Protestant England. Productive work is man's earthly function or calling, ordained by God and required by self-preservation. The government's protection of property rights insures that the results of industry, i.e. "fruits of one’s labor", are secure. Locke's prohibition of ill-gotten gains, whether for well-connected gentry or the profligate, is not a lack of Locke's foresight to the problems in the latter stages of liberalism but an application of equal protection of the law to every individual. [31]

Richard Pipes argues that Locke holds a labor theory of value that leads to the socialist critique that those not engaging in physical labor exploit wage earners. [44] Huyler, relying on Locke's Essays on the Law of Nature shows that reason is the most fundamental virtue, underwrites all productive virtue, and leads to human flourishing or happiness in an Aristotelean sense. [45]

See also

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Political philosophy Sub-discipline of philosophy and political science

Political philosophy or political theory is the philosophical study of government, addressing questions about the nature, scope, and legitimacy of public agents and institutions and the relationships between them. Its topics include politics, liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of laws by authority: what they are, if they are needed, what makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect, what form it should take, what the law is, and what duties citizens owe to a legitimate government, if any, and when it may be legitimately overthrown, if ever.

Property in the abstract is what belongs to or with something, whether as an attribute or as a component of said thing. In the context of this article, it is one or more components, whether physical or incorporeal, of a person's estate; or so belonging to, as in being owned by, a person or jointly a group of people or a legal entity like a corporation or even a society. Depending on the nature of the property, an owner of property has the right to consume, alter, share, redefine, rent, mortgage, pawn, sell, exchange, transfer, give away or destroy it, or to exclude others from doing these things, as well as to perhaps abandon it; whereas regardless of the nature of the property, the owner thereof has the right to properly use it, or at the very least exclusively keep it.

Social contract concept in political philosophy

In moral and political philosophy, the social contract is a theory or model that originated during the Age of Enlightenment and usually concerns the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual. Social contract arguments typically posit that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority in exchange for protection of their remaining rights or maintenance of the social order. The relation between natural and legal rights is often a topic of social contract theory. The term takes its name from The Social Contract, a 1762 book by Jean-Jacques Rousseau that discussed this concept. Although the antecedents of social contract theory are found in antiquity, in Greek and Stoic philosophy and Roman and Canon Law, the heyday of the social contract was the mid-17th to early 19th centuries, when it emerged as the leading doctrine of political legitimacy.

<i>Leviathan</i> (Hobbes book) Book by Thomas Hobbes

Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil, commonly referred to as Leviathan, is a book written by Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and published in 1651. Its name derives from the biblical Leviathan. The work concerns the structure of society and legitimate government, and is regarded as one of the earliest and most influential examples of social contract theory. Written during the English Civil War (1642–1651), it argues for a social contract and rule by an absolute sovereign. Hobbes wrote that civil war and the brute situation of a state of nature could be avoided only by strong, undivided government.

The state of nature, in moral and political philosophy, religion, social contract theories and international law, is the hypothetical life of people before societies came into existence. Philosophers of the state of nature theory deduce that there must have been a time before organized societies existed, and this presumption thus raises questions such as: "What was life like before civil society?"; "How did government first emerge from such a starting position?," and; "What are the hypothetical reasons for entering a state of society by establishing a nation-state?".

Natural rights and legal rights are the two basic types of rights.

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness Phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence

"Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" is a well-known phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence. The phrase gives three examples of the unalienable rights which the Declaration says have been given to all humans by their creator, and which governments are created to protect. Like the other principles in the Declaration of Independence, this phrase is not legally binding, but has been widely referenced and seen as an inspiration for the basis of government.

Popular sovereignty is the principle that the authority of a state and its government are created and sustained by the consent of its people, through their elected representatives, who are the source of all political power. It is closely associated with social contract philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Popular sovereignty expresses a concept, and does not necessarily reflect or describe a political reality. Benjamin Franklin expressed the concept when he wrote, "In free governments, the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns".

Negative liberty Freedom from interference by other people

Negative liberty is freedom from interference by other people. Negative liberty is primarily concerned with freedom from external restraint and contrasts with positive liberty. The distinction was introduced by Isaiah Berlin in his 1958 lecture "Two Concepts of Liberty".

Robert Filmer 17th-century English philosopher

Sir Robert Filmer was an English political theorist who defended the divine right of kings. His best known work, Patriarcha, published posthumously in 1680, was the target of numerous Whig attempts at rebuttal, including Algernon Sidney's Discourses Concerning Government, James Tyrrell's Patriarcha Non Monarcha and John Locke's Two Treatises of Government. Filmer also wrote critiques of Thomas Hobbes, John Milton, Hugo Grotius and Aristotle.

<i>A Letter Concerning Toleration</i>

A Letter Concerning Toleration by John Locke was originally published in 1689. Its initial publication was in Latin, and it was immediately translated into other languages. Locke's work appeared amidst a fear that Catholicism might be taking over England, and responds to the problem of religion and government by proposing religious toleration as the answer. This "letter" is addressed to an anonymous "Honored Sir": this was actually Locke's close friend Philipp van Limborch, who published it without Locke's knowledge.

Liberty Ability of individuals to have agency

Broadly speaking, liberty is the ability to do as one pleases, or a right or immunity enjoyed by prescription or by grant. It is a synonym for the word freedom. In modern politics, liberty is the state of being free within society from control or oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behaviour, or political views. In philosophy, liberty involves free will as contrasted with determinism. In theology, liberty is freedom from the effects of "sin, spiritual servitude, [or] worldly ties". Sometimes liberty is differentiated from freedom by using the word "freedom" primarily, if not exclusively, to mean the ability to do as one wills and what one has the power to do; and using the word "liberty" to mean the absence of arbitrary restraints, taking into account the rights of all involved. In this sense, the exercise of liberty is subject to capability and limited by the rights of others. Thus liberty entails the responsible use of freedom under the rule of law without depriving anyone else of their freedom. Freedom is more broad in that it represents a total lack of restraint or the unrestrained ability to fulfill one's desires. For example, a person can have the freedom to murder, but not have the liberty to murder, as the latter example deprives others of their right not to be harmed. Liberty can be taken away as a form of punishment. In many countries, people can be deprived of their liberty if they are convicted of criminal acts.

Lockean proviso

The Lockean proviso is a feature of John Locke's labor theory of property which states that whilst individuals have a right to homestead private property from nature by working on it, they can do so only "at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others".

Labor theory of property

The labor theory of property is a theory of natural law that holds that property originally comes about by the exertion of labor upon natural resources. The theory has been used to justify the homestead principle, which holds that one may gain whole permanent ownership of an unowned natural resource by performing an act of original appropriation.

Right of revolution Concept in political philosophy

In political philosophy, the right of revolution is the right or duty of a people to "alter or abolish" a government that acts against their common interests and/or threatens the safety of the people without cause. Stated throughout history in one form or another, the belief in this right has been used to justify various revolutions, including the American Revolution, French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and the Iranian Revolution.

James Tyrrell was an English author, Whig political philosopher, and historian.

The philosophy of human rights attempts to examine the underlying basis of the concept of human rights and critically looks at its content and justification. Several theoretical approaches have been advanced to explain how and why the concept of human rights developed.


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  4. Laslett, "Introduction," 59–61.
  5. Ashcraft, Revolutionary Politics.
  6. Laslett, Peter. "Introduction." Two Treatises of Government. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1988), 9.
  7. See Two Treatises of Government: In The Former the False Principles and Foundation of Sir Robert Filmer and His Followers, are Detected and Overthrown. The Latter is An Essay Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government (3 ed.). London: Awnsham and John Churchill. 1698. Retrieved 20 November 2014. via Google Books
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  10. Laslett, "English Revolution," 42.
  11. Laslett, "Introduction," 12–13.
  12. Laslett, "Introduction," 14–15.
  13. Laslett, 266.
  14. Two Treatises on Government: A Translation into Modern English, ISR/Google Books, 2009, p. 70.
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  17. Second Treatise, II, Section 6.
  18. Goldie, Mark. "Introduction". The Reception of Locke's Politics. 6 vols. London: Pickering & Chatto (1999), xxii.
  19. Goldie, "Introduction," xxii.
  20. Goldie, "Introduction," xxxi.
  21. Goldie, "Introduction," xxiv.
  22. Goldie, "Introduction," xxviii.
  23. Goldie, "Introduction," xxxv.
  24. Goldie, "Introduction, xxxviii.
  25. Goldie, "Introduction," xxxviii.
  26. "The Letters of Thomas Jefferson: 1743–1826 Bacon, Locke, and Newton". Archived from the original on 15 June 2009. Retrieved 12 July 2009. Bacon, Locke and Newton, whose pictures I will trouble you to have copied for me: and as I consider them as the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical & Moral sciences.
  27. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 12 November 2012. Retrieved 28 August 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Jefferson called Bacon, Newton, and Locke, who had so indelibly shaped his ideas, "my trinity of the three greatest men the world had ever produced"
  28. 1 2 Goldie, "Introduction," liii.
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  30. Zuckert 1994 , chpt. 7–10
  31. 1 2 Huyler 1995 , chpt. 4,5
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  36. Huyler 1995 , pp. 102, 120
  37. Macpherson 1962 , p. 228
  38. Huyler 1995 , pp. 130–35
  39. Zuckert 1994 , p. 367
  40. Huyler 1995 , pp. 162–71
  41. Huyler 1995 , p. 42
  42. Ashcraft 1986
  43. Huyler 1995 , pp. 104–05
  44. Pipes, Richard (1999). Property and Freedom. Knopf. p. 36. ISBN   978-0-375-40498-6.
  45. Huyler 1995 , chpt. 3