Locke on the foundations of the State
I The Basic Difficulty in Justifying Government and Political obligation
II Analysis by Chapters:
III Problems: (a selection)
A) Majority Rule
B) the reality and permanence of "CONSENT"
C) keeping control of representatives
I Basic Problem of Justifying Government:
Why should I do what my government says? Is there any reason to obey the laws beyond
the practical one of the consequences of getting caught?
Why should I pay taxes? Suppose Darth Vader decided to retire to Storrs, and lands his
spaceship on Horsebarn Hill and buys a house on North Eagleville Road, paying with the bars of
gold he has. He has his stuff, including death rays, force fields, and those aerial jet-skis. Suippose
the cops, or maybe the mayor of Mansfield tells him not to to ride those jet-skis without a license,
and to pay his property taxes. Does he have any reason to do what the mayor says? Is he obliged
even though he can effect9ively repel any coercion the government brings to bear?
Another perspective on this: A lot of people pay “protection money” to thugs, in order that
their stores not get burnt down. This behavior is clearly rational, but is the coercion of the thugs
legiytimate? Obviously not. So what is the difference between legitimate government and our
obligations to it, and a bunch of thugs to whom it is reasonable to pay protect5ion? [Given the
theory of the origins of the state as raiders realizing that they have to protect their “resources,” this
suspici9on might seem not to be crazy.]
That is, does government have an authority beyond the “authority” of superior force? Does
it have “mopral authority”? Am I being immoral or just imprudent if I break the law? What, if
anything, justifies political coercion?
[We have seen two answers, from Hobbes and from Axelrod:
Hobbes justifies government as a
requirement of the law of nature about people that they seek peace, and can only do so by giving up
all their rights to a sovereign. Axelrod justifies government pragmatically by pointing out some
benefits of cooperation that only a government can provide. Locke’s question is framed in terms of
moral rights, primarily, not in terms of benefits or natural compulsion.]
Locke's answer: you've signed a contract with the country, so you are obliged in the moral way
promises oblige. The reasons you sign up are roughly the same as Hobbes’ reasons: personal
security, avoidance of chaos.
Locke has a few more reasons, which Hobbes would discount: protection of natural rights,
protection of property. For Hobbes, there are no rights, in the moral sense, prior to government.
Every organism has an imperative to do what it deems necessary for survival, so every organism
has a right to everything.
II Details of his answer: