LockeSecondTreatise

LockeSecondTreatise - John Locke, Second Treatise on...

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John Locke, Second Treatise on Government The founding assumption of Lockean liberalism is the view that, “Political power [is] a right of making laws, with penalties of death, and consequently all less penalties for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the force of the community in the execution of such laws, and in the defense of the commonwealth from foreign injury, and all this only for the public good,” (1). The Second Treatise is Locke’s effort to build a system of governance based on this principle. Locke is both a political thinker and a scientific rationalist. He bases his system not only on the above principle, but also on the conception of human beings as coming into the world as tabula rasa (blank slate), and building knowledge through empirical experience. We thus begin by positing man in a state of nature, wherein Locke hopes to discover the natural principles that govern man’s socio- political life. He hopes we will use his logic to secure positive liberty (not license!), life and property. His immediate purpose in publishing the work is clear from the introduction: he is hoping to bolster the Whig cause and to support the Bloodless Revolution that brought about the joint reign of William and Mary. As such, it is an attack on the conception of the absolute right of monarchs (hence his assertion that no divine right descends from Adam) and a plea for a sociopolitical order that respects the basic rights of the people. Locke is implicitly critiquing absolute monarchy when he argues that those who see total power arising from Adam are bound to see government as the mere product of force and violence, and human community as no more than the timid gathering of animals (I). He is pushing already towards the idea that human society must be rationally constructed on higher principles. This is where we begin: because he has rejected the foundational account of the divine right of kings and the absolute monarchy that follows from it, Locke needs to find an alternative foundational narrative upon which he can build his liberal system. It is thus that he theorizes the state of nature. For Locke men are naturally rational and are each sovereign over their own decisions, actions and possessions within nature. We are all equal because we all have equal rational powers, but also because we are relatively the same in size, strength and skill (II). Even in nature where men are sovereign, Locke argues that liberty does not mean license, and that, “though man in that state have an uncontrollable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, but where some nobler use than its bare preservation calls for. 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
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LockeSecondTreatise - John Locke, Second Treatise on...

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