Second Treatise of Government | Study Guide

John Locke

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Second Treatise of Government | Chapter 15 : Of Paternal, Political, and Despotical Power, Considered Together | Summary



In this chapter, Locke recapitulates the distinctions he drew earlier between three types of power: paternal (or parental), political, and despotic. He emphasizes once more that paternal power does not give parents the right to keep their offspring in subjection, once the children have reached adulthood. Likewise, political power has its limits, since it cannot serve as an "absolute, arbitrary power over the lives and fortunes" of the people. Despotic power arises from a person's abandonment of reason. Such a person has put himself into a state of war, and his condition resembles that of wild beasts. Locke sums up by describing a spectrum. Paternal power is at one extreme, the power of the magistrate lies in the middle, and despotic power lies at the other extreme.


This chapter functions as a brief recapitulation of points made earlier. The language of Section 172, opposing reason to force and comparing a despotic wielder of power to a wild beast, is especially forceful. In Section 173, Locke concisely identifies the sources of all three categories of power. Paternal power comes from nature, political power proceeds from voluntary agreement, and despotic power arises from forfeiture.

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