Second Treatise of Government | Study Guide

John Locke

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Second Treatise of Government | Chapter 9 : Of the Ends of Political Society and Government | Summary

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Summary

This brief chapter consists of a concise discussion of a single question: what motivates men to give up their natural rights to form a civil society or commonwealth? Locke asserts that the central purpose of a commonwealth is the protection of property. The reason men form civil societies is to gain safety and security.

According to Locke, the state of nature lacks three vital elements that safety and security require. They are an established and known law, a known and impartial judge with the authority to settle disputes, and a power of enforcement. Locke sums up the situation. He says, "Thus mankind, notwithstanding all the privileges of the state of nature ... are quickly driven into society" (Section 127).

When men enter into civil society, Locke declares, they give up a substantial amount of the power they possessed in the state of nature. First, they surrender much of their natural right of self-preservation, yielding the task of preserving their liberty and property to the laws of the society. Second, they totally yield their natural right of punishing wrongdoers. This task is wholly assumed by the civil society.

Analysis

This chapter presents the essence of Locke's political thought. Men substitute civil society for the state of nature because of the need for, and expectation of, safety and security. By mutual consent, they establish a government which is tasked with certain responsibilities. The only purpose of government, according to Locke, is the "peace, safety, and public good of the people."

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