Second Treatise of Government | Study Guide

John Locke

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Second Treatise of Government | Preface | Summary



Addressing the reader directly, Locke declares that he hopes his work will justify King William III's right and title to the English throne. He says that William rules by the consent of the people, which is the only lawful basis for government.

Locke singles out Sir Robert Filmer (c. 1588-1653), a supporter of absolute monarchy and the doctrine of divine right, as one of his chief opponents. Filmer's work, in Locke's opinion, amounts to "glib nonsense," and he challenges the reader to make sense of it. Filmer's work, Locke says, would not be worth the trouble of refuting, if there were not people who had been persuaded by it. As for Locke's own work, cavils and railing will not suffice since they do not take the place of reason and argument.


Locke's brief preface gives the reader a clear indication of his approach and style. He declares his purpose in writing without delay, and he tackles Sir Robert Filmer as one of his most redoubtable opponents. Filmer, who believed in the doctrine of the divine right of kings and thus in absolute monarchy, is formidable. That is not because his theory of government is correct, but because his "glib nonsense" has managed to persuade some people. Locke finds Filmer's work full of "mistakes and inconsistencies." As for himself, Locke promises to deal with any critics who are "concerned really for truth." However, they must remember that petty objections and inflated ranting are not the same as clear reason and logical argument.

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