Second Treatise of Government
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Second Treatise of Government

John Locke

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📖 eBook - ePub

Second Treatise of Government

John Locke

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Classic Books Library presents this brand new edition of John Locke's "Second Treatise of Government", published in 1689. This is one of two political works that Locke wrote articulating standards for a government-ruled society. Preceded by "The First Treatise", which refutes the concept of 'patriarchalism' as presented by Sir Robert Filmer (1680), "The Second Treatise" describes a model for a civil state. Here he identifies what he refers to as natural law, suggesting that individuals in society are governed by natural law and have rights to uphold those laws for the protection of themselves and their property. In Locke's theory, an all-ruling, sovereign government is replaced with one that serves its people and is subject to alteration should its functions become disengaged from that purpose. Locke (1632-1704) was a British philosopher and physician. He is associated with developing political philosophy and epistemological theories, the most significant being empiricism, and is often referred to as the 'Father' of liberalism.

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John Locke
John Locke was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers and known as the 'Father of Classical Liberalism.' Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to 'social contract theory.' His work greatly affected the development of epistemology and political philosophy, as well as influencing Voltaire, Rousseau, many Scottish Enlightenment thinkers as well as the American revolutionaries.
John Locke was born on 29th August 1632, in a small thatched cottage in the village of Wrington, Somerset, England— about twelve miles outside of the city of Bristol. He was born to Puritan parents who sent the young boy to the prestigious Westminster School, under the sponsorship of Alexander Popham. After completing his studies there, Locke was admitted to Christ Church College, Oxford University, where he initially studied philosophy. As a student, Locke found the work of modern philosophers such as René Descartes much more interesting than the classical material taught at the university—and consequently was greatly irritated by the curriculum. Through a friend, Richard Lower, Locke was introduced to medicine and the experimental philosophy being pursued at other universities at the time; a passion which would never leave him.
Locke was awarded a bachelor's degree in 1656 and a master's degree in 1658. He obtained a bachelor of medicine in 1674, having studied medicine extensively during his time at Oxford and worked with such noted scientists and thinkers as Robert Boyle, Thomas Willis, Robert Hooke and Richard Lower. In 1667, Locke became part of the Earl of Shaftesbury's retinue and coordinated the advice of several physicians when his employer was struck with a liver infection. It was in Shaftesbury's household, during 1671 that the meeting took place, described in the Epistle to the reader of the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which inspired the whole essay. In this famous work, Locke outlined his theory of the mind and personal consciousness. His theory of the mind is often cited as the origin of modern conceptions of identity and the self, figuring prominently in the work of later philosophers such as Hume, Rousseau and Kant.
Locke was the first to define the self through a continuity of consciousness. He postulated that at birth, the mind was a blank slate or tabula rasa, and contrary to Cartesian philosophy (based on pre-existing concepts), Locke maintained that we are born without innate ideas, and that knowledge is instead determined only by experience derived from sense perception. Locke was also heavily involved in political philosophy, which he founded on 'social contract theory.' Unlike other thinkers, such as Thomas Hobbes— Locke believed that human nature is characterised by reason and tolerance. This was detailed in Two Treatises of Government (also inspired by the Earl of Shaftesbury and his Whig politics) which argued that in a natural state, where all people are equal and independent, everyone would have a natural right to defend his 'life, health, liberty or possessions.' Most scholars trace the phrase 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' in the American Declaration of Independence to Locke's theory of rights.
Locke later fled to the Netherlands, in 1683—under strong suspicion of involvement in the Rye House Plot (a plan to assassinate King Charles II). Though today there is little evidence to suggest his involvement, Locke stayed in Holland for five years. He was able to devote a great deal of time rewriting the Essay and composing the Letter on Toleration. The bulk of Locke's publishing took place on his return from exile in 1688, with his aforementioned Essay Concerning Human Understanding, the Two Treatises of Civil Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration all appearing in quick succession. He later joined Lord and Lady Masham's country estate in Essex, but suffered from variable health and chronic asthma attacks, yet nevertheless became an intellectual hero of the Whigs and debated with figures such as John Dryden and Isaac Newton. John Locke died on 28th October 1704, and is buried in the churchyard of the village of High Laver, east of Harlow in Essex. This was where he had lived, in the Masham household since 1691. He never married, nor had any children.
Locke lived through some great events in English history; the English Restoration, the Great Plague of London and the Great Fire of London. Constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy were still in their infancy during Locke's life, and his works went on to exert a massive influence on political philosophy and modern liberalism as we know it. Such was his influence on the Founding Fathers of the United States, that one passage from the Second Treatise is produced verbatim in the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson wrote: 'Bacon, Locke and Newton, I consider them as the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical and Moral sciences.' Today, most contemporary libertarians claim Locke as an influence and his profound insights into the world of epistemology and subjectivity are held to mark the beginning of modern Western conceptions of the self.
Sect. 1. It having been shewn in the foregoing discourse,
(1). That Adam had not, either by natural right of fatherhood, or by positive donation from God, any such authority over his children, or dominion over the world, as is pretended:
(2). That if he had, his heirs, yet, had no right to it:
(3). That if his heirs had, there being no law of nature nor positive law of God that determines which is the right heir in all cases that may arise, the right of succession, and consequently of bearing rule, could not have been certainly determined:
(4). That if even that had been determined, yet the knowledge of which is the eldest line of Adam's posterity, being so long since utterly lost, that in the races of mankind and families of the world, there remains not to one above another, the least pretence to be the eldest house, and to have the right of inheritance:
All these premises having, as I think, been clearly made out, it is impossible that the rulers now on earth should make any benefit, or derive any the least shadow of authority from that, which is held to be the fountain of all power, Adam's private dominion and paternal jurisdiction; so that he that will not give just occasion to think that all government in the world is the product only of force and violence, and that men live together by no other rules but that of beasts, where the strongest carries it, and so lay a foundation for perpetual disorder and mischief, tumult, sedition and rebellion, (things that the followers of that hypothesis so loudly cry out against) must of necessity find out another rise of government, another original of political power, and another way of designing and knowing the persons that have it, than what Sir Robert Filmer hath taught us.
Sect. 2. To this purpose, I think it may not be amiss, to set down what I take to be political power; that the power of a MAGISTRATE over a subject may be distinguished from that of a FATHER over his children, a MASTER over his servant, a HUSBAND over his wife, and a LORD over his slave. All which distinct powers happening sometimes together in the same man, if he be considered under these different relations, it may help us to distinguish these powers one from wealth, a father of a family, and a captain of a galley.
Sect. 3. POLITICAL POWER, then, I take to be 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 defence of the commonwealth from foreign injury; and all this only for the public good.
Sect. 4. TO understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.
A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.
Sect. 5. This equality of men by nature, the judicious Hooker looks upon as so evident in itself, and beyond all question, that he makes it the foundation of that obligation to mutual love amongst men, on which he builds the duties they owe one another, and from whence he derives the great maxims of justice and charity. His words are,
The like natural inducement hath brought men to know that it is no less their duty, to love others than themselves; for seeing those things which are equal, must needs all have one measure; if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man's hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire, which is undoubtedly in other men, being of one and the same nature? To have any thing offered them repugnant to this desire, must needs in all respects grieve them as much as me; so that if I do harm, I must look to suffer, there being no reason that others should shew greater measure of love to me, than they have by me shewed unto them: my desire therefore to be loved of my equals in nature as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to them-ward fully the like affection; from which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn, for direction of life, no man is ignorant, Eccl. Pol. Lib. 1.
Sect. 6. But though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of licence: though man in that state have an uncontroulable 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 it. 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 his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another's pleasure: and being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another's uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for our's. Every one, as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station wilfully, so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind, and may not, unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.
Sect. 7. And that all men may be restrained from invading others rights, and from doing hurt to one another, and the law of nature be observed, which willeth the peace and preservation of all mankind, the execution of the law of nature is, in that state, put into every man's hands, whereby every one has a right to punish the transgressors of that law to such a degree, as may hinder its violation: for the law of nature would, as all other laws that concern men in this world be in vain, if there were no body that in the state of nature had a power to execute that law, and thereby preserve the innocent and restrain offenders. And if any one in the state of nature may punish another for any evil he has done, every one may do so: for in that state of perfect equality, where naturally there is no superiority or jurisdiction of one over another, what any may do in prosecution of that law, every one must needs have a right to do.
Sect. 8. And thus, in the state of nature, one man comes by a power over another; but yet no absolute or arbitrary power, to use a criminal, when he has got him in his hands, according to the passionate heats, or boundless extravagancy of his own will; but only to retribute to him, so far as calm reason and conscience dictate, what is proportionate to his transgression, which is so much as may serve for reparation and restraint: for these two are the only reasons, why one man may lawfully do harm to another, which is that we call punishment. In transgressing the law of nature, the offender declares himself to live by another rule than that of reason and common equity, which is that measure God has set to the actions of men, for their mutual security; and so he becomes dangerous to mankind, the tye, which is to secure them from injury and violence, being slighted and broken by him. Which being a trespass against the whole species, and the peace and safety of it, provided for by the law of nature, every man upon this score, by the right he hath to preserve mankind in general, may restrain, or where it is necessary, destroy things noxious to them, and so may bring such evil on any one, who hath transgressed that law, as may make him repent the doing of it, and thereby deter him, and by his example others, from doing the like mischief. And in the case, and upon this ground, EVERY MAN HATH A RIGHT TO PUNISH THE OFFENDER, AND BE EXECUTIONER OF THE LAW OF NATURE.
Sect. 9. I doubt not but this will seem a very strange doctrine to some men: but before they condemn it, I desire them to resolve me, by what right any prince or state can put to death, or punish an alien, for any crime he commits in their country. It is certain their laws, by virtue of any sanction they receive from the promulgated will of the legislative, reach not a stranger: they speak not to him, nor, if they did, is he bound to hearken to them. The legislative authority, by which they are in force over the subjects of that commonwealth, hath no power over him. Those who have the supreme power of making laws in England, France or Holland, are to an...

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APA 6 Citation
Locke, J. (2018). Second Treatise of Government ([edition unavailable]). Read Books Ltd. Retrieved from (Original work published 2018)
Chicago Citation
Locke, John. (2018) 2018. Second Treatise of Government. [Edition unavailable]. Read Books Ltd.
Harvard Citation
Locke, J. (2018) Second Treatise of Government. [edition unavailable]. Read Books Ltd. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government. [edition unavailable]. Read Books Ltd., 2018. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.