Friday, December 14, 2012

John Locke: Concerning Civil Government; 2nd Essay

I previously blogged about John Locke and I read part of his second essay Concerning Civil Government at the time.  However, as part of the GBWW second year program, I am returning to take a closer look at this significant treatise on the the purpose and regulation of government. In the The Second Essay Concerning Civil Government, John Locke outlines the basis for political governments. Locke's ideas on the separation of powers dramatically influenced our Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution (although Montesquieu was more important for the latter).

Locke says that all men are created equal (that sounds familiar) and that no man has a natural right to govern (not popular among monarchists).  When we were living in a "State of Nature" before governments, we were all at war with each other - however, we were completely free to do whatever we wanted.  We gave up some of that freedom in exchange for a different type of freedom - freedom which comes from being secure in our property and personal safety.

In this new structure, we adopted a "Common Law" which allows everyone to have his fair share.  When you take more than your fair share, you are living outside the common law.  In affect, you have now returned to a "state of war" with everyone - just like being in the state of nature from where we came.  This is similar to the state of nature described by Thomas Hobbes (sans monarchist overlord).   If you want to live under a government, you must accept all the rules and the rule of the majority.  If, as John Locke states, you receive your father's property you must submit to the laws that gave him AND you that property.  Otherwise, you cannot accept it. 


He is your President - unless you want to live in a "State of Nature"
Significantly, Locke states that although laws may seem to make sense at the time, they may not make sense in the future, the past, or for different people.

 "Things in this world are in so constant a flux that nothing remains long in the same state...To what gross absurdities the following of custom when reason has left it..."

We need to change as time change - so do our laws (and perhaps our constitutions). This is probably something we might need to think about in our OWN laws and even our Constitution. 


Locke also discusses on length about the right to rule, especially when a group is conquered by another.  In every case, Locke states that the people must give their consent to be ruled.  No one can chose to rule another against his will and no one should allow it.  We can observe this in even modern history, with defeat of the Axis in WW2 (who surrendered ) compared to the recent wars in Iraq and Afganstan where the opposition did not submit to a new government.

For us, in our society, we must remember that if the "majority" has chosen a leader or made a law, we are bound to accept the majority rule.  To do otherwise is to throw yourself back into the STATE of NATURE - and you have forfeited all rights and privileges in our society. 

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