John Locke’s theory on goverment

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John Locke (1632-1704), is one of the most influential political theorists of the modern period. In the Two Treatises of Government, he protected the claim that men are by nature free and equivalent against claims that God had created all people naturally subject to a ruler. He emphasized that human beings have rights, such as the right to liberty, life, and property which have a foundation that independent of the laws of any society. Locke argued that men are naturally equal and free as part of the reason for understanding rightful political government as the result of a social agreement where people in the state of nature conditionally shift some of their rights to the state in order to better insure the stable, contented enjoyment of their liberty, lives, and property.

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Since governments exist by the approval of the people in order to guard the rights of the people and promote the society good, governments that fail to do so can be opposed and replaced with new governments. Locke is also important for his protection of the right of revolution. Locke theory also protects the principle of majority rule and the division of legislative and executive powers. In the Letter regarding Toleration, Locke denied that force should be used to bring people to (what the monarch believes is) the true religious conviction and also denied that churches should have any excess power over their followers. John Locke elaborated on these subjects in his later on political writings, such as the Second Letter on Toleration and Third Letter on Toleration.

The Law of Nature
Perhaps the most vital concept in Locke’s political beliefs is his theory of natural rights and natural law. The natural law perception existed long before Locke as a means of expressing the thought that there were certain ethical truths that applied to all people, in spite of the particular agreements they had made or place where they lived. The most significant early difference was between laws that were by nature, and thus normally applicable, and those that were conservative and applicable only in those places where the particular convention had been instituted. This contrast is sometimes formulated as the dissimilarity between positive law and natural law.

The Natural law is also different from Godly law in that latter, in the Christian custom, normally known as those laws that God had directly make known through prophets and other spiritual writers. Natural law can be exposed only by reason and applies to all human beings, while godly/divine law can only be discovered through God’s special revelation and only applies to those whom it is revealed to and who God purposely indicates are to be bound. Locke thought the law of natural could be known separately from divine law/ special revelation, he saw no challenge in God playing a part in the row, so long as the appropriate aspects of God’s character could be exposed only by reason.

In Locke’s theory, natural law and divine law are consistent and can overlap in at ease, but they are not coextensive. Thus there is no difficulty for Locke if the Bible sways an ethical code that is strict than the one that can be gotten from the law of natural, but there is a real challenge if the Bible teaches what is different to the law natural. In real practice, Locke avoided this problem since consistency with natural law was one of the criteria he used while deciding the appropriate interpretation of Biblical passages.

A century before Locke, the language of natural rights also achieved status through the writings of such philosophers as Hobbes, Grotius and Puffendorf. While natural law stressed on duties, natural rights usually emphasized on privileges or claims to which a person was entitled. There is substantial disagreement as to how these factors are to be taken relative to each other as in the Locke’s theory. Leo Strauss, and many of his supporters, takes rights to be vital, going as far as to portraying Locke’s position as essentially alike to that of Hobbes. They stated out that John Locke supported a hedonist theory of human motivation and assert that he should agree with Hobbes about the fundamentally self-interested nature of human beings. They claim that Locke only recognizes natural law obligations in such conditions where our own preservation is not in conflict, further stressing that our right to protect ourselves trumps any responsibilities we may have.

On the other side, more scholars have accepted the view of Tully, Dunn and Ashcraft that it is the law of nature and not natural rights that are primary. They insist that when Locke stressed on the right to life, property, liberty and at the same time he was primarily making a point about the responsibilities we have toward other people i.e. duties not to enslave, kill, or steal. Most philosophers also insist that Locke recognized a general responsibility to assist with the protection of mankind, including a responsibility of charity to the people who have no other way to acquire their subsistence. These scholars view duties as key in Locke’s theory since rights exist to insure that we are able to execute our duties. Rights and duties are equally essential because Locke was a believer in a “robust zone of indifference” in which rights defend our ability to make choices. Whereas these choices cannot breach the natural law, they are not a mere way of fulfilling the law of natural either.

The other point of contestation has to do with the degree to which Locke believed natural law could be known by reason. Both and Peter Laslett and Strauss, though very diverse in their interpretations of Locke’s theory generally, see Locke’s theory of natural law as full of contradictions. Also Locke defends a theory of moral facts that negates the likelihood of innate ideas and argues that ethics are capable of demonstration just as the same way that Mathematics is. Yet nowhere in any of his revelations does Locke make a full presumption of natural law from the first grounds. To add on, Locke at times seems to plea to innate ideas in the Second Treatise, and in the rationality of Christianity he accepts that no individual has ever worked out on the reasoning from the law on nature alone. Strauss refers from this that the challenges exist to show the attentive scalars that Locke does not really believe in the law of natural at all. Laslett, more conventionally, simply says that John Locke the philosopher and the John Locke the political writer should be kept very detached.

Some recent scholars have tended to reject this position. Colman, Simmons, Ashcraft, Yolton, Grant, Tuckness and others argue that there is nothing severely inconsistent in Locke’s admittance in The Reasonableness of Christianity. They also argue that no one has deduced all of the law of natural from first principles does not imply that none of it has been deduced. As it is true that Locke does not give an assumption in the Essay, it is not apparent that he was trying to show how analysis with moral terms is possible, not to really provide a full account of natural law. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that John Locke did not take the topic of natural law as methodically as people might like. Efforts to work out his conjecture/ theory in more features with respect to its ground and its content must try to restructure it from spread passages in many different transcripts.

To appreciate Locke’s position on the grounds of natural law it must be stipulated within a larger argument in the law of natural theory that predates Locke, the alleged voluntarism-rationalist or voluntarism-intellectualism debate. For those interested in the modern relevance of Locke’s political theory must tackle its theological aspects. Straussians make Locke’s theory pertinent by claiming that the theological aspects of his deliberation are mainly rhetorical; they are “cover” to keep him from being pursued by the religious authorities of those days. Other scholars, such as Dunn, understood Locke to be of limited significance to modern politics precisely because some of his arguments depended on religious suppositions that are no longer commonly shared.

 More lately a number of authors, such as Vernon and Simmons, have tried to divide the basis of Locke’s argument from other parts of it. For instance Simmons argues that Locke’s thinking is over-determined, holds both secular and religious arguments. He also argues that for Locke the basic law of nature is that as much as possible human beings/ mankind are to be preserved. At times, he argues, Locke role out this principle in rule-consequentiality terms: it is the same principle we use to decide the more exact rights and duties that all individuals have. Sometimes, Locke clues at a more Kantian validation that emphasizes the indecency of treating our equals as if they were meager means to our ends.


Aaron, Richard, (1937), John Locke, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Arneil, Barbara, 1996, John Locke and America, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Ashcraft, Richard, 1986, Revolutionary Politics and Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, Princeton: Princeton University Press.


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