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Resistance To Power In Locke's Second Treatise - With A Free Essay Review

John Locke is an exponential figure of the Enlightenment in philosophy and political theory. His most acclaimed work is An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), through which he presents empiricism , a science that uses experience in order to gather knowledge, which he favors against the speculation or the deduction .

Locke was a promoter of rationality and his ideas concerning the fact that people are born with no “a priori” knowledge but “tabula rasa” is a very influential political concept.

The work I am going to emphasize in the following is his “The Treatises of Government” (more exactly on the “Second Treatise of Government”) which he published anonymously in 1690 , two years after the Glorious Revolution. Understanding the historical frame in which his work was written is highly important . The removal of King James II in favor of King William the IIIrd is the topic the “Second Treatise of Government” is centered on , more specifically , Locke is trying to justify the resistance to Charles II and defend the Glorious Revolution.

Locke's belief was that people are equal and due to the existence of a state of nature in which they live free , not being subjected to any outside rule , sovereignty ought to be placed into their hands. This is the premise from which the “Second Treatise of Government starts from.

In the natural state every person has the right to take legal action against the person that has infringed their rights ; they freely take whatever is that they need from the earth and eventually start trading excess goods with each other . The latter would lead to the formation of a currency , most likely money because whilst goods are perishable money has a longer life-span, and one would be able to enlarge the property they can accumulate. Following this , people exchange some of their natural rights in order to enter into a society, but with the assurance that they are protected by law and there is an executive power that enforces law. However, this executive power must not only protect their belongings , but also be the defender of their liberty. In order to assure this , Locke believes that it is most important to have a separate legislative , executive and judicial branch , of which the most importance holds the first as it is the one which determines the laws that govern said society.

In Locke's view the state is a civil one , the government exists for the benefit of the people, with no self-standing sovereignty and if it should stop to serve them , by abusing its power or making an impermissible change people are entitled and advised to replace or overthrow it.

An important observation is that for Locke the idea of liberty rests on the one property , and , according to him property starts with one's body and the labor one performs with it. Therefore, people are entitled to fight directly against a government that fails to represent their best interest. Opponents of Locke's point of view such as Thomas Hobbes , say that people are destructive so the government must keep them in line even if this means exerting absolute control over them . Moreover , Sir Robert Filmer says that due to the divine authority of the king , people have no practical right to rebel against the sovereignty.

We can not abstain from raising the question : who is entitled to hold the power? As discussed previously , all are born with an equal right to freedom , however , from the moment he is born one is subjected to their parents' power due to the fact that they are “born without reason” , reason being the tool that guides people in society. This parental power extends to the moment the child has grown old enough (Locke used the age of twenty-one as example) , when he is able to function independently. But why does parental power hold the same attributes as monarchical power? Sir Robert Filmer , opposes Locke's view by comparing kings to fathers in order to justify the absolute power they have . Yes, the executive protects the well-being and the property and has a legislation that is designed to govern the way they act but in the case of monarchies (whether the monarch is elected but especially if he inherits the post) , all the power is invested in one person who can harm people's interest without being concerned with a possible retribution. Locke suggests that in order to prevent such a dire imbalance of power the legislative and executive must be part of the commonwealth (the state) and in that way the chance of an individual to remain subjected to the laws of the commonwealth is inexistent.

Locke's ideas on resistance to power are discussed in the ending chapters of the “Second Treatise of Government” , Of Tyranny and Of the Dissolution of Government . In the first chapter Locke calls tyranny an “exercise of power beyond right”. While a leader that is just works for the people and its power is limited by the legislative , a tyrant breaks the law and acts for its own well-being.

But who is to judge when a leader has abused his power to an extent that he deserves to be overthrown? John Locke's answer is simple : the people, "that ultimate determination to themselves which belongs to all mankind . . . whether they have just cause to make their appeal to heaven". The people are entitled to judge if the one who is supposed to protect them is doing his job. He places the power of decision in the hands of the people without shrouding this with the excuse of divine (a concept on which Sir Robert Filmer based his explanation of the extensive right of the ruler) influence.

Although Locke is a fierce supporter of the people's right to protect their interest and this might lead to an overthrowing he does warn that they should not do that if they expect a lesser stability.

Locke's “Second Treatise” starts from the liberal premise of a society of free and equal individuals and builds a solid argument against unjust governments and absolutism. We ought not to omit considering Locke's historical context : writing this liberal manifesto in a time in which rulers claimed divine right over their pupil , or actually claimed to be the direct descendants of God ; was a bold , impossibly to ignore move , but Locke delivers his ideas with such finesse , establishing in the Second Treatise of Government a new view on the executive , one in which kings are held accountable for their action , one in which they must thirst for the public approval , a view that nowadays we take for granted.

Locke's “Second Treatise , subtitled “An Essay Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government” represents a highly influential work that not only shaped political philosophy but provided the foundation for future political doctrines .



The first three paragraphs here should probably be combined into one introductory paragraph, preferably one that concludes with the argument of the essay as a whole. At present, of course, there is no real “argument of the essay as a whole” - no thesis - but I think there ought to be one. You do claim that “understanding the historical frame ... is highly important” but the essay only gives one sentence on the subject. (Generally, there is little point in saying something is important; it is better just to demonstrate its importance.) In the penultimate paragraph, you make the related claim that Locke’s publication of the Two Treatises was “bold” given the continued existence of patriarchalism in England, but the work was published after the Glorious Revolution, and it was published along with dozens of other defences of the usurpation of James II, so I’m not sure it was especially bold from that point of view. In any case, it seems odd that you would frame your essay with these claims about the importance of the historical context without really addressing that context elsewhere in the essay, except insofar as you address its place in intellectual history. This seems like a valid approach because boundaries between intellectual history and history proper were fairly fluid in the late 17th century (works of political theory were capable of being public events and influencing political developments), but if you want your essay really to be about historical context in this sense of intellectual history, then that needs to be indicated in the introduction and you also need to find a way of talking about the publication and reception of such works as Leviathan and Patriarcha. Tell us when Filmer’s work was published, for example, and who the work represented, and why Locke felt the need to attempt a direct refutation. You might even quote some sentences in which Locke is obviously engaged in such direct refutation, although you might want to open the first of the Two Treatises to do that. Since your focus is on the second Treatise, however, and since there Locke is more concerned with Hobbes’ political theory, you might want to clarify the extent to which you think Locke endorses or critiques that theory. You need in any case to have some kind of question that you are trying to answer or claim that you are trying to make in the essay; you need your essay to be more than a list of things you find interesting about Locke.

Best, EJ.
Submitted by: vaniquertamere

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