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The Two Treatises of Government and the Legacy of John Locke

Discussion in 'History & Past Politicians' started by Lex Naturalis, May 30, 2011.

  1. Lex Naturalis

    Lex Naturalis New Member

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    Note: I wrote this paper in college a while back and thought to post it in this forum. Tell me what you think and if positive I will look at posting some more. It's a comparison to the works of Locke and the Declaration of Independence.

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    The Two Treatises of Government and the Legacy of John Locke


    Freedom has never existed in as large of an extent as it has throughout the past 200 years. Since the dawn of civilized man, people have largely been ruled by kings, dictators, aristocrats, and other groups of elites. Wherever pure democracy was attempted it always resulted in the rule of the majority as their attempts to gain privileges over the minority created tyrannical rule and second class citizens. Whatever the time, people have largely lived in servitude, whether it be the feudal system where people worked the land for the benefit of their lords, or the patron client system in Rome where people could only advance so as long as they gained favor from the wealthy ruling class who bribed them for their support. It was in this spirit that John Locke wrote the Two Treatise’s of Government.

    John Locke wrote his famous essay in the midst of political turmoil. Suspected of being involved in the Rye House Plot of 1683, a conspiracy to assassinate King Charles II and the Duke of York who would later become King James II, Locke fled to Holland. There he revised and completed his essay, and in the aftermath of The Glorious Revolution, where parliament convinced William of Orange to invade England and overthrow King James II, he travelled back to England with Mary II of England in 1688, wife of the new King William III. From then on Locke would grow in fame and fortune as one of England’s great thinkers and political philosophers (John Locke Biography).

    Building on the foundation of previous natural law philosophers, such as Richard Hooker who he cites in chapter two, section five, of his essay, John Locke anonymously published this now historic text in 1689 as refutation of Sir Robert Filmer who advocated for the divine right of absolute monarchy in his Patriarcha 1680. Aside from Hooker, Locke also observes, critiques, criticizes, and references the theories of Thomas Hobbs who is among the earliest of those who adhered to a theory of a social contract, and to a limited extent, the rights of the individual in his 1651 publication of Leviathan. John Milton, perhaps best known for his famous work, Paradise Lost, where he writes about Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, is also noted in Locke’s publication. In his mind, Lock would put to rest the absolutist ideas of Hobbs and Filmer that power must be vested in a central authority at the cost of human liberty in order to control the selfish nature of man.

    Locke began his essay in support of the newly crowned King William III of England to which he wrote in his essay, “These which remain I hope are sufficient to establish the throne of our great restorer, our present king William; to make good on his title in else consent of the people; ...” He then immediately attacked the ideas Sir Robert Filmer in his first chapter by summarizing the divine right as, “by these men’s system, except only one, are all born slaves, and by divine right are subjects to Adam’s heir…” In fact, Locke’s first book of his Two Treatises, titled The False Principles and Foundation of Sir Robert Filmer and His Followers, Are Detected and Overthrown, is a convincing criticism and comparison of how the divine right is no different than placing everyone in a constant state of slavery. This may have been a radical view before, but in light of the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution, the English had grown tired and skeptical of highly centralized power in a king of divine right.

    In the second book, titled Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government, he starts out, as many epistemologists and philosophers on political philosophy had done before, at the creation of Adam. From there he moves in to his second chapter titled, Of the State of Nature, where he immediately lays out the idea that all men a created equally free writing,
    “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 bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.”
    As he wrote on, he claimed that all men are created by God in an equal state of nature and unless direct divine intervention dictates otherwise, no man should be subjugated to the will of another. This is the key to understanding Locke’s philosophy. He believed in the freedom of the individual.

    Further summarizing his second treatise, he wrote of the consent of the governed, separation of powers, and the proper role of government; that is to defend the natural state of liberty for every man. He also sees war as justified only in the event of defending liberty and speaks out strongly against slavery in chapters III and IV. In his final chapter, chapter XIX, Of the Dissolution of Government, he advocates for the dissolution of government if the people feel that it is not in keeping with their will or the defense of their natural state of freedom. Though this publication gained him great notoriety, he couldn’t possibly predict the influence that he would have on so many.

    On July 4th 1776, the Continental Congress in Philadelphia Pennsylvania officially adopted the Declaration of Independence. In fact, the similarities to John Locke’s essay fit the modern college standards of plagiarism. For example, the Declaration speaks of “the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and natures God” entitle us. This is strikingly similar to the thesis of Locke’s second chapter, Of the State of Nature. Moreover, the Declaration states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Whereas Locke also writes in his second chapter, “This equality of men by nature, the judicious Hooker looks upon as so self-evident in itself, and beyond all question, that he makes it the foundation of that obligation to mutual love amongst men,” and also, “being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” Finally, though there are many other similarities, the texts of both documents speak of “a long train of abuses,” specifically, in Locke’s final chapter concerning the dissolution of government.

    Thomas Jefferson, the original drafter of the Declaration of Independence, in his May 8, 1825 letter to Henry Lee, stated that,

    “All it’s (the Declaration of Independence) authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c. The historical documents which you mention as in your possession, ought all to be found, and I am persuaded you will find, to be corroborative of the facts and principles advanced in that Declaration.”


    Cont to next post ....
     
  2. Lex Naturalis

    Lex Naturalis New Member

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    Jefferson’s letter confirms Locke’s influence on many of America’s founding fathers during the drafting of the declaration. The Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution, which followed 12 years later, was the first time in history where Locke’s ideas were put in to practice in any significant form. The nation that he inspired led to such a high degree of liberty that the economic and political freedom that followed transferred in to a mode of prosperity that all nations of the world would grow to envy and mimic. Until this day, those countries that place what Locke would call, “the natural state of man,” as the object of which governments are instituted to protect, are among the most free, prosperous, and migrated to countries in the world.

    Of course, Thomas Jefferson and the founding fathers weren’t the only ones inspired by Locke. The French Revolution was largely motivated by his ideas though once King Louis XVI was overthrown they seemed to abandon them. Moreover, philosophers such as Emmerich de Vattel, famous in America for writing The Law of Nations 1797, François-Marie Arouet, “Voltaire,” who is most known for his Age of Louis XIV 1752, and among many others, Jean Jacques Rousseau, famous for his Social Contract 1754. Locke’s doctrine was so expansive among thinkers of later days because so many felt that his thesis was self-evident and largely irrefutable.

    John Locke’s legacy is hardly known today. Though his ideas are largely intertwined in the founding of our nation, some people call him the forgotten founding father, many know nothing of his existence. However, though his history and philosophy is not often taught in today’s public schools, his impact on the American Revolution and the subsequent Constitution effect us on a daily basis. I have little doubt that if Lock did not exist there would have been someone else to inspire future generations with similar ideas; though timing is everything and who knows how the revolution would have ended up with such a delay of history. However, being the founder of classical liberalism, not to be confused with the modern liberalism of today, Locke’s legacy is not only crystal clear, but has led to the most prosperous nations that have ever graced the face of the earth.

    Works Cited

    Jefferson et al., Thomas. The Declaration of Independence. Philadelphia: The 2nd Continental Congress, 1776. N. pag. Print.

    Jefferson, Thomas. The Works of Thomas Jefferson. Federal Edition (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5). Vol. 12.
    Accessed from <http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/808 on 2011-02-25>.

    John Locke Biography. The European Graduate School, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2011. <http://www.egs.edu/library/john-locke/biography/>.



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  3. three_lions

    three_lions New Member

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    Locke is the great grandfather of the left wing. Granted, he was certainly more tolerable than the nightmare that followed him (French leftists), but I can't overlook that he helped establish the myth that representative government for all is a good idea.
     
  4. Lex Naturalis

    Lex Naturalis New Member

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    Wow. Youve got my attention. Please explain further. And Locke was what we would describe today as a classical liberal, making him a conservative/libritarian by todays standards. So why would he be a man of the left? Perhaps my understanding of definitions are off? I trust you found the essay factual and satisfactory? Finally some peer review.
     
  5. nylander77

    nylander77 New Member

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    I think the essay is well written and concise. Good job. I don't think there can be any doubt that Locke's ideas directly contributed to the thoughts of Jefferson and many other American political thinkers of that period. Locke's contributions are taught in many government classes today.

    Even though Locke is considered the "Father of Liberalism", I agree that his beliefs would have been more in line with modern libertarian views, rather than today's progressive/liberals. Locke was a religious person and many of his political views were fostered by his Christian beliefs. I don't think Locke would have been an advocate of gay marriage or abortion.
     
  6. 1984society

    1984society Banned

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    Hey Lex. Pretty good paper you wrote there. John Locke is a man I personally learned about in school. He, I think, was not a Leftist but a moderate. His ideas on government really influence me because he believes that a strong federal government is not good.

    If someone a government ruled by God were to appear, it would be great. But Man is not God.

    He was, though, a Leftist for his time, and he was basically the equivalent of a Communist in his time. So yeah.
     
  7. three_lions

    three_lions New Member

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    Yes, the modern concept of left and right is a post French Revolution understanding of political theory. Classical liberalism was born out of the English Civil Wars and the ideas of the Levellers. The ideas of these radicals led to the destruction of social order in England. Where Classical Liberalism split from modern liberalism was more or less an economic debate. The modern left connects more Mill in a sense and the far left of course with Marx. These 19th century left wing philosophers were inspired by Locke and other Classical Liberals. So your definition is not off, but from the perspective of a Royalist such as myself, Locke paved the way for even more radical ideologies. Sorry for the brief response. I will return for more analysis. This old Historian enjoyed your paper
     
  8. Anakrino

    Anakrino New Member

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    Nicely done, Lex. I think it's a useful exercise to remind Americans of the Lockean roots of our nation's revolution.

    You asked us to give you feedback, so here are a couple of observations on my part. You mention that many other social contract philosophers deemed Locke’s works to be irrefutable. My main quibble is with that final term. Perhaps it would be better to say that many subsequent philosophers deemed his works to be persuasive (this allows for the variation and augmentation of later thinkers).

    Second, I think it’s worth considering Three Lions’ follow-up response concerning Locke’s influence on modern liberalism. You say that Locke should be categorized as being more libertarian than leftist, and I think that’s accurate enough; however, consider libertarians like Jeremy Bentham who rejected outright the notion of natural rights. I’m neither a royalist like Three Lions nor a modern collectivist, but I am moved by the idea that public virtue is something worth obtaining, even if it means increasing paternalism at the expense of some liberty. Locke built an individualistic political philosophy on the ashes of divine right; but while he rightly questioned the principles divine right, he downplayed the importance of the virtue advocated by Aristotle. In so doing, this led to the development of political though, like Bentham's, that subordinated public morality to the concept of "utility."

    Having said that, I return to my praise of your connecting Locke with the American regime. The Founders’ application of Lockean principles were bounded by the practical machinery of republican constitutionalism, which creates an intermediary, in the form of Congress, between the people and public law. Representatives were intended to possess the virtues that the common man frequently ignores or lacks. Risky stuff, but a very praiseworthy attempt to balance the requirements of individual liberty with political stability.
    revolution.
     
  9. Lex Naturalis

    Lex Naturalis New Member

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    "Locke&#8217;s doctrine was so expansive among thinkers of later days because so many felt that his thesis was self-evident and largely irrefutable."

    I think the above statement stands on its assumptions and merits. His thesis being exceptionally close to the declaration of independence which does not stray from Lockes philosophy. Though what I was refering to was a government centered around individual liberty and defense of self evident rights. I can see how much of the left today prefer Thomas More, Thomas Hobbes, or Jean-Jacques Rousseau, to Locke; More so on Rousseau of course. Your critique was certainly welcome. Its shows how I could be more careful in phrasing my sentences. Thanks.

    As in Lockes views and among other subsequent philosophers there is never a strict follower of said philosophy. After all, man is imperfect and if you show me a philosopher I can show you how he violated the principles of his own philosophy. However, in the end they never stray too far from it.

    Ever notice how John Locke kinda looks like Robert Plant in his younger years?
     
  10. three_lions

    three_lions New Member

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    This is a solid critique. It is worth noting the times in which Locke lived. I am not sure I did that enough justice in my initial response. We are talking about a period in English history that I believe was the most turbulent time we witnessed to that point. You had Royalists fighting Parliamentarians, which leads to a totalitarian state under Cromwell, then a completely reformed government following the Glorious Revolution. The levellers I mentioned in my original response were forerunners to communists. This was a very remarkable period in English history for so many reasons and Locke lived through most of it.
     
  11. mapleleafer8

    mapleleafer8 New Member

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    john locke is my fave character on Lost
     
  12. Joe Six-pack

    Joe Six-pack Banned

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    The Declaration reflected the philosophy behind the American Revolution and set the tone for two hundred and thirty years of political philosophy. The fact they we are a free country today, is in no small part due to the writing and wisdom of Locke. He wasn't perfect, but we owe a lot to many of his written works.
     
  13. three_lions

    three_lions New Member

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    Well to be fair, your Declaration was based off the political philosophy of the prior century. I really doubt the average American realises how important the political, philosophical, and religious ideals of 17th century England were to the development of the USA. Now I would love to have a discussion concerning how "free" humanity should be, but that would likely lead us onto other subjects.
     
  14. Joe Six-pack

    Joe Six-pack Banned

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    To be sure, classical liberalism came out of the Enlightenment era. Scientific, mathematical and philosophical enlightenment followed. How free should people be? I think an idea society would be small, self-governed, have a social contract and means of enforcing rules (such as a Constitutional Democracy), but such a contract would have to allow a as much freedom and free choice as possible. I think the America ideas about how that might be accomplished came, in no small part, from Locke.

    Involuntary systems are the definition of crime: theft, rape, murder.
     
  15. three_lions

    three_lions New Member

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    I have no issue with having MP's elected, but I oppose allowing anyone and everyone the chance to vote. I believe land ownership should be a requirement to vote and any person of voting age should be able to pass an exam made up of basic questions about government. Political and religious speech should be protected, unless it is driven by an ideology that calls for the overthrow of the state. For example, the radical muslim group Islam4UK should be banned and the leader Ahmed Choudry, should be deported. We have gone mad and allowed this man and his lunatic supporters to protest for Sharia Law. I view this as a threat to the state. I assume you would view this in a different way?
     
  16. Trinnity

    Trinnity Banned

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    Excellent OP. Rated 5.
     
  17. Lex Naturalis

    Lex Naturalis New Member

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    Thanks!! : )
     
  18. Til the Last Drop

    Til the Last Drop Well-Known Member

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    While I am not as familiar with all of this as you all are, I would just like to say I find the notion that we are at some pinnacle of political achievement, as to today, repugnant. Surely all these great thinkers should be forever remembered and praised for their contributions to history, but we are at a point where "representation" in all western nations, including ours, is a joke. Sure there is an argument to be made whether to blame the conman or the mark, but it doesn't change the fact of the matter. National governments are filled with "yes men" who bow to a world government that rules from the shadows. I truly cannot stand collectivism, but to think people as intelligent as you all would pretend for a second that the nations of the west are somehow ruled by the public and not an elite class I find suspect. I'm not trying to insult you all, as you are providing me with a free class on history. I want to see intelligent people work to return power to people and their respective homes, verses this consolidation of power under a global regime. Whether it is taboo to mention that fact or not does not concern me. A nation without sovereignty is not a nation.
     
  19. Til the Last Drop

    Til the Last Drop Well-Known Member

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    Everything is perspective. Being that old money and historically significant bloodlines have as much power today as they ever had, one could argue Locke simply pioneered their new form of control. Basically, gave them them the tools to stay alive. To think that in 2011, any person related to the power bloodlines of old is still alive is a testament to the naivety of man. Sure, these pioneers of western thought, who brought us out of feudalism, allowed for more people to get a piece of the pie, but the advent of centralized bankers and the willingness of modern "representatives" to give them full control of our respective nations, has made the labor of all men a joke. In effect, a world of slaves. How Locke can be praised for preventing feudalism from making the world slaves, by creating the foundations for the system that would allow bankers to make the world slaves, is beyond me.
     
  20. Lex Naturalis

    Lex Naturalis New Member

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    Something tells me you haven't read his Two Treatesies of Government.

    How your crediting Locke for the successful liberal advocacy of ignoring the Constitutional limitations of Article One Section Eight (The enumerated powers) and creating an nonexistent power of social and corporate welfare is beyond me. Especially when the promotion of industry was taken out of the article during the Philadelphia convention (James Madison's Notes on the Philidelphia Convention). Taken with The last 4 paragraphs of James Madison's Federalist No. 41 (which I doubt you will read) there is no question that the power to give out government goodies to anyone at the expense of another is unconstitutional. The fact that progressives and modern liberals like to ignore the constitution is not the fault of Locke.


    In Article 1 Section 8 you will find the enumerated powers of congress. They may not act outside that enumeration. To control the manner of which they appropriated funds toward these powers they added "to promote the general welfare." not specific welfare. In other words they may only act within their enumerated powers for the benefit of everyone equally. Not for one state, one business, one group, or one person, at the expense of another. Early progressivs and FDR destroyed this notion. Modern liberals embrace it as a means of buying votes. That's how we got social security and all the vote buying goodies inherit in the Great Society. Not to mention the EPA, DOE, DOL, DHS, etc... In abandoning the constitution for social welfare that also opened the ugly hole of corporate welfare. I say we get rid of both and return to the John Lockeian principles that led to the Constitution.
     

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