“Second Treatise of Government” by John Locke (1689)

Chapter 1 – Introduction (1-3)

Adam was created by God and told to rule and cultivate the earth. But can we really know who is true heirs are? So, divine right of kings is bullshit. Political power is not parental power. Political power is the power to write and execute laws, regulate property and defend the nation for its own good.

Chapter 2 – Of the State of Nature (4-15)

The state of man in nature is freedom unrestrained by others. They are all equal, same species with same humanity. No subordination or subjection. All differences in ability and wealth come from God.

Natural liberty is not license. We are bound not to harm each other because it violates reason, which is the basis of natural law. This violation of reason is taking another’s life, liberty and property.

Men must be restrained from violating others’ rights. That requires execution of laws and must be applicable to every man. Criminals place themselves outside of nature and the offended party has a right to reparation.

In nature, man has 2 rights:

A – To punish crime and restrain or prevent further crime. In society, this is in the hands of the magistrate.

B – To seek reparation for the crime. Only the victim has the right to this.

These two apply to all crimes big or small but only in proportion of the crime. In society, a man cannot be a judge if he’s involved with the case because he may lack objectivity or calmness to handle it. Civil government will handle it. Any other government is a violation of nature/rationality. Civil society or community preserves rights. Natural law allows us to get what we want from or in others without violating others’ rights.

Chapter 3 – Of the State of War (16-20)

State of War = enmity and destruction, declaring one man’s life the goal of the other. There is no superior authority to adjudicate matters. In this state, you have the right to defend yourself until it is over. Your enemy is declaring war on you by trying to kill you or enslave you and you have the right to stop him.

State of Nature = mutual assistance, preservation, goodwill, living together according to reason with a superior authority to adjudicate differences. In peace, law prevails. If someone violates it, a law separates the state of war from the state of nature. When forces stop and both sides are subject to the same judgment, peace and state of nature continue

Chapter 4 – Of Slavery (21-23)

It’s natural to be free from authority. Liberty is not under legislative authority without any consent. It is a standing rule to live by for all according to nature. Freedom from arbitrary power is necessary for one’s preservation.

Not having this, a slave cannot give consent to his captor. It is a perfect state of war between the conqueror and the captive. If there is consent, then it’s not really slavery because the “slave” in this case is fine with the situation.

Chapter 5 – Of Property (24-51)

We can’t really use Adam as a basis for anything. But we’ll start with God. He gave humans the world, animals and plants in it to use to our benefit. They are in a state of nature and were given to us for our use.

Our bodies are ours and so are our labor and the fruits of our labor. Whatever we do or transform is ours. Possession begins when something is taken out of nature (being man-made). Before it is changed, it is common property.

In civilization, if you do the work, the product is yours. The limit is when your product spoils because it wasn’t used due to overproduction. This is wasteful and not productive. The world was meant for industrious and productive or rational use.

Land is scarce these days and naturally we have divisions between property, counties and countries. God’s commandment created dominion and natural private property. Our labor is limited to our physical productivity. Divisions weren’t necessary before the world got so crowded.

Land is to be common property until someone starts working it. Labor makes an unproductive thing productive. Men move from crowded places to make use of land and in doing so en masse, form societies and law.

Eventually relative value is established between products and money acts as a symbol of that value. Most land requires some labor to get anything out of it. In 1600s America, Indians had huge amounts of land and never did a thing to it. This is why they were poor. When labor is added, value goes up. Nature gives us little but adding work to it makes us much richer.

When land is scarce, distinct divisions arise and societies form to protect individuals’ land, property, etc. from violation. Most Indians subsist on whatever falls to the ground or runs through the forest. It’s a form of temporary property with no long-lasting value. Cultivation gives the land value and money cements it. This allows different degrees of industry but also leads to inequality. But that also leads to expansion of industry, division of labor and increase of wealth.

Chapter 6 – Of Paternal Power (52-76)

Paternal power should be referred to as parental power because Mom plays a role too. God commanded us to honor both parents, not just Dad. Somehow this turned into regal, absolute power. Maybe if Mom had a bigger say in raising kids, we’d have a penchant for multiple powers and not a quasi-dictatorship.

In nature, men are equal but it is true that some have more money and influence. But we are subject to the same laws. It’s a bit different with kids. Parents have a special reign. Children get equality as they age. Adam was given reason and understanding upon his creation but that wasn’t normal. Children are born helpless and irrational. They need guidance and protection until they grow up and have these faculties on their own. You must be able to understand natural law in order to have its rights.

Once old enough, a person is responsible for his actions, safety and survival. Then he owes no one any allegiance or loyalty. To set a child free too early is detrimental. Parents are rulers as long as they accept the guardian’s role for the kid. Problems may arise with a death of or abandonment by a parent. But a parental presence is necessary. They are the instruments of protection and education.

The rule ends at a child’s majority age. Until then the duty of a child is to honor and obey. He gets protection and education in return. Education can be handled by a hired hand but protection is also necessary. The relation may continue into his adulthood but it is not required. We as a society owe honor to our elders, defense to friends and help to those who need it but outside of this parent-child relationship, it is not obligatory.

Political and parental powers are separate but are somewhat parallel. Princes have no right to claim this power over their people because most of them are adults and he is not their father. Parents are free to bequeath property to kids but not required to do so. That’s not part of the deal. Somehow history has this power turning into a monarchy.

Chapter 7 – Of Political or Civil Society (77-94)

God created us to live in a society, to learn and understand the world around us. The first society was a family – parents and kids. The second was a relation between a master and a servant. But conjugal society is a voluntary compact between a man and a woman for procreation, mutual supper and shared interest. This is continuation of the species is distinct to humans because in most other species, the father is never around. But pregnancy is long and the woman needs a man to help her during the pregnancy with the unborn and the older kids too. But there’s more to marriage than just raising kids.

Things get hairy sometimes because they might not always see eye to eye on things. Usually the man ends up the leader because he is stronger and more capable of providing but this does not mean he’s in complete control of her life or property. Civil society settles disputes. In places where the wife is 100% property, the government will usually enforce husbands will on her.

Of the master/servant relationship. In a free society, a man can choose to be a servant for money. This is with consent. He is under the command of the master but under terms of a contract. Slavery is absolute dominion with no consent.

We were born with a right to preserve ourselves and our property and punish those who violate that. When we combine ourselves, we make a civil society and agree to live under one set of laws for the common good. We put together a list of rules and punishments and surrender our natural right to decide those rules and punish their violation all by ourselves.

Absolute monarchy is not a civil government. There’s no agreed upon authority. The monarch answers to no one. He is in a state of nature but declaring war on all his subjects as his slaves. They can appeal to him but he doesn’t have to answer them. Only a parliament can deal with this.

Chapter 8 – Of the Beginning of Civil Societies (95-122)

Men can only be taken from nature without consent and can only join a civil society with consent. In this case, the majority have a right to act. When it’s created on consent, man must agree to the majority’s decision because there are always going to be disagreements and this way most people get what they want. If you go against the majority, you are placing yourself outside of society and back into nature, alone. There needs to be a constitutional basis for majority rule.

There are 2 objections to this and 2 responses:

A – Objection: Man’s never been outside of society. Answer: History can only go so far back but there are plenty of examples of men leaving one society and forming another voluntarily (Rome, Venice, Sparta). Somehow the first leader became a father figure and this led to a monarchy.

B – Objection: Most people would rather stay with their form of government than try anything drastically new. Answer: True but there are plenty of examples of governments evolving throughout history. Old laws change. A man has no obligation to follow his father in staying in a government/society. But you tacitly agree to law when you establish a life and get and keep property and enjoy society’s protection of it. If you move, you must engage in the society to be considered a part of it.

Chapter 9 – Of the Ends of Political Society and Government (123-131)

Why give up life and possessions to absolute dominion? A man may be vulnerable to attack and give up rights of enforcement to band together with others for each other’s benefit and preserve property and establish a common standard of right and wrong.

In nature, there’s no legal judge and men get heated when in dispute or may not even care for others. It’s hard to execute judgment for fear of retribution. So, people form societies to overcome this chaos and selfishness. In nature, a man has 2 powers:

A – Ability to decide what is needed to preserve self and property. He gives this up in society to a legislative power.

B – Ability to enforce needs and punish those who violate them. He gives this up in society to an executive as well.

Political society’s authorities must respect established laws and not change them without consent, as well as enforce laws and protect community.

Chapter 10 – Of Forms of Commonwealth (132-133)

If power is in the majority, it is a Democracy. If power is in a few, it is an Oligarchy. If power is in one man, it is a monarchy. A commonwealth is not a specific form of government but an independent community.

Chapter 11 – Of the Extent of the Legislative Power (134-142)

In setting up society, we establish a legislative power. These laws they write can only be changed with consent. People agree to obey its laws. The Rules are

A – Power cannot be arbitrary. People give up some rights in order to be protected, not enslaved, destroy or impoverished. It is only for the public good.

B – Laws are permanent and available for the citizens to know and understand. They must know them. Laws must not be misinterpreted, misapplied or disobeyed without punishment. Disputes are to be remedied. Arbitrary power make men worse off than before because at least in a state of nature, they could settle matters themselves.

C – Supreme power cannot take away property without consent. The government was the reason to guard the property in the first place. If it can be taken away so easily, it’s not really property at all. The fewer people you have in this power, the more likely you are to see abuse.

The military is a bit special in that it need something of an absolute (but not completely so) monarchy. Governments costs money, so taxes need to be taken in order to maintain it – but only with consent and representation.

Chapter 12 – Of Legislative, Executive and Federative Power of the Commonwealth (143-148)

The legislature doesn’t always need to be in session. In fact, it shouldn’t be there too often because the representatives might use their power for their own personal gain against the people. Laws need to be constant and long-lasting and need perpetual execution. The legislature and executive must be separated to ensure good government.

A Federative power deals with society as a whole, as well as dealings with foreign powers (trade, war, peace, etc.).

The executive power deals with local laws within the commonwealth which have been passed by the legislature and consented to by the people. The Federative should be left to the wisdom and care of experts. They are distinct powers but should be kept together in one body. To do so otherwise is impractical and in-fighting might occur.

Chapter 13 – Of the Subordination of Powers of the Commonwealth (149-158)

The legislative power represents the people, has their consent and is the supreme government body. In it, people make laws for themselves. Laws don’t need constant up-dating. It needs to meet occasionally but not constantly. It needs occasional updating through elections and Constitutional changes needed by changes in society, wealth and population.

The executive power has one man representing it with supreme power but no law-making powers, only executive powers. It is subordinate to the legislature and accountable to it. It is purely through to execute laws passed. It is nimbler and can do things the legislature cannot anticipate. It can even convoke a legislature to session

Chapter 14 – Of Prerogative (159-168)

The executive is given powers when the legislature is unavailable and it exercises discretion. If it needs to circumvent the law, so be it. This can only be for the public good, even if it violates the Constitution. The legislature is slow and may even be harmful, so it might be necessary to violate its laws. It should be rare to do so and watched closely for abuse. It can only do so if in the public interest.

It may violate laws but not natural law. This can happen if the law is bad or there is no law at all. Sometimes a little violate does a lot harm and sometimes a lot of violation does little harm. It depends on what is being done.

Chapter 15 – Of Paternal, Political, and Despotical Power, Considered Together

Paternal Power – to nourish and educate child until adulthood. There’s no control over life or property. The child must obey and honor the parents. This is a natural power but not a political one.

Political Power – given to authority of a commonwealth. It only exists to preserve prosperity and punish violations. It is not arbitrary or abusive and only exists in consent between the ruler and the ruled.

Despotical Power – absolute and arbitrary. One man’s domination over other. It is unnatural and non-consensual and only by forfeiture. One man declares a state of war over others and has won.

Chapter 16 – Of Conquest (175-196)

History is loaded with war and conquest. It is not consent or establishment of a government. That can only be done with consent. The vanquished must be patient to try to overthrow the conqueror.

IF an unjust war is waged, the people aren’t responsible for the ruler’s actions. But the conqueror has the right to the lives of those who fought against him. He must not touch their children, wives or property. That is a declaration of war on them. Innocent bystanders must be spared. The price is to obey eternal and fundamental laws of nature and God.

Chapter 17 – Of Usurpation (197-198)

It is never justified to usurp. The usurper has violated the will of the people and declared war on them. They have the right to overthrow him because they have not given him their consent.

Chapter 18 – Of Tyranny (199-210)

The tyrant exercises power beyond what is right and does so for personal gain. A king is bound to observe fundamental laws of a nation and protect it. Once he strays from this, he becomes a tyrant. This can happen in Democracies and Oligarchies, too when authority goes beyond any natural law. If people are wrong in claiming violation the can oppose the law. The legislature and executive can be tried for this. Head of executive will often be spared as it is a sacred position. But if the people can’t appeal to the government, they may force change. It is unlikely to end in chaos because people will only revolt when things are really bad. If they’re correct in assuming they’re being abused, they have the right to start all over and establish a government based on natural law.

Chapter 19 – Of the Dissolution of Government (211-243)

There are differences between governments and society. A dissolved society is sent back to the state of nature with frequent states of war. It has no civil society and no government. But a dissolved government is just one where the government has ceased to represent the people and must be reestablished.

A hereditary government with absolute power goes beyond natural laws, prevents a legislature from meeting. The prince has tampered with the legislature or sold his people out to a foreign power. This needs to be dissolved. The executive must be dissolved if he neglects his duty, doesn’t enforce laws. Society then is in a state of anarchy. Bribes, threats and the like are examples of him declaring war on his people by refusing to execute the law.

If the people fear the new legislature will be just as bad as the last, remember people rarely like drastic change in government. If it’s really bad, they’ll want drastic change. But if it’s a small change, there will probably be little to no rebelling because revolutions don’t occur for minor infractions.

People won’t let a king ruin the nation if they can stop him. That happens when he actually ruins the county (like Nero or Caligula) or he becomes dependent on a foreign power and does what it wants and not what the people want. People will react to this. They will be his judge and judge if there is tyranny or not.

The power that men get from nature is given up in joining the commonwealth. The power in the legislature is carried out by the executive. If either one steps out of line, the commonwealth crumbles into a state of nature and war and a new commonwealth must be formed.

Author: knowit68

Leave a Reply