POT 2002 Locke – Second Treatise of Government 2.13.14
I. John Locke in Historical Context
a. Reformation across Europe, Luther’s criticisms of the Catholic Church
b. The Wars of Truth…wars over religion in Europe, both sides claimed to
have ontological servitude. Who has principle access to the truth, and how
should it be embodied institutionally?
c. Here are the problems that ultimately confront Locke
d. Reformation puts political and religious dimensions into place
e. Oscillation of thought predicated on succession of rulers
f. James I argues of divine right rule; the power of the king really comes
from Gd and is absolute. Consultation with Parliament merely a formality.
i. James understands that some people believe the house of lords and
house of commons [parliament], so he defends his stance
theoretically but doesn’t try to implement it institutionally
ii. His son, Charles I, presses the claim.
g. Puritans wanted to purify England of remaining Catholic sentiment.
h. Cromwell rules during interregnum period after Charles’ execution
i. Shaftesbury and Locke try to craft legislation called the exclusion bill, that
would prevent Catholic James from becoming king.
i. Exclusion bill fails, James becomes first catholic king of Ireland
since Henry VIII…eventually pushed out by William of Orange,
who marries Mary, and they restore Protestantism
II. Some Ruminations on Locke and “Liberalism”
a. Lockean Liberalism: Politics as Artificial and NonTeleological
i. The state of nature
1. Justification of revolution against James II. Limited
authority of kings, denial of divine right rule.
2. However, it was found to be written during the time of the
exclusion crisis in which the question was how much
power does the king and parliament have? What is political
3. Written to specify legitimate boundaries of political power.
If somebody tries to claim that authority, you are compelled
to resist; must engage in revolution against political
absolutism. Justifies killing of the king
4. What are the appropriate aims/goals of political power?
5. Liberalism: the idea of the political world is artificial
a. Unlike the ancients, who believed that politics is
b. Locke radically breaks with this conception. There
was a time where there was no political world [the
state of nature] and politics emerged out of this
time. Before civil/political society is created
ii. The social contract 1. Mechanism of free and voluntary agreement whereby we
leave the state of nature and create civil/political society
iii. Natural law
1. Gd’s law, series of moral precepts that humans can
understand with their reason, and use that reason to
construct a political world based on those principles. These
principles are permanently ingrained. Provides upper limit,
or check, of what those in political power can do. Natural
law cannot be violated.
b. The end of Summum Bonum [the highest good]
i. Natural Rights
1. Rival claimants to the truth give rise to a variety of
different conceptions of Summum Bonum…collapses
because there is no single institutional purveyor of the
2. Politics becomes nontheological
a. You don’t realize your essence/purpose/being as a
human through political activity
b. Politics is at best a way of keeping people from
killing one another; religion in this sense can be
c. Opens the door to secularism
d. Under natural law, you have certain natural rights
that the state cannot legitimately violate. If it does,
then according to natural law, you have a right to
resist, and the state can’t apply some particular
conception of that the good life is and make all of
its citizens adhere to it; all it can do is PROTECT
your natural rights without overstepping boundaries.
e. Keep the peace
1. The goal is to defend property.
2. Life, liberty, and the state
a. You, how you express yourself, and your things
c. The use and abuse of the word “liberal”
i. Locke’s ideas enshrined in the principles of the American founding
ii. Liberalism changes over time. What Locke inaugurates is now
called classical liberalism.
1. 19 and 20 century saw rejection of classical liberalism.
2. FDR , LBJ, and progressives proponents of modern
liberalism [new deal and great society]. Obama is inheritor
of modern liberal tradition, uses this to rectify the problems
with classical liberalism.
3. Unmodified term 4. Does classical liberalism create a sense of difficulties that
have to be modified? Many modern conservatives are
classical liberals! Mostly libertarians, however.
I. Locke’s “state of nature”
a. Definition of political power
i. A right of making laws to regulate property in a way
that serves the public good
b. Law of nature
i. Within the state of nature, paragraph 6. State of
liberty, but not license. Moral law governs state of
nature that is discovered by reason. This is also
Gd’s law. Unlike Plato and Machiavelli, Locke is a
deeply Christian thinker. All humans have a
capacity for reason, can discover substantive
ii. People know it, but for various reasons, are going to
c. Locke’s manifold conception of property
i. Not just material objects
ii. Lives, liberties, states
iii. Since everyone has property in the person, there is
nobody who is not a property owner
II. Locke and the Emergence of Market society: a defense of
material, property, inequality
a. God’s intentions
i. You can go as far as to kill the person, and the rest
of the community can step in, too.
ii. Social, characterized by human interactions
iii. Intentions we can understand through the use of our
reason. God gave the world to all men in common,
but did not intend for it to remain common. Gave it
to the use of the industrious and rational, and
commanded them to labor on it
iv. Accumulate private property and take it out of
commons. Rationality entwined to willingness to
follow Gd’s will and collecting private property.
The more of it you have, the more industrial and
rational you are.
1. When you hitch branch of organized religion
with emerging world power
b. Labor theory of material property and the spoilage
limitation i. Defends inequality and property as conducive to the
ii. Mixing your labor with things previously unowned
is what makes things you private property…i.e.
agriculture “improvement of the land”
iii. There’s an upper limit to how much private property
you can accrue like this, which is when it spoils. If
they begin to spoil, then other people have a right to
i. Allows us to get around the spoilage limitation
d. The labor theory of value
i. Central to Locke’s defense – inequality
ii. Don’t just make it your property, but increase its
value. Once the products are put into commercial
exchange, everybody benefits. Not all benefit
equally, but all benefit extraordinarily
iii. Contractual relationship results in wages…property
comes back to owner
iv. Trickle down economics have implications for all
e. Exchange, consequence, and empire
i. When you engage in comparison, poorest day
laborer in England is better off than the kings of the
Native Americans, because they don’t improve the
f. Money and problems
i. After the institution of money and wage labor, the
poor also benefit because they can take their wages
and buy goods and services.
ii. Purpose of political power has to be circumscribed
by its service to the public good. Not the province
of government to reduce material property
iii. But also has enormous consequences outside of
England and Europe.
iv. Native Americans either lack the rational or
productivity to do Gd’s will. Industrious and
rational English believe that THEY own it and are