Lecture 21: Locke, Second Treatise, Ch. XIII-XIX
Outline of the Lecture
1. Review of Monday’s lecture
a) The end or goal of Locke’s political theory of the state
b) The state as the solution to the problems of the state of nature
c) Unanimous consent as the only legitimate foundation of political authority
d) The necessity of majority rule
2. Locke on legislative power: supreme but not arbitrary
3. Locke on the (necessary) separation of powers: legislative and executive
4. The powers of the executive: beyond the law but limited by a narrow mandate
5. The constituent powers of the people; state power as a fiduciary power, ie.
Dependent on the trust and ongoing consent of the people; state power as
revocable; how do the people judge?
6. Locke on rebellion and revolution
7. Conclusion: The problem of the class state and Locke’s liberal legacy
Review of Monday
• That the end or goal of political society/government is the public good
• The government is only authorized to act in the public interest; Locke means
protecting peoples life, liberty and interests by their common good and interest –
the preservation of private property
• “The great and chief end, therefore of men’s uniting into common-wealth’s, and
putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property. To
which in the state of nature there are many things wanting” (124)
• Locke gives us three reasons why protection of property is so insecure
o 1) Absence of law, law is the standard of right and wrong
o 2) Absence of an impartial judge, no person who can fairly interpret the
law of nature
o 3) Absence of some executive power, no person in power to push for law
and punish transgressors
• We need to ensure the government is capable for fulfilling the end in which it is
instituting, we need precisely those three things missing from the state of nature
• He presents each as a remedy to one fatal defect in the state of nature
• By nature each of us has the power to do whatever we think is necessary for our
self-preservation, and the self-preservation of others—but theses are powers we
have to give up when entering a civil society. We willing part with these rights
and transfer our rights to the common wealth. The right to self-preservation can
never be renounced. We only give up as much power as necessary to preserve
• You have a right to kill a thief that breaks into your house at night. If the law isn’t
there to protect you, you can protect yourself.
• We give up the right to take up the law in our own hands. • We are all equally free; the only legitimate basis of political authority is upon
• “Men being, as has been said, by nature, all free, equal, and independent, no one
can be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another,
without his own consent. The only way whereby any one divest himself of his
natural liberty, and puts on the bonds of civil society, is by agreeing with other
men to join and unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceful
living one amongst another, in a secure Enjoyment of their Properties, and a
greater Security against any that are not of it. This any number of Men may do,
because it injures not the Freedom of the rest; they are left as they were in the
Liberty of the State of Nature. (95)
The Necessity of Majority Rule
• “For when any number of Men have, by the consent of every individual, made a
Community, they have thereby made that Community one Body, with a Power to
Act as one Body, which is only by the will and determination of the majority. For
that which acts any Community, being only the consent of the individuals of it,
and it being necessary to that which is one body to move one way; it is necessary
the Body should move that way whither the greater force carries it, which is the
consent of the majority: or else it is impossible it should act or continue one Body,
one Community, which the consent of every individual that united into it, agreed
that it should; and so every one is bound by that consent to be concluded by the
• Only majority consent can legislate consecutive power.All forms of
governments are all equally founded on majority consent.
• Locke’s political theory doesn’t state a preference for one form of
government over another
• You can choose whether people will rule for a limited time or life.
• Regardless of whatever form (perfect democracy, representative assembly
or monarchy) the legislative power is supreme, sacred and unchangeable.
• Only those chosen by us have the right to make the laws and speak on our
• As long as the government exists, the legislative is supreme. There can
only be one lawmaking power in civil society.
• Something can be supreme without being arbitrary; meaning the public
good limits the actions of the legislative. The legislative can’t do anything it
wants with immunity, its limited by its mandate to preserve and protect civil
society and the property of those subject to its authority.
• People enter civil society to advance interest in their lives, liberty and
• The power of the legislative has to be restrained by settle standing laws.
He is describing “conductional constraints on the exercise of state power.
Political ( i.e. legislative) power; Supreme but notAbsolute
“It cannot be supposed that persons should intended, had they a power to do so, to give
any one, or more, an absolute arbitrary power over their persons and estates, and put a force into the magistrate’s hand to executive his unlimited wit arbitrarily upon them”
When individuals give up the liberty and executive power they possess in the state of
nature in order to enter civil society, they do so “only with an intention in everyone the
better to preserver himself, his liberty and his property; (for no rational creature can be
supposed to change this condition with an intention to be worse)” (131)
• Locke assumes the sufficiency of limited government. Locke things of limited
government as something needed to preserve. Political authority is a great human
good but only where that authority stays within prescribed constitutional limits.
• The states power to act must be constrained by the law. Whoever possesses
political power must govern based on outstanding laws.
Disagreement between Hobbes and Locke
• They share the view that the imperative of self preservation, is the rock bottom
foundation of civil society
• They share a basic fundamental starting premise but unlike Hobbes, Locke shows
again and again that absolute arbitrary power is no remedy for the evils of the
state of nature
• To be subject to the absolute rule of the uncontrolled monarch or assembly is
worse than the state of nature
• It’s a greater threat to our natural inclination to preserve ourselves.Absolute
monarchy is no form of government at all.
• Hobbes error is the conclusion that he draws from that premise. The only remedy
to the state of nature is to make sure ones self subject to the power of the
leviathan. Locke concludes limited government is truer than Hobbes own
Constitutional issues take much of second treatise up. Locke thinks of the restraints that
should be placed on the exercise of state power. The legislative power cannot take
property from citizens without their consent. Taxation should rest with the majority of
people or elected representatives
Separation of Powers: Legislative and Executive
In well-ordered commonwealths, he says, the legislative and executive powers are
separated, “because it may be too great a temptation to human frailty, apt to grasp at
power, for the same persons who have the power of making laws to have also in their
hands the power to execute them” (143)
• For Hobbes, you only achieve security but adding power to the sovereign leaving
everyone else insecure.
• If you give someone enough power to oppress you, Locke says you can say that
they will do just that.
• You have to design constitutional arrange