ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

John Locke's Two Treatise on Government

Updated on May 22, 2013
A portrait of John Locke
A portrait of John Locke

John Locke was a 17th century English political theorist, born in 1632 and passing in 1704. His ideas made such an impact on the world, that they were used much later as the basis for the American declaration of independence. He believed that nobody had any natural political authority over anyone else. Political authority is granted through consent.

The idea that kings had the divine right to rule had been around for as long as history was recorded. This was the ideas that monarchs only owed allegiance to God and that they were above their subjects, much like a father oversees his children. Thomas Hobbes had written the Leviathan, which basically said that people were in need of a single ruler in order to keep peace, otherwise there would be constant chaos. This theory was challenged by the Two Treatise of Government, written by Locke. He attempted to tear apart this theory. Though Locke never directly stated that he was aiming his sights at Hobbes, his ideas countered those of Hobbes. It is obviously apparent that Locke had set his gaze at Sir Robert Filmer's Patriarcha.

It is the responsibility of the Monarchy to protect the natural rights of the people
It is the responsibility of the Monarchy to protect the natural rights of the people

Locke theorized that human nature is characterized by reason and tolerance. “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 the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.” The phrase, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” from the American Declaration of Independence can be traced back to Locke writing that every person had the natural right to defend his “life, health, Liberty, or Possessions”. Locke’s idea was in direct contradiction to Hobbes’ unstable theory of the natural state of “war of every man against every man.” Locke defends that men are created equal in a state of nature by God.

Locke states that the only legitimate governments are the ones that rule with the consent of the people, not God alone. This led Locke to theorize that governments which rule without the consent of the people can be overthrown. He morally justified this by saying that the people can give up their executive power of the law of nature and agree to obey the state on the condition that the state protects their natural rights, which were rights to life, liberty and property. Any government which did not protect these naturally given rights did not have entitlement to govern.

The government should operate with the consent of the people
The government should operate with the consent of the people

The people have been brainwashed, in a sense by those in power. "We are all born slaves, and we must continue so” is the ideas that are taught to the people by those that are afraid to be overthrown, such as the Kings. This is the idea that if the people do not know any better, they will not try to challenge the king and that those that do can be silenced quickly and effectively. "Men are not naturally free.” This is the foundation on which his absolute monarchy stands. Because this is not the way it works, Locke says that the people are the ones with the power and the control. It would take just the people to start an uprising and the unjust governments can be thrown out.

The Structure of the United States' Government
The Structure of the United States' Government

Many theorists used the stories told in the bible to defend the monarchs’ divine right to rule by God. Locke tears this apart by stating that the monarchs would then have to be direct decedents of Adam in order to have that divine right and that According to Locke, no king has ever claimed that his authority by being the heir of Adam. Therefore, this is an idea that is full of holes that cannot be used as an argument. "Men are not naturally free.” This is the foundation on which his absolute monarchy stands. Because this is not the way it works, Locke says that the people are the ones with the power and the control. It would take just the people to start an uprising and the unjust governments can be thrown out.

Though Locke argued that monarchs did not have the supreme right to rule on their own without the consent of the people, he was not opposed to the idea of a contract between the monarchy and the people. The monarchy can rule, but with the consent and the rights of the people being at the forefront of government. He even goes on to state that revolution is an obligation of the people to replace the governments that do not support and defend the natural rights of the people with a government which would take into view the rights of the people. This ensured the inability of a tyranny.

17th Century map of England
17th Century map of England

John Locke believed that that nobody had any natural political authority over anyone else. Political authority is granted through consent. His ideas directly countered the common theories of the 17th century, but made a big enough impact to become the basis of the American Declaration of Independence.

Do you agree in John Locke's theories?

See results

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 4 years ago from San Diego California

      Really nicely done, in this day and age, to espouse the views of a philosopher who was a champion of human freedom. Well written and informative.

    • StitchTheDamned profile image
      Author

      StitchTheDamned 4 years ago from Clifton Park, NY

      Thank you very much. His views were so much different than the views and minds of the majority of people in his era. They've made such an impact on the world. Though I often wonder, When will the next John Locke rise up against the views of today's society?

    • CarolynEmerick profile image

      Carolyn Emerick 4 years ago

      Locke was discussed in an article in this month's issue of Celtic Guide (a magazine I contribute too, not my article though). Apparently he married a 15 or 16 year old girl when he was 60 years old under dubious circumstances. He was an avid witch hunter, and the tables were turned on him when he was accused of witchcraft himself! The story is that he "bewitched" the young girl to trick her into marrying him. It sounds like perhaps she was pressured into it and desperately wanted to find a way out.

      It was a different era and values of the time are different than our own, and we should refrain from passing judgement... However, the idea of a 60 yr old man marrying a 15 year old girl just creeps me out! And it makes it difficult for me to look to him as a pillar of wisdom.

      But, of course, this is something we struggle to comes to grips with in the case of Jefferson also with him standing for freedom yet owning slaves.

      Take Benjamin Franklin for another comparison, though. Ok, so he was a pervert. But he was HONEST about it! And he wrote satire about it! Whereas Locke was a religious leader and pious (pompous) witch hunter... Kind of hard to cut him the same slack in my opinion... :-/

    • StitchTheDamned profile image
      Author

      StitchTheDamned 4 years ago from Clifton Park, NY

      It seems like the shiniest pearls of wisdom often come from not so great sources. Yeah, his personal life was pretty messed up and twisted. Marrying a teenager is rather barbarous in today's times, but back then being married at that age was very common. It sounds like it could have been a bad situation all around though.

      He does sound like quite an awful man. But, his views and writings have impacted a lot of the world. Locke's thoughts helped established the United States in the beginning and led to a lot of free thinking. It is rather hypocritical of him, though.

    Click to Rate This Article