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John Locke's Two Treatises of Government
by Milap Patel
- 1 John Locke's Two Treatises of Government
- 2 Abstract
- 3 Introduction
- 4 Section 1: Background
- 5 Section 2: Deliverable
- 6 Conclusion
- 7 Text References
- 8 Image References
- 9 Category tags
This milestone is about understanding John Locke's political philosophy and how it influenced America. To accomplish this task, I decided to study Locke's most influential work, Two Treatises Of Government. The background of this milestone discusses in depth Locke's philosophy outlined in the Two Treatises Of Government and how that philosophy was influenced according to the state of England during his life. The deliverable then discusses how Locke's philosophy influenced the American Revolution and the creation of the American government that still serves its people to this day. Previously, I have had very little experience in the field of philosophy with no prior classes taken, but understanding Locke's Two Treatises Of Government has provided me with a view on why a government exists and what its obligations are to the people of America.
This milestone discusses John Locke's political philosophy outlined in his work Two Treatises Of Government. Locke's political philosophy was very important to the formation of United States as we know it today. Locke came up with his political philosophy in response to the turbulence in England during his time. He was forced to evaluate monarchy and determine if it was the correct form of government for the people. To do this, Locke first looked at the state of nature to understand what forced people to join societies ruled by the government. From there, he determined that monarchy in England was not the right form of government to serve the people because it led to tyranny. In opposition to monarchy, Locke proposed a new form of branched government that would serve the people in protecting their life, liberty, and property. Locke's political ideas were then used to justify the American Revolution along with creating a lasting government that served the people of America to this day.
Section 1: Background
Life In England During The Time Of John Locke
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John Locke was an English philosopher who was born in England in the year 1632. He initially studied medicine at the University of Oxford, graduating with a degree in that field. He later joined Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, assisting him in business and political matters along with being his personal physician. John Locke was deeply influenced during his time with Cooper where he started to study politics. He eventually took a stand against monarchy, believing that the government was for the benefit of the people. 
This was clearly not the case during his time. The kings of England, King Charles II and King James II, were abusive of their power, forcing their will on the citizens by passing laws that favored their religious views. These laws caused the people of England misery over religious matters. As such, the people considered monarchy in England a form of tyranny where they believed monarchy stripped them of their freedom and demoted them to a form of slavery, a form where they were forced to obey the unjust king. Furthermore, the people of England considered their ruling government to fail at its obligations to the people and because of this they called for a new form of government that favored the people as a whole, not just a few. These thoughts eventually led to the Glorious Revolution, which took place in 1688, in which the tyrannical monarchy of England was overthrown. Locke's philosophical view on politics in his work, the Two Treatises Of Government, had a major influence on this movement where he tried to justify the fall of monarchy and a creation of a new form of government for the people.
Evaluation Of Two Treatises of Government
Locke's philosophy was deeply religious and deeply influenced by the events that unfolded during his life in England. As such, he tried to understand the essence of government and the reason why it existed in his work, the Two Treatises Of Government. In Two Treatises Of Government, Locke first looked at the state of nature to understand the origins of authority. From there, he concluded that monarchy was not the right form of government for the people, supporting his claims with a religious view. He ended the Two Treatises Of Government by calling for a new form of government to replace monarchy, where the people had power within the ruling government to better protect their life, liberty and property. He also laid out the foundation for rebellion and formation of a new form of government when the immediate ruling government ceased to function for the benefit of the people. 
The State Of Nature
John Locke looks at humans in the state of nature in the Second Treatise of his work, the Two Treatises of Government. He claims that all men are originally in the state of nature. In this state, Locke says that all men are perfectly free and perfectly equal without an overseeing government. In other words, Locke implies that people are only bound by the law of nature where each person lives, acts, and uses his possessions as he sees fit without a common authority. The natural law, or the "Fundamental law of Nature," as Locke calls it, is the right to self-preservation. It states that each man is empowered to do whatever is in his power to preserve himself in the state of nature. 
The State Of War
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Locke then moves on to talk about the differences between the state of nature and the state of war in Chapter III if his Second Treatise. In the state of war, people exert unwelcome force on other people by interfering with their natural rights and their freedom. According to Locke, the state of nature which at first is a condition of peace and mutual trust, quickly degenerates into the state of war when a crisis or a disagreement arises between the people. This happens because there is no overseeing authority in the state of nature meaning each individual serves as a judge, jury and executioner of the natural law. This leads to force and violence, the only resolution since common law does not exist between the people.  
Property is a key subject Locke brings up in Chapter V of the Second Treatise. In this chapter, he links the humans behavior of acquiring property to the state of war when humans are living in the state of nature. Locke begins this chapter by first stating that the Earth is considered the property of all the people where the people can use it for their collective survival and benefit. Locke writes, "God gave the World to Men in Common, but he gave it to them for their benefits, and the greatest Conveniences of Life they were capable to draw form it." Locke then considers the concept of individual property where individuals take possession of the things around them when in the state of nature. He says, "Human nature is very much that of man as the property-acquiring animal in the state of nature." In other words, Locke is suggesting that humans tend to take possessions of things around them and call them their property. This, however, brings up the question of ownership. Locke defines ownership as labor performed by a person. He writes, "Every man has a Property in his Person. This body has any Right to but himself. The Labour of his Body and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his...For this Labour being the unquestionable Property of the Laborer." In other words, Locke says that a person owns his own body and all the labor performed by that body. Labor then leads to the ownership of property that the labor relates to. Now, when another person adds his own physical labor, which is his own property, to a foreign object or material, then that object and any resulting products also become his property. But in a state of nature, there are no common law to determine who owns what part of an object or fruits of collective labor since each person has his own idea of possession. This ultimately leads to the state of war over the conflict of possession where the resolution ends in violence and dominance of the fittest.
Call For A Government
Locke calls for a government to secure individuals property. As he puts it, the natural law dictates a right of private property, and it is to secure this right that government is established. Locke further explains this by relating it to the state of war. He calls the state of nature "unstable" with no civil authority where people are in constant dispute over the ownership of their property. This prevents peaceful enjoyment of their fruits of labor which are constantly threatened by others around them, causing war and conflict. This is the key reason Locke calls for a common government where common laws can resolve conflicts without resorting to the state of war. Locke writes, "protection of property is the great and chief end of Men's uniting into a commonwealth." 
Locke's View Against Monarchy
Locke believes that monarchy emerged as an early form of government to protect the people from being in the state of war. He believed that people considered monarchy, or a one-man rule, to be the prime form of government as they moved into societies form the state of nature. The idea behind monarchy was to create laws from one person's perspective that everyone else obeyed, ultimately reducing everyone's individual views on subjects to one common view. Doing this would help create order among the population where common laws would help resolve conflicts in a more peaceful manner, compared to how they were resolved when in the state of nature with multiple individual's views.   
Locke, further, goes on to say that monarchy became abusive in England over time. He says that the kings, or the ruling individuals, thought they had the divine right of the kings, granted to them by God, to rule their people as they saw fit. Filmer, in his book called Patriarcha supported this notion by saying that every man is born a slave to the natural born kings. He justifies this claim by relating it to religion, saying that Biblical Adam, in his role as father, was granted ultimate power, by God, over his children and his authority passed down through the generations. In other words, Filmer basically said that the kings were Adam's heirs who held the ultimate power, granted to them by the God, over the residents of this world. 
Locke opposed Filmer's notion, in the First Treatise. He said that every man had the ability to virtuously govern himself according to God’s law where enslaving mankind, as he saw it, was "a vile and miserable an estate of man." He believed that the world was originally held in common where God's grant to Adam covered only the land and brute animals, not human beings. In other words, he believed that God did not grant the kings the right to impose their rule on other people. Locke further supports his view by saying that if Filmer is correct on his theory of divine right of the kings, then there should only be one rightful king in all the world, which being Adam's heir. This, however, will be impossible to discover, meaning that no government, under Filmer's principles, can require its members to obey the God appointed rulers, including England.
Better Government For The People
Locke now moves onto defining the fundamentals of a government for the people. Locke points out two aspects of a government that are revolutionary: the idea of human rights and the idea of a branched government. Human rights, Locke says, are the rights granted to human for being human. He says that these "natural rights" cannot be taken away or rightfully eliminated for anyone. The composition of these natural rights includes three essential components: right of life, the right of liberty and the right of property. The right of life, according to Locke, guarantees each person effectively 'owns' himself. This in short frowns at the idea of enslaving others to one's will. The right of liberty insures individuals the right to do, more or less, what they want with their life. This, once again, frowns at the idea of enslaving someone to do something against their own will, assuming it does not break the societal laws of affecting someone else negatively. The last right, the right of property, ensures that a person's work is only theirs for the benefiting. 
The idea of a branched government, according to Locke, is a form of government with limited powers to insure it does not become abusive. This is done by keeping all the components within the government in check with each other. For this to happen, Locke calls for a government with strong legislature and an active executive who do not outstrip lawmakers in power. Locke also brings in the idea of having rule of the majority within a government. This will further help limit the power of individuals within the government to prevent tyranny from emerging. 
Right Of Rebellion
Lastly, Locke explains the idea of rebellion. When the ruling government ceases to function correctly for its people, it is then that Locke encourages a rebellion or a revolution. He says that it is society's obligation to do so to prevent tyranny or slavery from taking hold in societies. 
Section 2: Deliverable
In this section, I will explain how John Locke and his Two Treatises Of Government influenced America. I will first explain how the American Revolution was influenced by Two Treatises Of Government. I will then go on to explain how Two Treatises Of Government influenced the creation of the American government. I will end this section by discussing how Locke's political views are seen today.
Locke's Influence On The American Revolution
The influence from John Locke's political philosophy can be seen in the events that led up to the revolution. Colonists considered their liberty and their natural rights to be violated by the British government as they passed their acts to raise revenue after the Seven Years' War. The first act, the Stamp Act, was put in place to tax all paper documents within the colonies without the representation of the American colonists. Britain justified this act saying that the colonists were obligated to help repay the debt incurred during the Seven Years' War because most of the war efforts were used to protect them. The colonists did not see it this way. They believed this act was unconstitutional and that it would ultimately lead to the death of journalism as they knew it in the colonies. Furthermore, the colonists felt like they had no say on this political matter that impacted them because they had no representation regarding this act. They saw this as a form of tyranny where they were forced to obey the new unjust laws enforced on them by Britain where it benefited the British government but not its people, the colonists. 
This was clearly a form of rule that Locke would oppose. First of all, Locke was against the idea of tyranny which is outlined in the Two Treatises Of Government explained above. As he saw it, tyranny emerged when the government stopped benefiting its people. This is exactly what the Stamp Act did where it benefited the British government but not the colonists as explained above. Locke, in this case, would call for a rebellion against this injustice and it is exactly what the colonists did. The colonist rebelled against this act with violent mobs that would intimidate stamp collectors into resigning. Their intentions were to have the British government repeal the unjust Stamp Act. Britain complied with the colonist's request of repealing the Stamp Act, but they imposed other acts in its place, such as the Declaratory Act, the Quartering Act, Townshend Acts and Tea Act. These acts continued to raise revenue for the British government along with further restricting the colonist's freedom.  At this point, the colonists felt like they were slaves who were forced to serve a foreign tyrannical government who stripped them of their liberty. Furthermore, the colonists had no representation in their ruling government meaning that this government was not for the people. As such, the colonists called for a revolution, the American Revolution, to overthrow tyrannical British rule over the colonies. Their intentions were to form their own government that would benefit its people. This, once again, is clearly what Locke outlined in the Two Treatises Of Government where he says that the government is for the benefit of the people and if it is not, then it should be overthrown through a revolution.
Locke's Influence On The American Government
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Locke's influence can also be seen in the creation of the American government. The American government was formed after winning the American revolution. The main goal of this government was to serve its people, which was Locke's central theory in Two Treatises Of Government discussed above. To achieve this, the founding fathers created the Constitution. The Constitution itself had bill of rights that insured life, liberty and property to its people. Locke's political influence can be clearly seen in the creation of this document. The main reason Locke believed individuals joined societies was to protect their property without resorting to the state of war as outlined above. This document precisely did that along with protecting individual's liberty.
Furthermore, Locke's influence can also be seen in the structure of the American government. The American government consist of three main branches outlined in the constitution: the legislative branch, which makes the laws, the executive branch, which executes the laws, and the judicial branch, which insures that the laws are valid for the people. The idea behind having these three branches are to prevent tyranny from taking hold of the government. This is done by providing each branch with checks and balances over the other branches. These checks and balances will restrict all of the branches from gaining too much power within the government, ultimately reducing the chances of a tyrannical government from emerging. Locke precisely outlined this in the Two Treatises Of Government when he explained the kind of government required for the people as discussed above. Furthermore, each branch also requires the rule of majority to conduct it's desired actions. This further prevents tyranny from emerging by restricting individual's power over the action taken by the government. This once again is also outlined by Locke in Two Treatises Of Government.
How Is Locke's Political Philosophy Seen In America Today
Locke's political views are still valid today. Every person observed in America has their freedom because of the American government. The government itself has stood the test of time where it has successfully served the people to this day. This can be observed throughout history where the government corrected occasions of unjust treatments according to the demands of the people. One such occasion was the movement to allow women to vote. Locke pointed out that every human had the right to life, liberty, and property, also seen in the American Constitution, as described above. However, women, despite being human, had their liberty threatened during the early periods of America. Their societal freedom was restricted just because of their gender. The women found this to be unjust and rebelled with protest. The government responded to their protest by assessing their situation and corrected their injustice by giving women equality in societies through the creations of laws, especially regarding the right to vote. This goes to show that the American government is there to serve the people just as Locke pointed out in his Two Treatises Of Government discussed above. Furthermore, every person in America observed today are considered equal and free in the American society, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, or religion. This is because people in America possess the right to rebel when injustice occurs and the government continues to correct those injustice by serving the people precisely as Locke envisioned.
This milestone covered John Locke's political philosophy outlined in Two Treatises Of Government. In his philosophy, Locke determined that the government was for the benefit of the people and as such, he proposed a branched form of government to achieve this. Locke built this political philosophy by understanding the origins of political authority and how it emerged from the state of nature. According to Locke, humans joined societies to protect their property and prevent resorting to the state of war to resolve conflicts. However, early forms of government were monarchy that became tyrannical over time. The kings became abusive of their power forcing their own will on their people causing misery. This was clearly not the reason Locke believed humans joined societies which were ruled by common form of government. As such, Locke proposed the right of rebellion where people were obligated to oppose unjust rule. He also proposed the branched form of government that would prevent tyranny from taking hold of the ruling government.
American colonists then used Locke’s political philosophy to justify the American Revolution. It was also used to create the American government after winning the revolution where it continued to serve the American people to this day.
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