Locke: Second Treatise on Government pt. 1


Welcome to our first virtual classroom
meeting. Today we’re going to continue our conversation about John Locke and
the thing that we’re going to talk about in this section is this idea called
social contract theory. John Locke is a social contract theorist, meaning that he is
interested in finding the origins of civil society. By civil society, I need
having this idea of laws and government that’s what we call civil society so Locke
is interested in the origins of civil society or how civil society
actually began, and social contract theory also argues that people are
governed because we consent to being governed or we agree to being covered.
That’s what it means to say that we consent to being governed. Locke isn’t the only social contract theorist. In fact, we’re going to talk about another social contract theorist
named Thomas Hobbes, but we’ll talk about him in just a second, but all social contract theorists begin at a time called the “the state of nature.” The state of nature is a time before civil society, so
in other words, a time before there were governments, a time before there were laws that bound
people together. Social contract theorists call this time
the state of nature, but underneath where I wrote the state of nature, I put in parentheses here this term, “rhetorical construct.” So, what do I mean by all of this? John is not a paleontologist; John
Locke is not an anthropologist; John Locke is not not a historian; John Locke is a
political philosopher, and what he’s doing ultimately is he’s arguing in
favor of a very specific type of government. John Locke is arguing for
a very specific type of government, so he begins at a time called the state of nature, and since he’s
arguing in favor of a specific type of government that’s going to influence
what life was like — in his argument — before government was created. So, to clarify this, I’m going to contrast Locke’s argument of what the state of nature looks like compared to this other social contract theorist named
Thomas Hobbes, and what his state of nature looks like. So, you watched that video a couple of
pages back about the English Civil War, and, very loosely, the English Civil War
was a war between two different groups of people. One group of people were called “Royalists,” and the other group of people were called
“Parliamentarians,” and the Royal were arguing in favor of having a strong king.
The Parliamentarians were arguing in favor of the people having more freedom
and they’re being limits placed on government. So, going back to our very
first pages in the book this week we said that Locke argues that only limited
government is legitimate. Remember, you just read that a second ago? So Locke
supports this idea of the Parliamentarians . In other words, that government needs to have
limits placed on it. So, Hobbes who’s arguing in favor of a strong King uses this rhetorical construct
of the state of nature to illustrate why we need a strong government. So, Hobbes’ state of nature is pure anarchy I wrote here, “horrible.” It’s horrible; it’s a horrible time with pure anarchy: every person against every person. He famously calls his state of nature, “nasty, brutish, and short!” Meaning it’s “nasty” — we’re all always wanting to kill each other! it’s “brutish” — meaning you just find each other, and kill each other! And “short”
meaning it doesn’t last very long! So, Hobbes argues that before government, life was pure
chaos in which everyone just killed everybody else; therefore, it makes sense
that when these people formed a government — remember, people in social contract
theory argue that we consent to being governed, so it makes sense that Hobbs gives us a totally horrible
state of nature, so when people consent to being governed they would create a strong government, an absolute monarch who has zero — or very, very few, I
should say — checks (or limits) placed upon its power. Locke, on the other hand, who was a
Parliamentarian, meaning that he argues in favor of there being limited
government and the people having a lot of rights including the right to vote. His state of nature isn’t too terrible His state of nature is not that bad. So, it makes sense that for Locke this time before government existed wouldn’t be too extreme; therefore, when the people consent to being
governed they create a limited government one that doesn’t constrain all of their
liberty. So, remember if you have any questions right now you can always email
me your questions at… [email protected]… The reason that Locke’s state of nature isn’t too horrible is because within it, there is what he calls a “law of nature.” In other words, there are laws
that exist before governments, so it isn’t only up to governments to make laws; there are
laws that already exist before governments. And this, would go on to be incredibly
influential to the founders of the United States who argued people have — perhaps you’ve heard this term, “certain inalienable rights.” In other words, we have rights
that cannot be separated from us. That’s what it means something is inalienable. It can’t be separated from us. Locke argues that in the state of nature,
which isn’t too horrible, there is this set of laws called the “law of nature,” and this law of nature has three parts. Part number one is that everybody is born equal; everybody is born as an equal — so just as a little sidebar, you might be wondering if an English man in the
middle of the seventeenth century, who’s arguing that everyone is born equal will be
in favor of slavery. Well, in reality, historians argue about
this back and forth — some say that he was in favor of slavery, but then there’s a
whole group of people that say that he left behind enough literature to argue
that he was actually for the abolition of slavery, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Okay, it’s one of those things that historians are still arguing about, but
he argues that according to this law of nature everyone is born as an equal. He also argues that, according to this law of nature,no one has the right to… harm anyone else. He also argues in this state of
nature, according to his law of nature that no one has the right to an equal
share of property. So again, according to Locke’s law of nature: everyone is born as an equal; no one has the right to harm anybody
else; and no one has the right to an unequal share… of property. So, what does all of
this have to do with politics? It has EVERYTHING to do with politics , and this is where things get really interesting. What Locke is really saying here is that monarchy
goes against the law of nature. That’s what he’s arguing here: that monarchy itself goes against the law of nature. Why? Because kings are born unequal to everybody else. Kings have the right to harm anyone they choose because they get to make whatever laws they want to make. Kings have the right to an unequal share of goods. So what
he’s arguing here is not only that the idea of monarchy is unnatural, but given that Locke lives in England in the middle of the seventeenth century, you have to assume that he believes in
a Christian God. So what he’s ultimately arguing here is that monarchy
is not only unnatural, but it’s even sinful. That’s why I wrote “monarchy” right up there ‘cos I’m going to do this… He’s saying “NO!” to monarchy by saying that… all of these things exist in the law of nature. In
other words they’re part of the natural design, and if monarchy goes against these, then
by extension, it goes against nature; therefore, it goes against God; therefore it is sinful!
You see? It’s very political, and it’s all very exciting — bye!

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