Monday, 16 January 2017

Comments on the Political Philosophy of John Locke

Second Treatise on Civil Government
John Locke

In the Chapter One, Locke describes the role of the civil government in these words:

“Political Power, then, I take to be a RIGHT of making laws with penalties of death, and consequently all less penalties, for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the force of the community, in the execution of such laws and in defence of the common-wealth from foreign injury, and all this only for the public good.”

Locke reasons that a good way of learning about the legitimate role of a civil government is to imagine men in a hypothetical state of nature, a state where there is no government. He points out the threats that men face when they exist in a state of nature and he goes on to deduce the kind of government that is needed to protect man’s rights and private property.

His conception of self-ownership, or the property in one’s person is of great interest. In Chapter Five, he writes:

“Though the earth, and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person. This no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature placed it, it hath by his labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men. For this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good left in common for others.”

Locke defends man’s right to life by proposing that man is God’s property and it is wrong to violate man’s rights because one should not harm God’s property. In essence, he is of the view that men have rights because God gives value to their lives.

He writes in Chapter Two: “for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another's pleasure…”

The God on whom Locke bases his thesis of man’s rights is not like the God of most theists. Locke’s God is a reasonable, tender father who wants his children to be industrious, rational and happy.

Locke asserts that people are by nature free. His political philosophy is founded on the principle that the moral purpose of the government is to promote public good and protect the life, liberty, and property of the people. He says that if the government indulges in abuse of power, the people can overthrow it and form a new government.

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