John Locke: The Second Treatise of Civil Government Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein   In what amounts to a response to Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, Locke shows himself to be relatively optimistic about human nature. Instead of seeing humans as needing a set of strong controls, he attempts to show that when properly educated, people can learn to control their passions and rule themselves in society. Among those ideas later adopted by the founders of the United States and American democracy are his suggestion that people who are not being governed appropriately have the right to revolution; that government should be by the consent of the governed; and the beginnings of a "separation of powers" system of government. In Chapter IX Locke says that people will prefer to live in a strong state than independently in Nature because they will thus have less to fear concerning loss of property. Indeed, the chief reason for banding together and putting themselves under a government is for the protection of their property, which under a commonwealth, the government should help them protect. Three things that are lacking in a state of Nature are 1. the idea of a legislative body 2. the necessity for an impartial judge 3.  the need for an independent executive (or as he puts it "an executioner of the law.") People will come together to take sanctuary under the laws of an established government. In Nature man has two powers—to preserve himself and others, and to punish crimes committed. He must give these up to the government of the society when he joins it. However, he will gain by the giving up of these rights because the government will protect him with a strong legislature, a judicial system, and a branch to execute the law. Hence, we have in this conception the germ of the three-branched "separation of powers" concept that with modifications became the governmental system of the United States. In Chapter XIX Locke says that in order for society to exist, people must agree to come together. Should this union be dissolved, the government of that society is necessarily dissolved. Governments can be dissolved from without, such as in war, when a country is conquered and its governmental system is disestablished. Governments can also be dissolved from within. It is in their legislative, or law system, that members of a commonwealth are united. This system should be established and agreed to by the majority of the people. Those who might attempt to make laws without having been appointed to do so by the people will be doing so without authority. In other words, government must be by the consent of those governed. Then he supposes a legislative system placed in three distinct persons: a hereditary person with executive power (king); an assembly of hereditary nobility (a house of peers); and an assembly of representatives chosen by the people (a house of commons), as existed in England at that time. And from this premise, he shows some ways in which the the legislative system might be changed and hence no longer be governing with the consent of those governed: If the will of the king supercedes the will of the people, then the legislative has been changed. If the king subverts the meeting of the peers, the legislative has been changed. If the king inhibits the electors from establishing or demonstrating their will, the legislative has been changed. If the people are delivered over to a foreign power, the legislative has been changed. The monarch is more likely to subvert the legislature than others who would have to openly rebel to do so. Finally, the government will cease if he who has the executive power neglects or abandons his responsibility (as one might argue occurred later when King George III was in his period of madness). In cases where the government ceases, the people have the right to erect a new government. And they have the right to prevent tyranny. If the legislative acts to make themselves masters of the people, then they are at war with the people. In such a case, they forfeit the power the people had put into their hands. Likewise, the executor who subverts elections forfeits his right to rule because he can no longer be trusted. To his critics, Locke says the people are not likely to make such changes frivolously. If people are well treated they will not be likely to rebel; if they are ill treated they will be likely to rebel. Neither will people rebel upon every little mismanagement of public affairs. Rather, people will tolerate mismanagement, either great or small, if it occurs seldom. But a long train of abuses will cause rebellion. Further, when people have established a new legislative system to protect themselves, and see it working, they will themselves counter any further rebellion by those who might try to destroy the system. The bottom line is that the purpose of government is the good of mankind. It is, therefore, really up to the people to judge whether their rulers properly serve them. If they are exposed to tyranny, they have the right to oppose that tyranny. (This is the argument the American Revolutionaries used 100 years later.) Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily