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John Locke's "right to a Revolution"

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Adam Rodrigues 5617193 Monday, February-07-11

To understand the reasoning behind John Locke's "right to a revolution", in his book The Second Treatise of Government, we must first understand the begging and overall purpose of government in Lockian terms. At the same time it is necessary to keep in mind his favour of the justified revolution against King James II in England in 1688. For Locke, all men were once in a state of nature and are naturally in a perfect state of freedom and a state of equality wherein the Natural Laws governs all,

"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 natural law ... The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty on possessions" (Locke ch2 pg 8).

There are wants in the state of nature for an established and known law, indifferent judgment, the power to back and support a sentence when right, and to give it execution. This is the bases of why men chose to enter into a commonwealth and erect a government; for even though men are living in a state of peace, it is one of fear of their neighbours taking what is theirs. Being that there is no common judge or authority, anybody can steal or do harm to anyone without punishment. So to gain security, Locke claims all reasonable and free men will come together in a majority and sacrifice certain rights in order to elect a commonwealth (be it democracy, monarchy, or dictatorship) that will ensure the protection of their life, liberties and estates.

The just creation of a civil society "which begins and actually constitutes any political society, is nothing but the consents of any number of freeman capable of a majority to unite and incorporate such a society" (Locke ch8 pg53). Any man that does this makes an obligation to that civil society to move with the majority of the body of people and to relinquish two liberties. Firstly, the right to do whatever he thinks fit to protect him and others within the laws of nature, and secondly, to punish those we violate or break those laws. These privileges are surrendered to the legislative power to make and regulate laws to preserve life and execute power within the civil government. There lays Locke's main argument for a government's primary obligation; to use the trust, legislative, and executive powers given to them by the people for the common good. Any commonwealth must protect citizens from each other and outside invasion and secure their property. This definition puts too much focus on the government's protection of property; it seems that Locke only considers people with possessions as real people with rights. My opinion deviates with this part of Locke's reasoning because putting too much emphasis on the government's responsibility to protect personal property creates a slippery slope where the government fails to protect the life and liberties of those without estates. As well, although 'for the common good' may sound like a good maxim, it can often lead to exclusion of minorities. Just because a group of people are in the minority, say African Americans in the 1700s, doesn't mean their rights to life, liberty, and estate should not be protected by the government, even if it



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