Second Treatise of Government

what about revolution? by john locke

second treatise by john Locke

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what is the concept of revolution


Whether any specific use of executive prerogative amounts to an abuse of power, is a question that transcends the social contract itself, and can only be judged by a higher appeal, to the divinely ordained law of nature. (2nd Treatise §168) Remember that according to Locke all legitimate political power derives solely from the consent of the governed to entrust their "lives, liberties, and possessions" to the oversight of the community as a whole, as expressed in the majority of its legislative body. (2nd Treatise §171) The commonwealth as a whole, then, is dissolved (and a new one formed) whenever there is a fundamental change in the membership of the legislature. (2nd Treatise §220)

The most likely cause of such a revolution, Locke supposed, would be abuse of power by the government itself: when the society unduly interferes with the property interests of the citizens, they are bound to protect themselves by withdrawing their consent. (2nd Treatise §222) When great mistakes are made in the governance of a commonwealth, only rebellion holds any promise of the restoration of fundamental rights. (2nd Treatise §225 ) Who is to be the judge of whether or not this has actually occurred? Only the people can decide, Locke maintained, since the very existence of the civil order depends upon their consent. (2nd Treatise §240) On Locke's view, then, the possibility of revolution is a permanent feature of any properly-formed civil society. This provided a post facto defense of the Glorious Revolution in England and was a significant element in attempts to justify later popular revolts in America and France.