Second Treatise of Government

Prerogative Power: John Locke’s Dangerous Yet Obligatory Concession College

John Locke’s theory of the social contract seems, at first glance, to envision the growth of freedom and the concomitant recession of authority. Considered this way, John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government presents a clear contrast, manifesting individual freedom as the dominant political value to which authority submits. A more searching glance, however, discloses a far more complicated theory. Locke’s system of governance struggles to prove how the prerogative of the executive branch can abide by the values of justice and equality supposedly mandated by the Law of Nature and the social contract. In Locke’s tripartite government, where power is shared among the legislative, executive, and federative branches, there will inevitably arise “such cases, which depending upon unforeseen and uncertain occurrences, certain and unalterable laws could not direct.”[1] In these situations, the executive, or ‘the prince,’ has prerogative to act on behalf of the state, so long as his actions provide for the common good of the people. Locke erects his system of liberal governance based on an understanding of inherent human goodness in the state of nature and in doing so, necessarily affords excessive prerogative to the prince. While Locke...

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