Second Treatise of Government

Second Treatise of Government Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How is civil society different from a state of nature?

    In a state of nature, all men have the ability to punish transgressors of the law. This is because the violator is a threat to the preservation of mankind and needs to be made an example of. Men have the right to seek their own reparations from those who wronged him. There are no agreed-upon authorities and no specific laws to protect property. In a civil society, men consent to abdicate their natural freedom in order to have their life, liberty, and property protected by the government. They place authority in a legislative and executive power and agree to adhere to the laws set forth by those authorities. They no longer have the ability to punish violators of the law, as this is the government’s job. The government protects their property as well.

  2. 2

    What are the problems with absolute monarchies?

    An absolute monarch tends to rule in an arbitrary and capricious fashion. They do not hold themselves accountable to the law; if they take a subject’s life or property there is no authority to judge the monarch. Oftentimes absolute monarchs seek to sway the legislature by bribing or threatening the legislators, or interfering with the legislative sessions. They also exercise the power of prerogative in a fashion that is not appropriate or in line with what the commonwealth initially expected. Absolute monarchs have no affection or love for their subjects and merely view them as necessary for profit. Ultimately, they are violating the laws of nature and placing themselves in a state of war with their subjects because they are not adhering to the established social contract between the governor and the governed.

  3. 3

    Why is parental power not a foundation for political power?

    Some 17th century political theorists believed paternal power legitimated political power, but Locke disagreed. Paternal, or parental, power is limited. It only extends to a child while they are not of age; parents may nourish and educate their child until they reach a state of maturity and gain the ability to exercise their free will, but not after this point. When the child becomes an adult his life and property are his own, not that of his parents. While a child owes their parents honor and respect, once they are an adult, they are free to manage their own property and to join whatever political society they choose to. Parental power, then, is derived from nature. Political power does not derive from nature but from the consent of those individuals who choose to leave the state of nature to be governed by a common authority. Men may be comfortable with a government that is modeled on the style of the family (i.e., an absolute monarch) because it is all they have known. However, this style of government is incompatible with civil society and is erroneously compared to the family, as parents’ control over their children has limitations.

  4. 4

    What are the differences between legislative, executive, and federative power and how do they overlap?

    Legislative power is concerned with formation of the laws that are to govern society; it is the most important power of the government. The legislature is permanent and its authority comes from the consent of the governed. It is not to be arbitrary and its laws are to be permanent and known to the citizens of the commonwealth. All laws are to be for the public good only. Locke believes the legislative and executive powers should be separate. The executive power enforces the law that the legislature devises. By nature, it is much more flexible than the legislative power and should be able to deal quickly and decisively with matters that affect the commonwealth in ways unforeseen by the initial framers of the government. This power is known as prerogative; the executive does not always adhere to the law and may sometimes circumvent or ignore it if circumstances require bold, prompt action for the good of the public. The legislative power need not always be in session, but the executive power should be present continuously. Federative power is, in essence, international law. It is the power used to manage relationships with other commonwealths. The executive authority usually assumes this federative power as well.

  5. 5

    What are the merits and dangers of an executive’s usage of prerogative?

    Prerogative is the ability of an executive to use discretion to act for the public good, even when there is no law present or he must circumvent or ignore the law. He is given this power because the legislature is not always in session and may act too slowly, the laws may not address the current circumstances, and some laws may end up hurting the innocent. The people give the executive this power and he is not to use it for anything other than the preservation of his subjects. He may actually exercise a great deal of prerogative without incurring the displeasure of his subjects because his use of the power is beneficial and wise. Some executives, however, take advantage of this power and begin wielding it in a way that the people did not agree to. They use this power to attain their own ends and become tyrannical.

  6. 6

    What gives the people the right to rebel against a government?

    A political society can only exist with the consent of the governed. This social contract is an agreement between the people and their authority in which they invest the power to make laws and enforce them. They form this government with the agreement that their property (which includes their lives, liberty, and possessions) will be protected. When the government begins threatening their property and there is no respite and no authority other than God to appeal to, the people may dissolve the government and correct its problems or create a new one. They are not to dissolve the government for insignificant or petty reasons; only a long series of oppressive actions against them validates their rebellion. Examples of these oppressive actions include altering the legislative, transferring the people to another government, and the executive’s refusal to enforce the laws.

  7. 7

    How did the invention of money change the notion of property?

    Before money, the only thing that gave property value was labor. A man’s labor on his land turns that land from something useless to something that provides sustenance for himself and his family. There was no need to cultivate more land than was necessary or pick more fruit and nuts than necessary because it could not all be used before it spoiled. Hoarding was wasteful and violated the laws of nature because that food could not be used to preserve mankind. Land that could not be labored upon was wasteful, and there was no point in “owning” it. When men began designating silver, gold, and precious gems as currency, however, they were able to purchase more land and hoard such currency without it spoiling. The idea of private possessions became widespread, great disparities of wealth occurred, and men decided that they needed governments to exist to protect their holdings. Thus, the invention of money leads to the assimilation of more property and to the need for government itself.

  8. 8

    What characterizes a state of war?

    A state of war occurs when one man uses force against another. In a state of nature where all men live equally and reason dictates that they respect other men’s lives, liberty, and possessions, a state of war between men is a dangerous thing. All other men in the community have the ability to punish the aggressor to preserve mankind and make an example of him. The man who was wronged has the right to call for reparations from the man who used force against him. Since there is no authority to set laws and enforce them, the state of war only ends when the aggressor is killed or reparations are decided upon. In a civil society, a state of war exists in the same fashion, when one man uses force against another. However, the government now has the responsibility to mitigate appeals from wronged parties and punish transgressors of the law. Whenever there is no such authority to do so, or the laws are perverted, or the authority wields its power arbitrarily and denies appeals, then a state of war exists. Absolute monarchs can easily find themselves in a state of war with their people when they do not act in a way that secures the public good but instead enforce their own will.

  9. 9

    Is Locke’s view of mankind pessimistic or optimistic?

    Locke seems to have an optimistic view of mankind. In the state of nature that he describes, men live by a traditional Christian morality. They respect each other’s life, liberty, and possessions and continuously seek the preservation of mankind. Fathers and mothers love their children and nourish them until they are of age. In a political society, men appear to be dutiful, respectful, and only prone to civil unrest when a long series of abuses provokes it. It seems that Locke reserves his criticisms more for absolute monarchs rather than the people as a whole (unlike Thomas Hobbes). Of course, Locke does account for some problems that occur with private property and those who do not always have the good of their community in mind. A state of nature can quickly become a state of war, and Locke’s preferred government-by-social-contract would not be necessary if all men were angels.

  10. 10

    What is Locke’s view on slavery?

    No man should absolute and arbitrary power over another man. When men consent to be governed, they are not consenting to enslave themselves. This is why absolute monarchs violate the law of nature: they are not to have power over a man’s life. The only permissible enslavement is when a man forfeits his life to another because he took up arms against him. In a state of nature, this occurs when a criminal is made the slave of the man he wronged. If at any point they make a contract and negotiate terms, the enslavement is over. A victorious conqueror of a foreign commonwealth can also attain slaves of the men who took up arms against him. Thus, forfeiture is the only type of slavery Locke tolerates in the Second Treatise; any other type of absolute power exercised over a man’s life is merely a state of war.