Thursday, August 23, 2018

The True End of Civil Government by John Locke

The True End of Civil Government
John Locke
Published 1689

This is like an assignment I loathe to complete, for this book has been sitting on my bookcase too long, waiting for me to be done with it; and I am not done with a book until I have written a narration about it.  

It is not a bad essay, nor is it a boring waste of time. The problem is, it did not excite me, impress upon me, or stir my heart.

So, first let me tell what is is: The True End of Civil Government is an essay written by John Locke, an English philosopher of the Enlightenment, on the workings of civil and political society based on natural rights, decided by the people, ie. democracy. 

To make this painless and quick, I will share some my sensible marginal notes and favorite quotes by Locke to give you an idea what this was like: 

On the State of Nature

God did not make us to be beasts.
The State of Nature has a Law of Nature to govern it, which obliges everyone: 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, or Possession. 
On the Death Penalty 
...every Man in the State of Nature, has a Power to kill a Murderer, both to deter others from doing the like Injury, which no Reparation can compensate, by the Example of the punishment that attends it from every body, and also to secure Men from the attempts of a Criminal.  
On the State of War
He who attempts to get another Man into his Absolute Power does thereby put himself in a State of War with him. To be free from this force is the only security of my Preservation. 
On Slavery

This is a State of War between conqueror and captive, where there is no compact (agreement).

What we work with our hands is rightly ours. (This is how man came to obtain property.) But there is a limit to property.
God gave the World to Men in Common; but since he gave it them for their benefit, and the greatest Conveniencies of Life they were capable to draw from it, it cannot be supposed he meant it should always remain common and uncultivated. he gave it to the use of the Industrious and Rational (and Labour was to be his Title to it); not to the Fancy or Covetousness of the Quarrelsom and Contentious.
On Labor

Land not used is a waste. Labor puts the greatest value on land. Labor gives right of property (ownership). But it is foolish to take more than one needs (hoarding).

The invention of money enlarged a man's possessions.

On Freedom
...the end of Law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge Freedom: For in all the states of created beings capable of Laws, where there is no Law, there is no Freedom. For Liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others which cannot be, where there is no Law.
On Self Government and Civil Society

Self-government occurs when a young person demonstrates REASON.

While the father is the first authority to children, the mother has parental power, too. Children are under her care and provision, and owe her obedience. The first duty as parents is education.

The man and his wife make up the first society or conjugal society, made under a "voluntary Compact between Man and Woman. It is for Communion and right in one anothers Bodies, as is necessary to its chief End, Procreation; yet it draws with it mutual Support, and Assistance, and a Communion of Interest...to unite Care and Affections...of offspring."

The second society, or master and servant, make up political society.

An absolute monarchy is inconsistent with civil society.
For he that thinks absolute Power purifies Mens Bloods, and corrects the baseness of Human Nature, need read but the History of this, or any other Age to be convinced of the contrary (AMEN).
On Democracy
When any number of Men have so consented to make one Community or Government, they are thereby presently incorporated, and make one Body Politick, wherein the Majority have a Right to act and conclude the rest. 
All men are born subject to Father or Prince, "and is therefore under the perpetual tye of Subjection and Allegiance."

Why Would Man Part with His Freedom? (Good question)
...the Enjoyment of it is very uncertain, and constantly exposed to the Invasion of others. For all being Kings as much as he, every Man his Equal,...the enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe. This makes him willing to quit this Condition, which is full of fears and continual dangers...he...is willing to joyn in Society with others who are already united...for the mutual Preservation of their Lives, Liberties, and Estates (Property). 
Short answer: safety and security or protection.

On Government and Executive Powers
The end of Government being the preservation of all, as much as may be, even the guilty are to be spared, where it can prove no prejudice to the innocent. 
...therefore there is a latitude left to the Executive power, to do many things of choice, which the Laws do not prescribe. (You can say that again.)
On Powers

Paternal Power is first, where parents govern children for their own good, until they come to reason, which is the ability to self-govern. Political power is second, where man relinquishes his state of nature to society and to government, in which society trusts, to be done for their good and preservation of their property.

Dissolution of Governments

Governments may be overturned from without and within. Sometimes an executive power neglects and abandons his charge, reducing all to Anarchy. But beware of foreign powers and oppression because they are slavery in disguise. The people "not only have a Right to get out of it but to prevent it."

On Judges
God in Heaven is Judge: He alone, 'tis true, is Judge of the Right. But every Man is Judge for himself, as in all other Cases, so in this, whether another hath put himself into a State of War with him, and whether he should appeal to the Supreme Judge...
IS THIS BOOK FOR YOU

Surely, if you are interested in political science, history, government, and philosophy, especially regarding Western Civilization, this will be right up your alley. Locke recaps and reiterates quiet often, building his argument upon basic ideas of man and human nature and expanding into complex ideas of society and government. It was educational, but not necessarily riveting stuff.

John Locke 1632-1704 

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