January 16, 2011
John Locke, the father of liberty
People frequently ask me what FTI stands for. To say that it stands for liberty may sound simple, but it is a particular conception of liberty that we are talking about here.
FTI stands for the philosophy of liberalism (best described these days as classical liberalism, given the many distortions that have crept into the literature over the centuries). FTI argues that everything good that has happened in India over the past 100 years has happened because of this philosophy – of liberalism – and that India needs to adopt this philosophy more actively and completely. This philosophy is also, these days, called capitalism. Adam Smith called it the system of natural liberty.
So what is classical liberalism?
I always say to those who ask me that it is a standard worldview described in ALL standard text books on political thought. And what to standard text books say about classical liberalism?
In 1937, D.R. Bhandari wrote the book, History of European political philosophy (Bangalore Press) – a book that is still, I gather, prescribed in colleges across India. Here is a portion, relating to John Locke, from one of its chapters. (I don’t guarantee accuracy of this extract, it being a scanned version, but it should give you a flavour of the key arguments).
Locke is the father of classical liberalism, so understanding his work is crucial to understanding FTI.
(If you know of similar text-book extracts on Locke, please send them to me. It would be useful to have these available online – since very few people seem to read books these days, and blogs are a good way to transmit useful learning).
Note: I don’t agree with MANY THINGS that Bhandari has written below about Locke. I differ profoundly with Bhandari’s mistaken assessment of the social contract theory having been ‘exploded’, and of his undermining Locke’s genius as an original thinker. I differ very strongly in his appreciation of Rousseau, as well! Bhandari has been influenced by many confused social liberals and statists – such as Laski; so please don’t form your views of the world from Bhandari.
All I’m putting this out there is to show that there exist reasonable expositions on classical liberalism in standard textbooks, and on the basis of these, you can – as an independent individual – conduct your own research and form your own opinions.
Please do also note that I don’t agree entirely even with Locke. Much water has flown down the bridge of political thought and governance since Locke’s time, and our current understandings of liberty are far improved. Read F.A. Hayek, for instance. Or, if I may somewhat immodestly suggest, read my manuscript DOF. My book aims to provide a comprehensive scientific and logical perspective that eliminates any residual loopholes found in Locke’s or Hayek’s expositions (or those of others such as Ayn Rand).
EXTRACT (from the 1963 edition, p.266-284)
The Glorious Revolution of 1688 represented a triumph of the Whig party and the Whig principles of government but the Revolution was not legal in the strict sense of the word. The Whigs felt compelled to justify their coup de etat to a nation which had so far been fed, on the whole, on absolutist doctrines. Locke’s Civil Government, which contains the substance of his political philosophy and which portrays, in general, the Whig philosophy of the day, is really an apology for the Revolution of 1688. As a confidential secretary of Lord Shaftesbury, the founder of the Whig party, Locke gained some experience of practical politics. He opposed the theory of Divine Right of Kings upheld by the Anglican church and by Filmer as well as repudiated the absolute sovereignty of Hobbes. He was the chief official Whig interpreter of the Revolution. He was a rationalist. Whether he wrote on theology, on education, on toleration or on politics, his basis of judgment was reason. All institutions including government, its various forms and its political authority, must stand the test of reason.
Locke wrote two treatises, on government. The first was calculated to be an answer to the Patriarcha of the absolutist Farrier which had created a storm of indignation among Whig minds as evidenced by the fact that Al ernon Sydney too, in his Discourses concerning Government, notice and refuted the Patriarcha by maintaining that government was a human institution, having no divine or natural sanction; that its basis was popular consent and that sovereignty belonged to the people. Locke’s refutation of the Patriarcha was more or less on the lines of Sydney. The second treatise of Locke, entitled Of Civil Government, presents a systematic theory of the origin and nature of state and constituted a refutation of Hobbes. The political philosophy of Locke represents an elaboration of that of ‘Judicious’ Hooker whom Locke acknowledges to have read. Locke also took up the social contract theory of Hobbes but used it to draw conclusions diametrically opposed to those of Hobbes. The view of state of nature of Locke resembles that of Pufendorf.
Conception of Human Nature
Locke believes that man is a rational and a social creature and as such capable of recognizing and living in a moral order. He feels sympathy, love and tenderness towards his fellow-beings and is capable of being actuated by altruistic motives. He wants to live in peace and harmony with others and feels bound to them by ties of social cohesion. According to Locke, rationality was the characteristic attribute of man. Locke did not take a dark picture of human nature as Hobbes did because his times were more peaceful and settled than those of Hobbes. He wrote after the Glorious Revolution whereas the Leviathan of Hobbes came after the violent Civil War.
The State of Nature
Lockean picture of the state of nature accords better with the findings of the Historical and Comparative method of enquiry than that of Hobbes. It agrees more with the habits and customs of existing primitive tribes. Locke, like Hobbes, begins his theorising about the state with the state of nature but differs materially from the latter in his conception of the same.” Men living together according to reason, without a common superior on earth, with authority to judge between them, is properly the state of nature”. This is a description not of savages but of moral beings with reason i.e. the law of nature to guide them. It was a “state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose off their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature; without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man”. It was also a state of equality “wherein all power and jurisdiction is reciprocal”. It is not a state of war of all against all.
To Locke, the state of nature is a state of ‘goodwill, mutual assistance and preservation’ i.e. a state not of war but of peace. The Lockean state of nature represents a “pre-political rather than a pre-social condition”. Men do not indulge in constant warfare in it, for peace and reason prevail in it. The state of nature is governed by a law of nature. Locke, like Grotius, believes that this law of nature does not represent a mere natural impulse but is a moral law, based upon reason, to regulate the conduct of men in their natural condition. The law of nature does not constitute an antithesis of the civil law but represents a condition precedent to the latter. One of the fundamentals of the law of nature is the equality of men who possess equal, natural rights. “Man being born as has been proved, with a title to perfect freedom and an uncontrolled enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of nature, equally with any other man, or number of men in the world, hath by nature a power not only to preserve his property—that is, his life, liberty and estate—against the injuries and attempts of other men, but to judge of and punish the breaches of that law in others.” In the state of nature, there was equality not in intellect, physical might or possessions but equality in personal liberty or independence. This equality of independence extended to life, liberty and property and was everybody’s inherent and inalienable birthright. It means that one man is morally the equal of others and has rights, belonging to him as man, equal to those of other men. There was considerable social equality before money was invented, in the state of nature.
In the skate of nature it was the law of nature that regulated men. This law of nature was a law of freedom and equality. But equality was moral, not actual. The law of nature was based on reason, the spark of divine nature’, and its object was to preserve society. It provided moral standards for social action. It enjoined keeping of faith and contract. The law of nature gives property-right on the basis of labour-theory i.e. mixing of labour with some natural gift. It “willeth the preservation of all mankind”. Representing a moral standard, it is applicable to the ruler and the ruled alike. Being identical with Reason, it not only regulated men in the state of nature but also regulated them in civil society.
The state of nature is one of innocence and goodwill but there are certain shortcomings in it. In it, the individual is guided by the law of nature only. But man would sooner apply the moral restraints of the law of nature on others than on himself Even when he wants to do justice to others, he is not sure that his judgment has not been warped, unconsciously, by selfish considerations. He cannot be sure of the rightness and wrongness of his actions.
In the state of nature, “there wants an established, settled, known Law, received and allowed by common consent to be the Standards of Right and Wrong”, (2) “a known and indifferent judge, with Authority to determine all Differences according to the established Law”, and (3) “Power to back and support the Sentence when Right, and to give it due execution”. In the state of nature, every man has the power to do whatever he thinks fit for the preservation of himself and others within the bounds of the law of nature and has the power to punish the breach of the law of nature. Both these powers he gives up on the foundation of the state.
The Civil Government of Locke with its roseate picture of the state of nature and the law of nature, represents a philosophy of the propertied and privileged class to which Locke himself belonged, a class very jealous of its rights. The natural man of Locke is a propertied gentleman insisting on his own “rights and respecting the rights of others. He is led by the law of nature which represents a moral consciousness of one’s duty to himself and to his fellow-beings. It may be said that Locke’s state of nature is very like civil society without a government. His natural man is governed by natural law which means the dictates of right reason and moral consciousness. Need such a natural man enter into any contract at all! Unlike Hobbes, Locke does not give a clear enunciation of the Law of Nature nor a systematic exposition of human psychology.
Locke on Natural Rights
The natural, rights or man, to Locke, are to life, liberty and property. Liberty means an exemption from all rules save the law of nature which is a means to the realisation of man’s freedom. It means the liberty of men to dispose of their persons or goods as they like ‘within the allowance of those laws under which they are; therein not to be, subject to the arbitrary will of another, but freely follow their own’. By equality Locke means not mental or physical equality but the ‘equal right every man hath to his natural freedom without being Subjected to the will or authority of any other man’. Property comes when an individual changes the primitive community of ownership into individual possession by mingling his labour with some object. In the state of nature, individuals are conscious of, and respect these, natural rights for they are subject to reason which “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”. The state of nature is to be distinguished from the civil state by the absence in it of a common organ for the interpretation and execution of the law of nature’. Hence in the state of nature every individual is the interpreter and executor of the law of nature. Variety in interpretation due to difference in standards of intelligence and in execution of the law of nature leads to chaos and confusion and consequent insecurity of life and property. Hence it is necessary to replace the state of nature by civil society in which there would be a known law accepted by all and applied by an impartial and authoritative judge whose decisions would be enforced by the state. Locke talks of rights as natural and inherent in the individual. If rights are ‘natural’ they should be eternal and non-varying but rights vary. The fact is that rights are a gift of society and can effectuate only through the medium of civil society. Rights are born of human reason and human needs. They are ‘social’ rights. The primitive man had no conception of ‘natural’ rights. Locke's insistence on rights being natural to man has, however, led to the conception of a system of fundamental rights of the individual which calls for a limited government as a servant and trustee of the individuals.
Locke on Property
Locke held strong views on the institution of property and on the sacredness of the right of property. Originally God had given the world to men in common and, therefore, no body had any exclusive claim to anything. Though the land and all inferior creatures belonged to all, yet every person had the right of property in his own person. The labour of his body and the fruit of his labour was his i.e. was his property. If he mixed his labour which was his own with the earth, the fruit of his labour became his own. By mixing his labour with something, man removes that thing from the common right of other men. A man's labour fixed his right of property in the thing with which the labour was mixed because it represented an extension of his personality.
Locke's theory of property is a theory of formation reinforced by the right of hereditary succession based on the law of nature. A man acquires the right of ownership in a thing which he ` forms ' by mixing his labour with it. By mixing his labour with any gift of nature, he does enclose it from the common' for his. exclusive use and ownership. The right of hereditary succession arises from the law of nature ordaining that a man must provide for his wife and children.
Locke started with his original premise of perfect human equality of rights but has, ingeniously, justified an unequal distribution of world's goods. His theory of property resulting from a man mixing his labour with earth and having as much as he actually needs may suit an agrarian society but will not do in a. capitalist and industrial society. Locke tries to overcome this difficulty by introducing the element of money which gives a man a means of storing up property without wastage. Locke’s theory of proper from a man mixing his labour with earth led to later labour theories of value of Marx and others.
From Locke’s theory of the origin of property from the mixing of a man’s labour, it follows that the right to property existed even in the state of nature. As he put it, property is ‘without any express compact of all the commoners’. In other words, property existed before the social contract was entered into and did not result from it. According to Locke, the right to property is a right inherent in the individual because his labour is inherent in him. The society does not create the right to property and, except within certain limits, cannot justly regulate it. In fact, the society and state instead of being creators of property are creatures of it. Man created them to protect the prior right of property.
Locke held property to be a very sacred right. His natural rights are to life, liberty and property. Of these, the right to property is so important in the view of Locke that he uses the word ‘property’ to denote any right. The individual, at the time of contract, does not relinquish his right to property. The society, therefore, cannot regulate his property and even tax him without his consent.
Like a thorough-going individualist, Locke makes out property to be something anterior to society. Property is the inalienable birthright of the individual and was so even in the state of nature. ‘Primitive man is on his lips, but the portrait he paints is that of a civil man’. The right to property, says Locke, is natural. The fact is that all rights, including the right to property, are a gift of society and can effectuate only through the medium of society. Man is an integral part of society and cannot have any inviolable rights against the society. The right to property must be related to the performance of a man’s duty to the state. His ideas regarding property are not applicable in the complex industrial society of today.
Locke’s view that property is a natural and inviolable right is the keystone of modern Individualism. His labour-theory of property became, in the hands of Hodgskin and Thompson, a parent of modern socialism. It inspired the Marxian theory of surplus value.
Lockean Conception of the Social Contract
God, having made man such a creature that, in his own judgment, it was not good for him to be alone, put him under strong obligations of necessity, convenience and inclination, to drive him into society, as well as fitted him with understanding and language to continue and enjoy it.” Again, “Men being, as has been said, by Nature all free, equal and independent, n one can be put out of this Estate and subjected to the Political Power of another, without his own consent. The only waywhereby any one can divest himself of his natural Liberty and put on the Bonds of Civil Society is by agreeing with other Men to join and unite into a community, for their comfortable, safe and peaceable living one amongst another, in a secure Enjoyment of their Properties, and a greater Security against any that are not of it”. To Locke, peace and security do not mean merely peaceful survival but also many ‘conveniences’, the most important of which is Property. Thus whereas the state of Hobbes is a necessity, that of Locke is a convenience which must justify itself.
The social instinct of man gives origin to various social units, the last in the process being the political society, which is formed thus: “Each individual contracts with each to unite into and constitute a community. The end for which this agreement is made is the protection and preservation of property, in the broad sense of the word—that is, of life, liberty and estate—against the dangers both from within and without the community”. According to this contract each individual agrees to give up not all his natural rights but that one of interpreting and executing the law of nature and redressing his own grievances. But this right is given up not to any person or a group of persons but to the community as a whole and that too on the understanding that the natural rights of the individual to life, liberty and property will be guaranteed by the community. It follows from this naturally that Locke’s social contract does not create any absolute and unlimited sovereign. The political society created by that contract is the recipient of voluntarily conceded rights and cannot encroach on those rights which have not been foresworn by the individuals. The contract is not, as with Hobbes, made with the ruler but with the community which becomes the common political superior, i.e. the state, to interpret and execute the law of nature. Locke does not clearly distinguish between the community and the state. The Lockean state is not a sovereign state for the contract is not general, as with Hobbes, but limited in character. The state is limited by the end for which it has been created as also by the law of nature and can be set aside if it overrides its limitations or does not fulfil the end for which it has been created. The Government, therefore, is a trust, breach of which would call for a revolution. The ultimate allegiance of the individual is not to the government but to the political society created by the pact, whom the government deputises for and of whom the government is a trustee. The Lockean contract did not guarantee equality but only equality of immunity from wrongful violation of life, liberty and property. The contract of Locke, as that of Hobbes, is irrevocable because one who has entered it cannot again be in a state of nature. Each generation must give its consent to it, implicit or explicit. It ends the state of nature and not, as in the case of Hobbes, the law of nature. To Locke, the contractual origin of civil society is a ‘historical as well as a logical fact’. Locke was one of the nearest in his assumption of social contract as a historical fact. In his time, the tribes of North America were, more or less, living in a state of nature.
The Lockean theory of social contract is hardly logical. Locke builds up his theory on the basis of the ideas and institutions of his day but fails to properly synthesize these ideas and institutions into a definite and rational theory. It is not clear whether Locke’s original compact creates society or only government, though he later on distinguishes the two and though the sovereign individual’s rights limit both the society and the government. The Lockean conception of social contract postulates four things i.e. (1)an individual with innate and indefeasible rights, (2) a society as a trustee of the rights of the individual, (3) government which is a trustee for the society and (4) a legislature which is the all-important organ of the government. It is significant that while talking about the government, Locke uses the word ‘trust’ and not ‘contract’. The government is a trustee.
The state of Locke is characterized by certain features which arise out of the nature of the Lockean contract. The state exists for the good of the people and not they for it. It must be based on the consent of the governed. It is limited and not absolute. It is a tolerant state. It is a negative state which does not envelop the individuals but only secures for them their life, liberty and property. It sublimates selfish interests of the individuals into public good.
Locke is neither a radical nor a reactionary. He believes in a constitutional government which would not invade the rights and liberties of the subject, guaranteed to him by. Natural law. He believes that the ends of the state were not paramount and the individual could do as he liked within the law. To Locke, “law in its true notion is not so much the limitation as the direction of a free and intelligent agent to his proper interest . .the end of law is, not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom”.
Government by Consent
Locke makes consent the basis of government and authority. No man can be subjected to the authority of another without his own consent. A man is a member of a civil society by his own consent. This consent may be express or tacit. For one whose consent is expressly given, the contract is binding and perpetual unless the civil society itself is dissolved. A person remaining in a community and holding property therein gives his tacit consent. The consent of the new generations may be given expressly or tacitly by accepting the protection of the state. The government cannot take away from any one his property without his consent. This leads to the principle of no taxation without representation. In actual practice, government by consent does not mean government by personal consent but through a representative assembly. It means constitutional government.
Locke avoids the extreme individualist or anarchist position and holds that consent to the formation of government once given is binding till the government is dissolved. He makes the consent binding because he wants to build up his theory of political obligation on it. The element of consent figures prominently at the time of the institution of government but not so much in its actual working. Individual consent in the actual working of the government is neither necessary nor possible because government is ‘one body with a power to act as one body which is only by the will a determination of the majority’.
The Lockean conception of the social contract points inevitably to the theory of sovereignty of the people, limited by the prim rights of the individual. At the time of the social contract and the institution of civil society, the individuals surrendered certain of their rights not to a man or assembly of men as in the case of Hobbes but to the entire community which became the source and seat of all authority in the state. The people retain the right of removing a government that betrays its trust or is inefficient. The people have the power to remove or alter the legislature. But this is not legal sovereignty and legal power. The community cannot function till the government is dissolved. The power of the people to remove a government is revolutionary and extra-legal.
Fundamental to the philosophy of Locke is the concept that an individual has certain innate and inviolable rights i.e. the rights to life, liberty and property which he cannot be deprived of. It is for the more effective safeguarding of these rights than he him- self can do that he institutes the state which is a trustee for him The authority of the state is conditioned by the prior rights of the individual. Locke was a thorough-going individualist and placed his individual before his state and society. . With Locke, if there is any sovereign, it is not the state but the individual. The state is a means, the individual the end. The state is a convenience. It is a servant of the all-powerful individual. It is a subordinate, subservient agent of the individual. If the individual of Hobbes is best in the state, that of Locke comes before the state.
‘Everything in Locke's system revolves round the individual; everything is disposed so as to ensure the sovereignty of the individual’. It is the individual and not the state which is the all-important entity. The state is founded and maintained on the consent of the individual. The individual has the right of resisting the state if the latter misbehave or abuse its trust. Theoretically every individual has the right of `appeal to heaven’ i.e. rebellion against the unjust or tyrannical state. This means that the individual can resist any law or executive act of the state which in his judgment is contrary to the laws of nature or to the trust imposed on the state.
The individual enters the state as a rational and a moral being and does not owe the state his rational or moral development. He does not owe the state his intellectual development. In the rational and moral spheres, he is independent of the state. The state is there—indeed has been primarily created—to protect for the individual his inalienable rights, particularly that of property. The state does not create these rights, it only safeguards them. The state of Locke is an individualist state with a minimum of functions but plenty of restraints and limitations.
[My note: This, along with other material relating to constitutionalism, relates to democracy]
Locke’s contract implies the rule of majority. The law of nature cannot be enforced unless the minority submits to the authority of the majority. Such a submission is implied in the social contract. Common consent does not mean unanimous consent. The majority have the right to act for the whole community. For that which acts (actuates) any community, being only the consent of the individuals of it and it being one body, must move one way, it is necessary the body should move that way whither the greater force carries it, which is the consent of the majority.” Locke believes that consent to form a political society implies acceptance by every one of the rule of majority because unanimity of will and opinion is rare and individual wills or minority wills cannot reassert themselves without reversion to the state of nature. The ‘majority have a right to act and conclude the rest’. This is because `where the majority cannot conclude the rest there they cannot act as one body and consequently will be immediately dissolved again’. Here, Locke does not realise the possibility of excellence of minority-rule. Many aristocracies have functioned excellently.
Limitations on Government
Locke does not build up a conception of legal sovereignty. He abolishes the legal sovereign in favour of popular sovereignty. He has no idea of absolute and indivisible sovereignty. He is for a government based on division of powers and subject to a number of limitations. His limited government cannot command anything against public interests. It cannot violate or abrogate the innate natural rights of the individual. It cannot govern arbitrarily but must do so according to laws. It cannot tax the subjects without their consent. Its laws must conform to the laws of Nature and of God. It is not the government which is sovereign but law which is rooted in common consent. A government which violates its limitations is not worthy of obedience. The state is created for ‘certain conveniences’ and it must justify itself by creating those conveniences. Locke, like Hobbes, is a utilitarian. He thinks that utility demands that the state should conform to a moral order by acting within its limits and not functioning autocratically. Because the government, represented by its chief organ, the legislature, is a mere trustee, there remains in the people a supreme power to remove or alter the legislative when they find the legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them; . . . . and the power devolve into the hands of those that gave it, who may place it anew where they shall think best for their safety and security. Powers of the government flow from a trust which bi he Government but not the community which can change trust.
Government and Separation of Powers
The chief motive of the individuals in entering into a political community being to put an end to the uncertainty regarding the interpretation and administration of the laws of nature, the chief duty of the political community i.e. the state created by the social contract is to pass definite laws regulating rights and duties emanating from the laws of nature. Hence the legislative function is the most important of the functions of the state. The location of the legislative power in a state would, therefore, determine the type of its government. A government is changed with a change in legislature which is changed if the monarch replaces laws with his own arbitrary will or hinders the legislature from meeting in due time or from acting freely or arbitrarily changes the electoral system or delivers the people into subjection to a foreign power. Locke followed the time-honoured Aristotelian classification of government into monarchy, aristocracy or democracy, according as the legislative power was in the hands of one, few or many Locke also believed in the possibility of a mixed government on the basis of the location of the legislative power. To him, the executive and judicial functions were subordinate to and dependent upon the legislative. The function of the executive is to enforce ‘by penalties the prescriptions embodied in the law’. Locke refers to another function of the government which he calls federative. This function means maintaining the interests of the community or citizens against other communities or citizens and includes war, peace, external affairs and other external matters. Unlike Hobbes, Locke does not believe in the permanency of the character of government. To him, monarchy and aristocracy mean sectional governments while a democracy, represented by delegates chosen by popular election; is best because it promises enduring good rule. Locke however, is not hostile to a monarchy which is based on popular consent and is divested of the Divine Right of Kings. Absolute monarchy is ‘no form of civil government’ and is adjudged by Locke to be worse than the state of nature. In absolute monarchy, the only person who enjoys liberty is the monarch.
Locke pleads for but does not fully develop his doctrine of separation of powers. “It may be too great a temptation to human frailty, apt to grasp power for the same persons who have the power of making laws to have also in their hands the power to execute them.” He, therefore, suggests the principle of separation. The legislature and the executive must be separated in their functions, powers and personnel, for otherwise the legislators “may exempt themselves from obedience to the laws they make, and suit the law, both in its making and its execution, to their own private wish, and thereby come to have a distinct interest from the rest of the community, contrary to the end of society and government”. But in spite of separation of powers, Locke gives to the executive the power of issuing ordinances when the legislature is not in session. The executive, however, is visibly subordinate and accountable’ to the legislature.
Locke suggests separation of powers for a number of reasons. Government is a Board of Trustees. The best way of preventing the trustees from abusing their powers is to divide them and their functions. Vigilance is the price of liberty. Then again, the legislature cannot and should not be constantly in session while the executive must be so. Therefore the two ought to be distinct and separate. Besides, concentration of powers is dangerous and may lead to tyranny.
Limitations on the Legislature
According to Locke, the legislature is the supreme organ of government but is itself subject to a number of limitations. It cannot be arbitrary over the Lives and Fortunes of the People It has no absolute powers. Its powers cannot exceed those transferred to the community at the time of the contract. The individual has no absolute power over others and over himself and what he did not have he could not have given away. Its power is limited to public good. Its laws must conform to the laws of nature. It can exercise authority not by extemporary decrees but by promulgated standing laws and known authorised judges’. It cannot take from any man any part of his property without consent. The legislature cannot transfer its powers to its master, the community, to any other body because its own powers are delegated.
Nature of Lockean State
In Locke’s state, sovereignty remains with the community but is exercised by the majority. The state cannot act arbitrarily but must act in public good. Its laws must be in conformity with the laws of Nature and of God. It must rule, not by temporary or arbitrary decrees but by permanent and promulgated laws enforced through known and authorized judges. The legislature, as the authorized agent of the sovereign people, cannot transfer its law-making power to any other body. Sovereignty of the people, with Locke, is a power in reserve, coming into play if the legislature betray its trust whereas, with Rousseau, it is in constant exercise. Whereas Hobbes does not distinguish between state and society, Locke makes a distinction between the two and holds that of the two, the society is more permanent and fundamental. The dissolution of the government does not involve the dissolution of society whereas the dissolution of the society, generally resulting from external aggression, involves the dissolution of the government. The government, according to Locke, is a subservient agency of the community. It is not from a contract mutually binding the community and government that the government derives its powers. Its powers flow from the trust that binds it but not the community. The community can, at will and its convenience, legitimately alter the character and conditions of this trust.
The Right of Revolution
According to Locke the power delegated to the government is a sort of fiduciary trust for the object of achieving certain ends. The supreme and ultimate power really rests with the people. Locke does not create any determinate human sovereign with an incontrovertible law-making authority’. If the government belie its trust or overact its powers, resistance to it is the natural right of the people. People have the right to determine if the government is justifying itself and have the right to remove an inefficient or oppressive government. A ruler who acts arbitrarily puts himself in a state of war with the people. The whole society has then the right of resistance. Locke thus justifies the right of revolution. Resistance against the government is necessary in case of substitution of arbitrary will for law and non-assemblage of parliament etc., for this involves violation of the social contract. The government being a trust, it follows that its powers are limited. This limitation, if disregarded, justifies revolution. The legislature is the supreme branch of the government but its powers are limited to those given up by the individual. It must follow the law of nature and not be arbitrary in its enactments, for behind it stands a superior and final embodiment of power, the people’. Locke concedes the right of revolution when the government does not fulfil its end of securing the rights of individuals, when the government is inefficient, when the government is pervert or arbitrary, when the electoral law is changed without the consent of the people and when the government places the people under foreign rule. Locke allows the people latent but not direct sovereignty. The right of resistance lies in the people. Locke gives the right of resistance i.e. appeal to heaven’ to an individual but supposes that the actual appeal to heaven’ against apparent injustice, will be made by the majority. Locke does not believe, with Hobbes, that the dissolution of the government means the dissolution of the society. When the government is dissolved, the community is entirely free to set up a new government or even a new constitution. A civil society may be dissolved by conquest or voluntary dissolution.
It is said of Locke that he “formulated not a theory of government but a theory of revolution”. Locke conceives of a sovereign individual and a sovereign community but not a sovereign state. The institution of government was in the nature of a trust and not a contract. The king derived his authority as a subordinate agent or trustee of the people. This applied to the legislature also. Locke had seen two Kings and the Long Parliament misbehave and wanted to prevent this misbehaviour. In case of misbehaviour the trust, on which government was based, could be modified or revoked by revolution. If the government which was a subordinate agency misbehaved and exceeded or abused its powers, it became a tyrant. The true remedy of tyranny which represents illegitimate force is to oppose force to it by revolution. Locke visualises a weak and limited government kept on good behaviour under the threat of revolution. Locke believes in the sacred right of insurrection’. Resistance to a tyrannical government was a natural right of the citizens. But he cautions against a light-hearted resort to resolution. People should revolt only when a long train of abuses, prevarications and artifices betray a sinister design on the part of the government to usurp the rights of the community and the individuals and set up a tyrannical rule. Writing in the atmosphere of 1688, Locke gives his government shaky psychological and political foundations and his sovereign people the sacred right of revolution. Locke is a philosopher of revolutions because he omits to provide any machinery short of revolution’ for the legitimate expression of popular opinion and popular discontent but he is the most conservative of revolutionists.
State and Church
Locke is not an erastian like Hobbes. In his Letter on Toleration he discussed the relations between the state and the church. He is for religious toleration for all except the Roman Catholics because of their foreign allegiance, the Mohammedans, due to their peculiar standard of morality, and the Atheists. The state and the church must be distinct. The church must not interfere in state affairs, thereby giving a theocratic colouring to the government. On the other hand the state should not bother about the religious belief of the individuals. The state should not suppress opinions except when they are dangerous to its safety or tranquility. Opinions may relate to (1) God, (2) moral life and practical life. The state has no concern with the first and only a partial one with the second.
Comparison between Hobbes and Locke
Starting with the conceptions of the state of nature and social compact, Hobbes builds up the theory of an absolute irresponsible sovereignty while Locke starting with, the state of nature creates a limited government. Whereas the sovereignty of Hobbes is inalienable, Locke believes that the political community which holds –the real power delegates its powers to the government, reserving the right to overthrow the latter, if necessary. Hobbes declared resistance to the sovereign to be unlawful while Locke expressly gave the right of revolution to the people i.e. to the majority of the community. The individual of Hobbes is best in the state, that of Locke comes before the state. On the whole, it may be said that Hobbes is more original, logical and consistent in his theory of the state than Locke.
According to Bosanquet, “For Hobbes. . . . political unity lies in a will which is actual but not general while for Locke it lies in a will which is general but not actual”. Hobbes insisted that sovereignty must lie in a will which is real and not fictitious. This will must be determinate and ‘must be taken as representing and standing for the will of the community. It must belong to tangible determinate individual or individuals. It must be the actual will of the sovereign. It is the actuality and reality of the will of a determinate sovereign which gives political unity to a society because the will of the sovereign is a representative will. In other words, the Hobbesian community is united through the actual will of the sovereign and not through a general will.
In the case of Locke, the government is a trust. It is the community which is the ultimate sovereign. The sovereign community may withdraw the trust at any time and replace one government by another. The will of the members of the government is neither so important nor so representative as in the case of Hobbes. It is the sovereign community which can represent itself and bring political unity to itself. In case of Locke, therefore, political unity lies in a will which is general i.e. of the community and not actual i.e. of a tangible determinate sovereign. Rousseau’s General Will combines the viewpoints of both Hobbes and Locke because it is at once actual and general.
It has been said that where Hobbes differs from Locke, posterity is with Locke. There is a measure of truth in this statement. Both Hobbes and Locke are social contract thinkers, writing on the basis of their own conceptions of human nature, the state of nature, the social contract, etc. The philosophy of both is born of the civil strife in England of the 17th century and as such has a propagandist side to it. But both Hobbes and Locke rose above their times and wrote for later generations too. Locke did not have the penetrating intellect of Hobbes and as a speculative thinker he suffers in comparison with Hobbes.
It goes to the credit of Hobbes that he has given us the first clear exposition of legal sovereignty, law and of a secular state. But behind and above the legal sovereign which is often of the Hobbesian type, we erect a system based on conceptions borrowed from Locke. The legal sovereign in England, for instance, which is the King-in-Parliament works under a number of limitations based on supremacy of law, supremacy of parliament, government by consent, trustees principle, etc. Locke’s principle of separation of powers has found wide acceptance in modern times as also the concept of the right of the people to change the constitution and government. An average modern state has a constitution based on the principles of Locke rather than of Hobbes.
Criticism of Lockean Conceptions and Theories
Locke bases his government on the consent of the governed but his theory of consent is defective because Locke does not provide for the continuity of consent as did Rousseau through his notion of the General Will. His ‘tacit’ consent robs the word consent of all its meaning. Locke’s theory of origins is obviously open to criticism for it is unrelated to hard facts. Locke never tried, as Hobbes did, to trace things to first principles. It is not clear whether his original contract created the state only or also the government. His theory is not very logical. To him, the state of nature was not only a state of peace and innocence but it was an age when individuals consciously obeyed the law of nature which enjoined justice. Comparing this to the realities of today after the institution of civil society, one is forced to conclude that mankind has retrogressed morally and intellectually which is untrue. Then again, like a thorough-going individualist that he is, Locke makes out property to be something anterior to the civil society. Property, which to Locke, includes life, liberty and estate, is an inalienable birthright of an individual and is the main bulwark of his individualistic theory of the state. “Primitive man is on his lips; but the portrait he paints is that of a civil man.” The state of Locke is not a sovereign state. Pressed to its logical conclusion, the Lockean theory would make the individual the sovereign of the state. To Locke, “the state so far from being a corporate body with a distinct life of its own, is a mere aggregate of individuals, who agree to act together for certain specified and limited purposes, but reserve their primitive freedom in all other matters whatsoever. The state, therefore, is, at the most, no more than a Limited Liability Commix; the real sovereignty resides in the in the individual”. Locke places his individual before his state.
Locke’s theory is rather weak for a philosopher of his calibre. It is based on rather unsound foundations and weak psychology. He is not deeply interested in the merits and demerits of various forms of government and shows poor knowledge of them. His theory of natural law confounds his theory of consent. The latter holds that justice or injustice depend on civil law and social recognition whereas according to Natural law justice and injustice exist independently of social recognition. Locke’s theory of’tacit’ consent is meaningless because it would rationalise the most tyrannical government. Locke pleads for liberty but not equality. He does not realise the relationship between the two. There can be no liberty where there is too much inequality. Locke views moral laws as finished and based on universal principles and also as temporary and related to different stages and types of society.
Locke is an empiricist in so far as he rejects the theory of innate ideas. He is also a rationalist as a champion of Natural Rights. His empiricism and rationalism make a sad admixture. He agrees with Hooker’s idea of the community being a corporation. He is also a strong individualist. His concept of a community as a corporation and as a mere collection of individuals is inconsistent. He venerates the community but places the individual over it.
Locke takes too much for granted. What might be the end of the moralising and civilizing force of society, namely the creation of a moral atmosphere in which social relations get adjusted without the coercive power of the state is taken by Locke to be the condition precedent to the creation of civil society. Locke here comes very near Rousseau to whom civil institutions are a sign of moral decay and a fall from positive virtue. If the moral tone of the state of nature were as high as Locke assumes it to be, then, in spite of its ‘inconveniences’, there is little need for civil institutions and political organisation.
Locke shows a definite class bias in his portrayal of the civil society. He looked at the working class as subject to but without full membership of the civil society. The assumption was that the working class does not and cannot live a rational life. Who were members of the civil society emerging from Lockean contract? If they were men of property, how could such a contract rationalise political obligation of all men ? Locke insists on the right of the majority to revolt against bad government but in this majority he, by implication, does not include the labouring class. This is because the right of revolution depends on a rational decision and rational political action of which the labouring class is incapable. Thus the labouring class is in but not of the civil society.
Locke’s civil society contains two classes, the propertied and the working, with different rationality and, therefore, different rights. Locke’s view of differential rights and rationality for the propertied men and workers proceeds from his essential individualism which asserts that every man is, by nature, the sole proprietor of his own person and capacities and, therefore, has the natural right of unlimited appropriation. Once this appropriation, chiefly of land, is complete, the pristine equality is turned into natural inequality i.e. into unequal rights.
It is this differential equality and rationality that explains -why Locke takes a different view of the state of nature in his treatise. In the beginning of his treatise, he views the state of nature as one of “peace, goodwill, mutual assistance and preservation” in ‘which men are social and rational. In Chapter III, he holds that where there is no common authority, even a small difference may lead to a state of conflict. Further on, he characterizes the state of nature as “very unsafe, very unsecure”. This variation in the portrayal’ of the state of nature is understandable in the light of his class differential.
Estimate of Locke
Was Locke a political pamphleteer or a philosopher? There are those who believe that Locke was a political pamphleteer whose object was to rationalise the Revolution of 1688 and that his Of Civil Government wasa piece d’ occasion. Colour is lent to this view 1y the admission of Locke in his Preface that his object was ‘to establish the throne of one great restorer, our present King William’. The book came two years after 1688 and in it, Locke upholds all those principles, which the Glorious Revolution stood for namely the repudiation of Divine Right doctrine of popular sovereignty, supremacy of parliament, constitutional government, limited monarchy, rule of law, etc. The type of government he suggests and the limitations on the government all follow the pattern of the 1688 settlement. That Locke was an 18th century Whig writer is evidenced by the fact that he never favoured communistic doctrines or social and economic equality. He was for laissez faire and economic capitalism. All this was in accordance with the spirit of the 1688 settlement which he tried to rationalise and uphold.”
The other view is that Locke’s work was essentially a philosophical work. Of Civil Government may have been published in 1690 but it was begun and written substantially before the Revolution of 1688. It is a philosophic treatise on the state and the It was because of his deep philosophical insight that Locke book not only of topical but of abiding interest because it has thrown up concepts which are current coin in politics even today. individual and the proper relationship between the two. It is a profoundly influenced 18th and partly 19th century thought. The fact is that the two interpretations of Locke are not exclusive. We find many strands in his thought.
Locke is one of the first of utilitarians. His utilitarianism is obvious from his contention that “happiness and misery are the two great springs of human action”. To him, morality is but pleasure and pleasure is only conformity to universal law’. The public good is the rule and measure of all law-making.’ Locke was one of the most prominent rationalist thinkers of the 17th century but there was nothing very original in his doctrines. The concepts of social contract, the law of nature, natural rights, right of revolution, on which he built his theory of state, were already known and pretty well developed. For his ethical and political philosophy, Locke was indebted to Grotius as also to Pufendorf and Spinoza. He was materially influenced by the current politics of England and, like a good Whig, had to justify a fait accompli in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Locke’s theory of state might be less logical and consistent than that of Hobbes, yet it capitally suited the England of 1688 and after. His theory is more secular than that of Hobbes. One of the prominent contributions of Locke to political philosophy is his definition of natural rights which has presented the modern notion of Fundamental Rights. Life, liberty and property were converted by Likke into the inalienable, concrete rights of every individual. Political society could not be conceived of without them. The most important of the political contributions of Locke is his theory of government by consent. The social contract theory has long been exploded but the theory of government by consent still holds the field and gains strength daily. Locke denied “the right divine of kings to govern wrong” by limiting the powers of the state. “If Hobbes theory—of sovereignty is to-day one of the common places of jurisprudence, ethically and politically we occupy ourselves by erecting about it a system of limitations,” borrowed mainly from Locke. The future has justified Locke more than Hobbes. The Lockean views about a limited constitutional government, sovereignty of the people, the state as a trustee of the sovereign people; majority rule, government by consent, separation of powers and sacredness or property and other rights are current political coin to-day.’
Locke profoundly influenced the development of political theory.
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