This essay aims to discuss John Locke's political theory within the Two Treatises of Government, particularly in regards to the State of Nature due to its imperative role within the foundations of the Social Contract between the legislative and the sovereign (the citizens). The Social Contract requires for the legislative and the citizens to consent to the contract and to adhere to the Law of Nature, of which Locke places great importance upon. The role of the State of Nature is important, not only in regards to why a democracy is the most essential form of society, but also in its 'radical' nature, which separates Locke from previous Enlightenment thinkers, particularly Robert Filmer and his Patriarcha, of which the Two Treatises of Government was a response to.
Unlike Hobbes, Locke has a more positive view of the State of Nature, he does not equate this freedom with a State of War, arguing that human rationality enables men to adhere to the Laws of Nature and could live in a State of Nature, however, when mechanisms such as economics and private property come into question, an independent arbiter is necessary to protect the natural rights of the sovereign. For Locke, humans are born equal and have an innate responsibility to respect another man's liberty and to not infringe on the freedom other possess, for the most part, this is attainable within a State of Nature, however, there are no rules or regulations which prevent citizens from breaking those boundaries.
Although he takes a radical approach to his political theory, in regards to deviating from the traditional idea that all rulers derived from God, Locke still pertains that religion plays a role within political thought, significantly private property. Within the chapter, Of the State of Nature, Locke outlines that free men, those who are affluent, as God's creation, have the natural right to obtain and protect private property and, in turn, eligible to enter the Body Politic as political beings. Locke's views on the State of Nature, and more importantly the Laws of Nature which predispose human rationality, are fundamental to the progression of liberal democracy.
Locke designed the Two Treatises of Government to be a foreground to creating a liberal democracy free from authoritarian and monarchical power, unlike Robert Filmer, who stresses the importance of an absolute monarchy as being the best form of control. In response to Robert Filmer's Patriarcha, Locke develops a, albeit radical at the time, social contract which determines citizens as sovereign, opposing previous political thought which was rooted within the Divine Right of Kings. The role of religion within Locke's political theory outlines two of his most important ideas, the right to private property and self-preservation, as God's creation, humans do not have the right to take away their own or another man's life, therefore, within the framework of a legitimate democracy, natural rights can be secure.
There are many aspects of Two Treatises of Government where Locke addresses the State of Nature, highlighting its importance. Weiss Smith recognises that living in a State of Nature is achievable for Locke, however, the emergence of mechanisms such as money results in the need for the walls of society, implementing laws to protect private property and prevent any violence which may occur from freedom, reinforced by a higher figure, also abiding by the Law of Nature, should they break this Law, citizens are able to execute punishments to protect the Law of Nature, similar to votes of confidence within our current political system.
Locke's views on the State of Nature give legitimacy to the laws and structure implemented within a liberal democracy. The Law of Nature allows for justification for laws and punishments within a society, as society protects freedom for each equal individual. Within Chapter 2, Section 7, Locke outlines the importance of an independent arbiter to prevent individuals from invading another man's natural rights, and therefore justifies the use of punishments to maintain peace and freedom. If the Law of Nature and Locke's interpretation of the State of Nature did not come to fruition, there would be no grounds for legitimacy in liberal democracy and a consenting Social Contract. In order for a society to be just, free and preserve mankind, those within the contract must abide by the laws set out, this also gives legitimacy to the sovereign to rebel against governments who take an authoritarian stance and fail to respect the Law of Nature, something which Locke greatly opposed.
Overall, Locke's views, although radical at the time, paved the way for a more liberal way of thinking, one which is recognisable within current society. Through outlining the importance of self-preservation and private property, Locke's deviation from the Divine Right of Kings allowed for a society built on the grounds of mutual consent and legitimate authority. The Law of Nature underpins Locke's political theory, and his belief that human rationality deters violence and war within the State of Nature set him aside from his enlightenment predecessors, making him a greatly controversial figure of Modern Political Theory. Locke's ideology on the State of Nature allows for a justification of laws and a judicial system which preserves security within society, in addition to giving legitimacy to punish anyone who fails to adhere to the Law of Nature, including the legislative, mirrored in modern society through elections and votes of confidence. What's more, Locke highlights that society should not be restricting, under a liberal democracy, natural rights are said to be protected and secure, reflecting the State of Nature in regards to freedom, but offering security to private property obtained within a State of Nature through laws and regulations, preventing breaching the natural liberty of other men and self-destruction.
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