Locke and the Legislative Point of View: Toleration, Contested Principles, and Law

By Alex Tuckness | Go to book overview
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APPENDIX 2
Locke's Theory of Consent
and the Ends of Government

In this appendix I develop four lines of argument in support of the interpretation of Locke advanced above. First, the discussion of the ends of government in the Two Treatises supports the claim that the ends of government are set by natural law. Second, the actions that Locke believed governments could legitimately perform correspond to this definition of the public good. Third, Locke's discussion of the ends of societies also supports this account. In the Second and Third Letters, Locke compared familial, political, and economic societies and argued against the claim that any of these could be understood apart from a determinate end. A comparison of conjugal and political society reveals the way in which the ends of each can be inferred from natural law. Finally, I address the question of anachronism and explain why the distinctions I draw pertaining to consent are in the spirit of Locke's argument even though he did not draw these distinctions himself.

The connection between natural law and the ends of government is stated most clearly in a famous passage from the Second Treatise.

Their [the legislature's] Power in the utmost Bounds of it, is limited to
the publick good
of the Society. It is a Power, that hath no other end
but preservation, and therefore can never have a right to destroy,
enslave, or designedly to impoverish the Subjects. The Obligations of
the Law of Nature, cease not in Society, but only in many Cases are
drawn closer, and have by Humane Laws known Penalties annexed
to them, to inforce their observation. Thus the Law of Nature stands
as an Eternal Rule to all Men, Legislators as well as others. The Rules
that they make for other Mens Actions, must, as well as their own
and other Mens Actions, be conformable to the Law of Nature, i.e. to
the Will of God, of which that is a Declaration, and the fundamental
Law of Nature
being the preservation of Mankind, no Humane Sanc-
tion can be good, or valid against it. (2.135)

This passage is commonly read as emphasizing that natural law does not lapse when civil society begins and that its injunctions provide a standard by which regimes may be judged. A government that violates the negative

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