The Second Treatise of Civil Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration

The Second Treatise of Civil Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration

The Second Treatise of Civil Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration

The Second Treatise of Civil Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration

Excerpt

Locke Treatise of Civil Government is often described as a defence of the Revolution of 1688, and a justification of the Whig principles which became dominant in English politics during the following century. In his preface he stated explicitly that he hoped "to establish the throne of our great restorer, our present king William; to make good his tide in the consent of the people,. . . and to justify to the world the people of England, whose love of their just and natural rights, with their resolution to preserve them, saved the nation, when it was on the very brink of slavery and ruin." It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that Locke set himself deliberately to justify the arguments used by the Whig politicians in the Convention, for at numerous points his reasoning differed from theirs, and followed a line of thought which he had developed independently. A concise statement of the essence of his political theory occurs at the beginning of the draft of An Essay concerning Toleration, which he had composed as early as 1667, but did not publish. "That the whole trust, power, and authority of the magistrate is vested in him for no other purpose but to be made use of for the good, preservation, and peace of men in that society over which he is set, and therefore that this alone is and ought to be the standard and measure according to which he ought to square and proportion his laws, model and frame his government. For if men could live peaceably and quietly together, without uniting under certain laws and growing into a commonwealth, there would be no need at all of magistrates or politics, which were only made to preserve men in this world from the fraud and violence of one another; so that what was the end of erecting government ought alone to be the measure of its proceeding." He then rejects the idea of absolute monarchy, whether by divine right or originating by a concession of power from the people, for "it cannot be supposed the people should give any one or more of their fellow-men an authority over them for any other purpose than their own preservation, or to extend the limits of their Jurisdiction beyond the limits of this life." Locke was undoubtedly a Whig, and had spent much of his life in surroundings permeated by Whiggish doctrines; but if the publication of his . . .

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