Limitations According To Locke Essay, Research Paper
An important aspect of all social contract arguments is the placement of limits, both on the power of the government and on the level of state tolerance. John Locke wrote of the limitations of government power in the Second Treatise of Government, and of the limits of toleration in his Letter Concerning Toleration. Locke claims that there is a moral limitation on the on the state as well as a moral limitation on tolerance.
Man’s main purpose for forming commonwealths, according to Locke, is in order to protect property. All laws and regulations of the commonwealth are based on the main principle of preserving property. The state is thus limited in that it cannot take a man’s property away from him. If he has consented to the contract necessary to live in the state, his property is thusly protected by laws. The only way a man’s property can be taken away is if he breaks his end of the contract and is therefore no longer under contract.
The state is also limited in that its power can only be used to enhance the public good of the society. All commonwealths must first establish a legislative power whose business is the preservation of the society. The legislative can have no more power than is given to it by the people. “Their power, in the utmost bounds of it, is limited to the public 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.” Legislative authority is granted by the people and must work for the people.
The supreme authority cannot be arbitrary in its decrees. It is “bound to dispense justice.” All laws must be standing, promulgated laws, and based on the unwritten laws of nature. The natural laws that a man’s property cannot be taken away without his consent are the backbone of justice. Judges must be consistant in their interpretations of the laws, what is legal for one man must be legal for all. In a commonwealth no man can be above the law. The supreme power of the state never has the right to arbitrarily change the law to accommodate individuals.
On toleration, it is clear to Locke that the civil rights of any man cannot be taken away upon account of religion. The problem with being intolerant towards other religious factions is that there are so many different beliefs. According to Christians, idolaters should be prosecuted because it is a sin against God. In these situations, Locke ambiguously hints that it is up to God to deal with these people, not the state. In the Bible, God orders the Israelites to remove all idolaters from His kingdom, it never says for all of them to be killed or converted. The Jews conquered many peoples outside of Canaan and never forced Judaism upon them. Idolaters needed only be uprooted from Canaan because God is king there, and the idolaters worshipped different gods and therefore different kings, which is treason. It can be concluded that only in cases of treason is there to be any intolerance toward other religions.
Locke is correct in his explanations of the limits on toleration. Although many zealous Christians would say other religions should be outlawed, the true spirit of the religion is to practice peace and toleration. In countries where other religions are dominant like India, Christians feel they still have the right to exist. That right should be universal. On the limits of state power, it is hard to argue with Locke’s principles. The only difficulty is that the legislative authority rarely has the interest of the majority in mind. The rich landowners tend to control the government and make laws that suit themselves.