Of Legitimate Authority Essay, Research Paper
Locke?s Argument for the Origin and Practice of Legitimate Authority
Through out time there has been a constant struggle between the ideas of social control and the rights of the individual. Even at the present time there are conflicting opinions on how much power the government should have and how much power the individual should have over themselves. John Locke, like many before him, had an idea of how government and society should run. He attempts to devise an argument that will define the limits of political power while establishing the rights of resistance. Locke has many points that come together to create his argument. These are primarily based on the basic principles that natural equality when combined with legitimate authority will lead people and their property, out of a state of nature and into a better, stronger, and more stable society.
Locke?s main point on property is that all human bodies are property of that person. He illustrates this view when he states, ? Through the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself?(p. 19). It is clear that Locke’s idea of property does embrace the notion that the self is the property of the person and only that individual
person. Locke furthers his argument by explaining how a human can have actual
material property. In order to obtain material property one must mix whatever one wishes to own with the labour of their body. He defines labour as something that makes common private. He puts certain limits to actual material property by saying that someone can only own as much as they can use to any advantage without spoil and they must leave enough and as good for others.
Locke also touches on the institution of slavery. Slavery in the voluntary or non-voluntary sense is prohibited under Locke’s argument. His reasons for why this act is prohibited are that when someone has ownership of another person they have the power to do with that person?s life what they please. This is a direct violation because he has already set the premise that each person is the owner of himself, and if someone else were to own another it would violate this premise. The idea of slavery is also prohibited because it goes against the law of nature that lists self-preservation as being its number one priority. The law of nature thus ties into the property premise and leads to an ultimate conclusion that slavery should not exist.
Locke states, ? Every one, as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station willfully, so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind, and may not,
unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another?(p.9). This basically sums up Locke?s law of nature. He feels that the first duty of man is to preserve himself above all other things, and next he should also preserve, as much as possible, his fellow man. Locke believes that in a state of nature every individual has the authority to execute the law of nature, but only when the killing of the offender will do justice. Justice of this type is defined as punishing the crime for the prevention of similar crime, which is stated to be the right of all persons, and reparation which is solely the right of the injured. Overall Locke does support the killing of murderers if necessary for justice. The support roots from the idea of guaranteed protection the simple fact they will not be alive to harm again. His feelings on this issue are illustrated clearly when he says, ?every man, in the state of nature, has a power to kill a murderer, both to deter others from doing the like injury, which no reparation can compensate, by the example of punishment that attends it from every body, and also to secure men from the attempts of a criminal?(p. 11).
Locke doesn?t believe the state of nature is comparable to total destruction of
humanity or a hell, but he does see many problems with it. The main reason people choice to go from the state of nature and into a society is for better protection of their property. He states that the two main problems with any type of property protection are
that there are no common authorities and human partiality gets in the way when speaking
of fair punishment. In a more detailed account he states the direct problems with the state of nature are that there are no standings laws, indifferent judges, or reliable executive powers. All these problems encompass one main issue. This issue is that property, physical and material, needs to be protected in a more secure way. The way to obtain this higher security is to move out of the state of nature and into a society.
Locke first moves out of the state of nature and into society through the introduction of consent. Consent is the necessary condition that makes obedience legitimate. To explain what he means by consent he first explains how humans can give consent and why they can give consent. He states that the idea of consent of all is the origin of society. He states, ?For when any number of men have, by the consent of every individual, made a community, they have thereby made that community one body, with a power to act as one body, which is only by the will and determination of the majority?(p. 52). This clearly shows how crucial consent is to the membership of society, and not only consent, but the consent of each and every member in that society. Their joint consent then makes for a majority type of rule. He believes to be part of a society and to be obligated to follow the rules of that society an individual must first consent to being a part of that society. There are two different forms of consent. The first one is express consent while the second is tacit consent. Express consent is explicit consent while tacit
is a silent consent. Locke believes that explicit consent is obvious and not hard to
understand, while tacit is more difficult to establish. Locke does however believe that if one, ? that hath any possessions, or enjoyment, of any part of the dominions of any government, doth thereby give his tacit consent, and is as far forth obliged to obedience to the laws to that government?(p. 53). This basically means if you live in a society where a government is established and you have property or are enjoying the society you are staying in this is enough for tacit consent. Once a person has consented, either with explicit or tacit, they are a part of society. Society is made to preserve the lives, liberty and estates, which all make up property.
When entering into society people give up the power to do what they want for preservation and the power to punish others that they had in the state of nature. Since people did however have the right to property in the state of nature, and would never consent to be worse off than they were before, society must always protect property. Along with the protection of property to make government legitimate there are certain conditions to be met. There must be promotion of the common good, secure property, establishment of a standing law, indifferent judges, and an impartial execution of the law.
The legislation has limits as well as duties. The limits are that there can?t be an absolute arbitrary rule, property can?t be taken without consent, and there will be no unauthorized transfer of power. There can never be an absolute monarchy and rule will
thus then be limited. Locke believes that monarchy is a type of slavery and violates the
law of nature that then makes it totally illegitimate.
Locke believes that government?s main purpose is to protect property with unbiased laws, while also pursuing the overall common good of the society. He makes this view clear with his opening words for chapter eleven that state, ? The great end of men?s entering into society, being the enjoyment of their properties in peace and safety, and the great instrument and means of that being the laws established in society?(p. 69). Considering that consent is the origin of legitimate obedience, when the government is doing things that the people would not have consented to, the people will be no longer obliged to obey. When he states, ?The reason for society is the preservation of property. Whenever those in power endeavor to take away and destroy the property of the people, they put themselves in a state of war with the people. They forfeit authority, which devolves to the people, who have the right to resume their original liberty and establish a new legislative?(p. 211), Locke states clearly exactly when the people have a right to rebel. He more specifically lists certain misuses of power that will enable persons to rebel over there government. They include the placing of arbitrary will in place of the laws, hindering legislative from assembling, altering power structure or legal process without consent of the people, delivering people into subjection of foreign power, failing to execute laws, and in general robbing a person from their property without consent. When
this breach of power occurs, the society has a right to make new legislative. He further states that people not only have the right to stop misusage of power but also to stop the misusage before it happens.
Locke states that an objection claiming these premises will bring a pond a format for to much rebellion will occur. Locke believes that people can rebel when authority forfeits its power by disregarding what was previously consented to. Locke first responds to this objection and also lays out a type of guideline for when people should rebel by saying that when people are exposed enough to the misusage of governmental power they will be always be ready to resist. He then goes on to state that people don?t rebel because of one or two minor inconveniences. They rebel when there are many wrongs and many unjust laws. He believes that rebellion occurs when the list of offences is great and mimics a life worse than the state of nature. His third rebuttal of the objection involves the idea that the people who will rebel aren?t actually the rebels. He believes that those who try to unjustly obtain property are the real rebels. It follows that in reality the prevention of this unjust obtaining of property is really the best way to ward of rebellion in the first place. The people who attempt to obtain property unjustly are rebels because they are rebelling against what consent the people had given them to govern their society. By breaking this agreement to act in ways which only previously consented to, the authorities are actually the ones rebelling against the people, not the people rebelling
against the government. Locke concludes by comparing the idea of people who rebel against the wrongs of their government to the idea that ?men may not oppose robbers or pirates because this may occasion disorder or bloodshed?(p. 115). By this statement he means that if someone is taking from you something you have a right to, which in this case is the right to a government based on consent, to not rebel based on the idea that some ciaos may occur is ridiculous.
Locke?s main premises are that to be legitimate government must have the consent of all people in a society and preserve those individual properties. He concludes from these premises that if the government does not do anything that violates the original consent or attempt to deny a member of society property of any sort without consent then obedience will be legitimate. In return, if the government does violate the consent of the people or deny them of any property without consent then the people have the right to rebel and resume their original liberty and establish a new legislative law. The conclusions do indeed follow from the premises. If the individual must consent to get into society once in it does follow that as long as what they consented to has not been abused or changed obedience will be legitimate. Following, if an individual consents to a society then an arbitrary power takes it a pond themselves to change the ideas originally consented to, the society would in return have no obligation to obey a law they never agreed to in establishment.
Locke?s argument is sound. The conclusions made by Locke do follow from the premises, and the premises are true. Locke?s premise that to be legitimate government must have the consent of all people in a society is correct. A person has consented to obedience and government when they agree to live in a society, or enjoy that society. From this anyone deciding to live in that area where a society has been established has then consented to being part of the society, either with express or tacit consent. Thus, it is true that a legitimate government will have the consent of all the people, for if they are living where that government operates, they will have in some way consented. It is also true that preservation of property is needed for legitimate government. In Locke?s state of nature a person has property, and since no one would consent to society if it were worse than the state of nature, it follows that it must be true that property must be protected for society to be legitimate.
Since Locke?s argument proves validity and true premises it can be concluded that his argument for the legitimacy of obedience is not only valid but also sound.