A look at Book I of John Locke’s First Treatise of Government


Quotes taken from Two Treatises of Government edited by Peter Laslett published by the Cambridge Texts in History and Political Thought.

I would like to think Ashok for reading through the First Treatise with me.

John Locke begins the first chapter, “Slavery is so vile and miserable an Estate of Man, and so directly opposite to the generous Temper and Courage of our Nation; that tis hardly to be conceived, that an Englishman, much less a Gentleman, should plead for’t.” Locke starts his treatise with the theme of slavery, which according to him goes against the “temper and courage” of England. He claims astonishment that an English Lord (Englishman…much less a Gentleman) would write such a work. This individual that Locke is arguing against is Sir Robert Filmer, the writer of the work Patriarcha or The Natural Power of Kings. Locke uses Filmer’s work to refute the belief in Divine Right Monarchy. He calls Filmer’s work a “Rope of Sand” and a “Chain for all Mankind” whose business it is to “raise a Dust” that would “blind the People” but cannot bind those “who have their eyes open.” This is a very interesting argument against the work, Locke has set out on the stance that Divine Right Monarchy really means slavery and that Filmer’s treatise is only meant to blind the people into bondage.

Locke makes reference that Filmer’s work was long before his own First Treatise, and the editor notes that the Patriarcha was written in 1637-8 but not published until 1680. Filmer is called the “Champion of absolute Power” and anyone who reads his treatise cannot but think himself no longer a freeman. When published, Locke argues that Filmer’s treatise removed all liberty from the world. Furthermore, it intended to make itself the model of all politics for the future. However, Locke argues that the treatise by Filmer can be summed in two lines:

1. That all Government is absolute Monarchy

2. That no Man is born Free

These are two very dangerous beliefs for Locke, the champion of consent of the governed.

Authors of the generation in which Locke is writing, and the previous generations are said by him to have “flatter[ed] princes with an Opinion” this opinion being that despite the laws which constituted their authority, and are to govern under, they have absolute power under the title of Divine Right. They are not restrained by “Oaths and Promises” because their authority does not come from those, whom they govern, or from the laws but rather from God Himself. By making such an argument, these authors have stripped man of his natural rights and freedoms and made them subject to tyranny and oppression. Even more, Locke argues that they have “unsettled the Titles and shaken the Thrones of Princes.” Why is this? Because if there is such a thing as Divine Right monarchy, than all except them monarch are slaves to the monarch. Further, as Locke will argue, if Adam was made the first monarch then only one Prince in the world living has claim to that title passed down from Adam. All persons with the exception of that single heir have been made slaves and all government has been destroyed because of these Divine Right authors. If all are slaves then there cannot be politics and if there cannot be politics there cannot be government.

Yet, Locke argues that if we have to accept this argument, that we are all born Slaves, then it does not end. “Life and Thraldom” continue together until the former ends and we are released from the latter. But this notion of Divine Right monarchy, Locke claims, is a new idea. “Scripture or Reason I am sure doe not any where say so notwithstanding the noise of divine right, as if Divine Authority hath subjected us to the unlimited Will of another.” The notion that we are all slaves to a single human, a fallible person, is not present in our own human reason or in the Divine Scripture, where one would expect to find Divine Right authority promulgated first. Natural freedom and equality are the older opinions of mankind, not absolute Authority of a single man. Locke even argues that Filmer assents to this belief, that his opinion is the junior.

At this Locke leaves the argument of the age of this argument for historians to debate, but wishes to argue the point against Filmer who he believes was allowed to carry the opinion the furthest.

edibleonlineshop.com

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Locke was assigned to as my philosopher, tnx 4 giving sum info bout him,,

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