John Locke and The Subjection of Eve.


Quotes taken from John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government

edited by Peter Laslett.

Up to this point John Locke has spoken against Sir. Filmer on the accounts of Adam’s claim to sovereignty by Donation, Creation, and Paternal & Regal authority. And at this point Locke turns his attention to the subject of Adam’s authority by way of Subjection of Eve. Filmer’s assertion, according to Locke, is based on the sixteenth passage of the third chapter of the book of Genesis, “And thy desire shall be to they Husband, and he shall rule over thee.”(Gen. 3:16.) Thus Filmer has established not only that monarchy is the only legitimate form of rule, but that patriarchal monarchy is the only legitimate form of rule. However, Locke asserts that God cannot violate the laws of speech, and therefore we must interpret what is said as though a human is speaking. This is especially true when Locke states , “he vouchsafes to speak to Men.” In this case, it cannot seem logical that God would chastise and degrade Eve for her disobedience when Adam himself also took part in the sin. In fact, God lowers Adam’s station by making him a day laborer and forcing him out of paradise. And so it would seem odd, Locke asserts, that on the same day that this happens, God grants Adam the prerogatives, privileges, dignity, authority, dominion and monarchy as well.

Here I must diverge for a moment to address Locke’s list. He specifically states, “granting Adam Prerogatives, and Privileges, investing him with Dignity and Authority, Elevating him to Dominion and Monarchy.” Prerogatives, Dignity, and Dominion all go together as they are something all men and women are capable of sharing in. All humans are given dignity because we are human, and made in the image of God. By granting us free will God has granted us prerogative as well. And finally all men, in the charge given to Adam by God, share in the dominion of the world and eventually their private lands. As such, it would be odd for God to grant only these to Adam when it is clear that we all possess them. As for the other three, Privileges, Authority and Monarchy, these are specific powers. Only those capable of ruling are possessed of these three powers, and according to Aristotle only he who is capable of sharing in the rule of the polis is called a citizen. As such, if Adam is being lowered because of his part in the disobedience against God, it would seem clear he is not capable of sharing in the rule (though this is what is meant when the Bible says God made man in his own image.) If Eve, therefore, is not included in the granting of all these powers, then neither can Adam for the first three are common to all men while the last only to those with the faculty to use them.

And so we are clear that Adam and Eve both possess either all or none of these powers, since both are guilty of the same sin. Further, we cannot change the understanding of a directive spoken to humans by God simply because it comes from God. Our understanding must remain consistent because God himself cannot break the laws of speech. Looking at the quote we will soon realize that God is speaking directly at Eve, not at Adam, and that God never uses a plural and so it cannot be assumed to apply to all women. Eve alone is subject to her husband, not all women. However, it can and has been taken as a statement to all women about their position to their husbands. Though, it is not a law just as it is not a law that all women must bring their child forth in sorrow and pain since there is a remedy for this. And if there is a remedy, it cannot be considered law. This is not a law placed on women or a grant given to men, but rather a mere observation of how nature has been ordered by God. The lot of women is to bring forth children in sorrow and pain, and to be subject to their husbands. The latter is evident by the mere fact that every nation has the custom that women are subject to their husbands. But as Locke asserts, would Queens Elizabeth or Mary be subject to their husbands politically? In modern times, Queen Elizabeth II is politically superior to her husband. The lot of women to bring forth children in sorrow and pain cannot be an indication of their inferior nature, it is a punishment for disobeying God’s command. As for the latter, Eve is subject to Adam because she is his wife, not because she is a woman. Man and Woman retain their equality, but within the familial the wife is subject to the husband. Consequently, neither directive from God can be seen as political since the former is merely punishment, and the latter is an isolated condition of women.

Locke then also demonstrates that political power is the power over life and death. If we look at the Bible it tells us that God made man in his own image; though we are not told what that image is. We can infer the answer through other Biblical passages. God tells both Adam and Eve to go forth and procreate, indicating that they have been given authority over life. Upon completion of the flood God tells Noah and his sons, “For if man sheds the blood of man, then by man shall his blood be shed.” (Genesis 9:6.) Indicating that God has given man the authority over death. Like God, man is sovereign of his world. However, Locke warns at the end that the authority of man over animals or the relationship between man and woman are both apolitical. Why is this? In the first case, political rule is the rule over rational animals. Animals are not rational, therefore man’s authority over animals is not political (it is more like master-slave, which according to Aristotle is also apolitical.) The relationship between husband and wife is that between equals; Adam is not superior to Eve and vice versa. As such Adam cannot hold the power of life and death over Eve and she cannot over him. This is a divergence from Aristotle because he asserts that the relationship of the husband and wife is political. The reason for this differing in opinion stems from the definition of political rule. For Locke it has been stated the political rule is that of life and death, while for Aristotle political rule is between equals. Thus the relationship to husband and wife for Locke is apolitical because it does not concern itself with life and death, but for Aristotle it is political.

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Joe, My name is Bryan Brazelton I am trying to cite one of your blogs as a reference, please email me your full name so I may do so. This is a paper about John Locke. I am writing it for The University of Oklahoma. I will gladly send you a copy when done if you would like. Thanks

    bryan.brazelton@gmail.com

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