Sovereignty by Donation: John Locke’s First Treatise of Government

Quotes taken from the New American Bible
Locke’s Two Treatises of Government edited by Peter Laslett

In the previous chapter John Locke discussed Sir Robert Filmer’s assertion that Adam had sovereignty over his children by creation. This next chapter, Locke discusses Filmer’s assertion that Adam had sovereignty by donation from God. There are by two methods Locke discerns from Filmer that Adam would have sovereignty: God gave Adam dominion over all the wild beasts and thereby was monarch, or that he had dominion over all creatures. Locke asserts that God did not give Adam authority over man, or his children and that he did not give him sole dominion over the beasts.

John Locke first examines the claim that Adam had sovereignty by having sole dominion over all living things. The Book of Genesis indicates in the first two chapters the order in which living things were created. On the 6th day God created what can amount to domesticated animals, and He created the wild beasts and reptiles. It is after the creation of the beasts and reptiles, and before the creation of Man, that God says, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Locke draws specific attention to God’s usage of the word “them” when speaking of man. In normal linguistics this can be noted to say that God was speaking of the plural, and at this point in time the word “man” could be used in reference to either a single person of the male gender or all humans. Thus Locke argues, God gave all man guardianship over the cattle, animals who crawl on the ground, and the wild beasts. Locke also wishes to draw specific attention to note that at verse 28 God does not say to subdue cattle, but rather only those living things that move on the ground. From this Locke points that the Septuagint distinguishes that the living things that move on the ground can be divided into wild beasts and reptiles. Two verses before at 26, Locke points out that God states to create man to rule over creation, in the list provided by Moses of the things man is to have rule over wild beasts are left off.

A certain interesting distinction can be pointed to here, at one point man is given control over the natural and at another only over the political. Wild beasts are the distinction between the natural and political, as according to Aristotle man is either a beast or a god outside of the city. However, the most important aspect to God’s list of what man, or in Filmer’s point of view Adam, is to have dominion over God leaves off man both times. It is clear from this that God intended for man to share in his dominion and rule over the natural life, and is to subdue nature. Of the power granted to man initially, man is not granted the authority to kill. This does not come until Noah and his Sons receive their edict from God to replenish the Earth and eat of animals. The proclamation made to Noah and his Sons can more properly described as a political edict, because at this point man is given authority to kill–something that was left off from the initial proclamation.

Yet still, man does not receive the authority to rule over each other. In Locke’s opinion, if the reader is unable to see that Adam is not sovereign over the world, then they should see it when that same charter is claimed to be given to Noah. Noah does not have children after the flood, only his children do. When God gives His proclamation to Noah, his sons are present as well and receive the same proclamation. That being said, all men are equal after the flood with the same authority. Within this state outside of society, all men are granted dominion over the earth to subdue nature. No one man has authority over another, as Locke points that David in the 8th Psalm does not acknowledge that God granted Adam sovereign authority. By nature we are all equal in our authority.

Likewise, Eve is given the same dominion as Adam because God speaks of man in the plural sense at verse 28. At this point there were only two creatures who fell under the definition of man: Adam and Eve. Clearly, if God spoke in the plural and there were only two humans then both would have be granted the same dominion, not just the one. Eve, as man, has been created similar to Adam, “The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…'” (Genesis 2:23.) Eve is an identical copy of Adam, she is fully man just as Adam is fully man. As such, Eve too is created in the Image of God and Locke states, “For wherein sover else the Image of God consisted, the intellectual Nature was certainly a part of it, and belong’d to the whole Species, and enabled them to have Dominion over the inferiour Creatures…” And therefore Adam lacks dominion over all living things, and only over those of the sea, and air and over cattle, wild beasts and reptiles.

Locke has asserted for the first time in a clear and percise manner that all men are created equal and that there is no natural government; man must consent to being ruled and is not naturally born into the precondition of being ruled. Man is not given the authority to take life until after the Flood, when God grants Noah and his children the authority to eat meat and to take the life of one who sheds the blood of man. The idea that man must consent to being governed is shown through England’s Manors. The Lord of the manor only has authority over the natural things, not over his tendents. He can order the slaughter of a calf, but not over those men who inhabit his land. The Lord of a Manor only has the authority granted to him by those who consent to his rule, no more or less. This is a strict departure from Hobbes who grants the Magistrate any authority once one consents to his rule. The only time man is able to refuse the Magistrate is when that Magistrate attempts to take the life of a subject. Locke is specifically stating here that man is given the authority to rule over another man by consent only, and that consent to be ruled is limited to what has been agreed upon.

As such, Locke has now asserted a design for his State of Nature where there is no government except the individual and that all are granted common rule over the earth. He has also demonstrated that man is given command to subdue the earth, which will become the authority to perfect nature in his Second Treatise. All men are created into a world of equal freedom and authority, only when entering into society does man consent to relinguish some of that freedom and authority but never more than what has been agreed upon.

Locke’s First Treatise: Sovereignty by Creation

Quotes taken from Locke: Two Treatises of Government edited by Peter Laslett

At this point John Locke takes to task Sir Robert’s attempt to give Adams sovereignty of the world and man by his creation. The first struggle Locke faces is Sir. Robert’s assertion that to suppose natural freedom in mankind means to deny Adam’s creation. However, this is a subtle use of words that Locke writes concerning this assertion by Sir Robert. Locke states, “For I find no difficulty to suppose the Natural Freedom of Mankind, though I have always believed the Creation of Adam…” Anyone who reads this passage cannot help but notice the use of suppose and believed and how different they make the meaning of his thought. Supposition comes from the use of one’s reason while belief does not. To suppose implies that one can logically think it through and find proofs while belief does not. Therefore, Locke is stating contrary to Filmer that Natural Freedom of Man Kind cannot be denied because reason can attain them whereas reason cannot attain the creation of Adam.

Next Locke presents the second issue,  that by Appointment Adam was made governor of the world by God. There are three instances in which Locke states this Appointment was possible: “Providence orders, or the Law of Nature directs, or positive Revelation declares…” Of these he denies that Providence could have been the appointment of Adam, which will be discussed momentarily. The Law of Nature and and positive Revelation are two interesting terms for Locke to use. We can simplify and attempt to understand this better if we change positive to it’s other meaning: law. The Law of Nature we know is a bastardization of the Natural Law and of the Natural Right, which proceeded the Law of Nature in previous epochs. The most direct ancestor of the Law of Nature is Natural Law, which St. Thomas articulates in his Treatise on Law. The Natural Law is the way in which the Eternal Law, or Providence, participates in human reason. By denying Providence, Locke has denied that God participates in the reason of man all together. Positive Revelation, or the Bible or Divine Law comes directly from the Eternal Law and informs and corrects both the Natural Law and the Human Law.  The Law of Nature removes the Eternal Law and Divine Law and supplants it with a temporal understanding.  Locke excludes a discussion of Adam’s sovereignty by Creation by denying both the Eternal and Divine laws as a source of political authority.  If Adam’s sovereignty was granted to him prior to creation through Divine Providence, then it would mean Adam would have been governor from the moment the Eternal Law came into be. It would be silly he asserts for Adam to have received his governorship over the world by Providence, because there was nothing to govern.

Locke then looks at Sir Robert’s assertion from the Law of Nature perspective. Locke argues that to assert Adam’s governorship by the Law of Nature is like saying that Man is governor over his children by right of nature. However, in this instance Locke points that Adam could neither be governor of the world, nor father when he had no government or children to make him governor of the world or father by right of nature. However, Sir Robert’s responds to this by asserting that Adam was not governor in fact but in habit. Yet, let us look at the problem of making Adam governor of the world by his creation through a different method.

Locke asserts Adam could not have been made governor of the world by his creation because he has no government; government does not come until the Fall, which is long after Adam’s creation. In fact, if one looks at the Book of Genesis they will find that government does not exist among Adam, Eve and their two sons. In fact government is not created until Adam’s son Cain slays Abel and is banished to the land of Nod by God. Cain is the founder of the city, not Adam, which makes Cain-a killer- the founder of the City according to Moses. This is why Sir Robert’s assertion that Adam gains governorship over the world by creation. Cain, not Adam, is the first governor that we encounter in the Bible. In fact, the children of Adam reject government until the Jews insist God give them a king. They are enslaved by the greatest government of the day- the Egyptians. A murderer, a betrayer to his family and his God is the founder of the City. The City is founded  upon sin according to the Bible.

Adam was made king of the world by his creation, not a king in fact, but a king in act which according to Locke means he was no king at all. This same argument, made by Sir Robert Locke will argue, means that Noah too was king of the world by his creation because it was his destiny to outlive his brethren. Belief in Adam’s creation and to suppose Natural Freedom of Mankind do not counteract each other according to Locke. Because Adam’s creation did not mean he was absolute ruler of the world as has been shown, one can still suppose the Natural Freedom of Mankind.

Locke’s First Treatise Chapter II: Paternal and Regal Power

Quotes taken from John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government edited by Peter Laslett.

Help from Ashok

Having completed his introduction of Sir Robert Filmer’s work Patriarcha, Locke endeavors to explore the arguments made by Filmer. The first argument made is that of Paternal and Regal power. The argument for absolute monarchy according to Locke is far above anything man can think of, so high in fact “that Promises and Oaths, which tye the infinite Deity, cannot confine it.” This is a curious way of describing the idea behind absolute monarchy but upon further inspection one might find that even God cannot be described as an absolute Monarch in the manner in which Filmer uses the words. But if Locke is able to demonstrate that the logic used for absolute monarchy is faulty, then man can start a new with government by consent; Locke ends with “using their Reason to unite together into Society.”

The first instance of Absolute Monarchy is that of the parent over the child, which means that the child is not free and that the parents possess a regal authority over that child. At first glance one might think this is an argument against Filmer, but instead is actually against Aristotle who in the Politics argues that the relationship between a father and his child is that of kingly rule. Exactly what that fatherly authority is Locke and Filmer neglect to tell, instead Locke lays out three basic foundations in the beginning of the Patriarcha:

1. En Passant, Made his Obeysance to the Arcana Imperii.

2. Made his Compliment to the Rights and Liberties of this, or any other Nation which he is going presently to null and destroy.

3. Made his Leg to those Learned Men, who did not see so far into the Matter as himself.

In sum, Locke argues that Filmer’s use of absolute monarchy thumbs its nose at the idea of rule by consent of the majority. The basis for his argument of Fatherly authority stems from the Bible: Adam was the first human, our father who possessed absolute authority over the world; Noah and his sons reestablished the monarchy of Adam until the captivity of the Israelites; God re-established the line of king over Israel. And finally Filmer uses the commandment of Honor thy Father as proof of absolute fatherly authority. Locke immediately points out that this is only a half quote from the Ten Commandments and that the full commandment reads Honor thy Father and thy Mother. The problem of stating both Locke points out is that it would be a mixed monarchy, which ultimately leads to anarchy. It is for this reason that Filmer leaves out the latter part of the quote, which Locke calls Filmer “a wary Physician,… when he would have his Patient swallow some harsh or Corrosive Liquor…” for having done. Here Locke compares Filmer to the physician, who is representative of the legislative authority within philosophic thought.

It is then that Locke goes on to say “Without this, What Good could our A——do, or pretend to do, by erecting such an unlimited Power, but flatter the Natural Vanity and Ambition of Men, too apt of if it self to grow and encrease with the Possession of any Power?” The discussion of Absolute Monarchy, by extension of this argument, is the same as talking of anarchy. Locke finishes, “And by perswading those, who, by the consent of their Fellow-Men, are advanced to great, but limited degrees of it, that by that part which is given them, they have a Right to all, that was not so; and therefore may do what they please, because they have Authority to do more then others, and so tempt them to do what is neither for their own, nor the good of those under their Care, whereby great Mischiefs cannot but follow.” Everyone has a right to security and therefore they have the power to ensure their freedom, creating an anarchical state. Further, consent exists in the wrong system creating multiple centers of power as a result of Filmer’s argument.

From this Locke argues for three points for the argument of fatherly regal authority: Sovereignty of Adam, Absolute Power of Adam, and Adam’s Royal Authority. The first concerns with Adam’s authority over his own family, for Filmer argues that Adam had absolute power over his family including the power over life. In this the paternal powers becomes the regal power, and by extension calls into question maybe the polis and family. If Adam was not king by virtue of his title of father, then is the fatherly authority political, for if it is not then family is not by nature political which is contrary to the teachings of Aristotle. As for the second, Absolute Power of Adam, this is based on the authority of Adams over his posterity; this dominion then makes men nothing more than herds. Locke calls for Proofs and Reasons as to how Adam has gained this absolute authority, which creates two types of rule: reasonable and unreasonable. Filmer’s argument of Adam’s absolute power is an example of the unreasonable, because there lacks any proof or reason for such an assertion. Finally there is Adam’s Royal Authority, which is to say Adam’s paternal authority: Adam is king because he is father. While Filmer continues to argue for Adam’s Royal Authority, Locke points he fails to provide a proof. Analogously, the royal authority of Adam or the rule of absolute monarchy is the power of opinion or the power over the passions.

Locke’s argument against Paternal and Regal Authority is summed in that Filmer provides no proof of Adam’s authority as both father and king other than the half quote “Honor thy father.” Which itself is purposely cut short because the introduction of “honor thy mother” would imply a mixed monarchy and thus destroying any hopes of an absolute monarch. The argument for absolute monarchy does not exist within the realm of proofs or reason but rather in the power over opinion; which makes the argument far stronger because men are inclined to follower their passions. The Sovereignty of Adam, his absolute power, and is royal authority combine to make Adam a tyrant. He contains the power over life of his own family, he rules over his posterity like they are a herd and rules by appealing to human passions. This is juxtaposed to the idea the Law of Nature, social contract, and rule by reason. The first makes man a slave while the second provides for his security and safety.


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