To understand political power correctly and derive itfrom its proper source, we must consider what state all men are naturally in. In this state men are perfectly free to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and themselves, in any way they like, without asking anyone’s permission—subject only to limits set by the law of nature
Arguing Across the Aisle¶
Locke himself notes his assertions about his "State of Nature" several times as a weak point in his arguments, trying to preempt objections. It is in no way obvious that Locke's State of Nature is indeed the natural state of mankind, or, if it is, in what sense that is the case. Often, "nature" is taken to mean that which exists except for man's influence, but studying the nature of man apart from man is not a clear task.
It is useful to look at the context from which Locke is writing to understand what he means by "State of Nature". Locke's father fought in the English Civil War with the Roundheads against the Royalists, fundamentally a war over the question of the "divine right of kings". In the preface to the Second Treatise we see him write:
These surviving pages, I hope, are sufficient to establish the throne of our great restorer, our present King William; to justify his title to the throne on the basis of the consent of the people
The Second Treatise was published in 1690. In 1689, after James II and VII had been deposed as King, the English Parliament wrote the Declaration of Rights of 1689, which was read to William and his wife Mary when the throne was offered to them. The document enumerates a list of infractions commited by James against England, and further enumerates a list of limitations on the power of the Crown.
The debate of the time was between Constitutional Monarchism and Absolutism; ...
Within this debate, Locke is taking the complementary position to the Declaration of Rights -- whereas the Declaration of Rights asserts what the government could not do, what its limitations were, Locke, in the Second Treatise, attempts to establish positively what the government can do. Locke must start alongside those who would disagree with him, and argue from their axioms why such domination would be just. To this end, Locke starts with assumptions about the autonomy of individuals that are as strong as possible, and from their shows that submission to a governing authority is still to be preferred to autonomy.
The Second Treatise was a doctrine of unification. It stretched across the aisle between Constitutional Monarchism (which focused on the limitations of government) and Absolutism (which focused on the just rule of kings). In starting with strong assumptions about individuals in his "State of Nature" and arguing towards just rule, Locke's "State of Nature" is the steelman of one of two positions he must reconcile.
There are two separable elements to Locke's "State of Nature". The first is that it is a counterfactual circumstance in which there are no dominance hierarchies. We can see this rather explicitly outlined in several places:
It is often asked, as though this were a mighty objection: 'Where are there—where everwere there—any men in such a state of nature?' Here is an answer that may suffice in the mean time: The world always did and always will have many men in the state of nature, because all monarchs and rulers of independent governments throughout the world are in that state.
A state of nature, properly understood, involves men living together according to reason, with no-one on earth who stands above them all and has authority to judge between them.
In a state of nature where there is no authority to decide between contenders, and the only appeal is to heaven, every little difference is apt to end up in war; and that is one great reason for men to put themselves into society, and leave the state of nature. For where there is an authority, a power on earth from which relief can be had by appeal, the controversy is decided by that power and the state of war is blocked.
In each of these, the "State of Nature" is evidenced by the lack of any dominance or authority being exerted.
Locke doesn't present a utopia -- he presents a series of arguments going from an unruled state to a ruled state. He is presenting arguments for submission and obedience, not for struggle. His arguments form a bulwark against self-interest; they are, however, only a lower bound on the amount of state control that is possible.
Locke argues vorciferously that the lower bound is preferable to being in a state of disarray, but there are no (few?) arguments that show that this lower bound is preferable to other ... .
Locke's arguments for the lower bound of societal cohesion are still durable in that way, but they should not be conceived of as an upper bound.
unification of all men? contrast vs earlier isolation
...for the same reason everyone ought, when his own survival isn’t at stake, to do as much as he can to preserve the rest of mankind;
So that all men may be held back from invading the rights of others and from harming one another, and so that the law of nature that aims at the peace and preservation of all mankind may be obeyed, the enforcement of that law of nature (in the state of nature) is in every man’s hands, so that everyone has a right to punish law-breakers as severely as is needed to hinder the violation of the law. For the law of nature, like every law concerning men in this world, would be futile if no-one had power to enforce it and thereby preserve the innocent and restrain offenders. And in the state of nature if anyone may punish someone for something bad that he has done, then everyone may do so. . . .
By breaking the law of nature, the offender declares himself to live by some rule other than that of reason and common fairness (which is the standard that God has set for the actions of men, for their mutual security); and so he becomes dangerous to mankind because he has disregarded and broken the tie that is meant to secure them from injurya nd violence. This is an offence against the whole human species, and against the peace and safety that the law of nature provides for the species. Now, every man, by the right he has to preserve mankind in general, may restrain and if necessary destroy things that are noxious to mankind; and so he can do to anyone who has transgressed that law as much harm as may make him repent having done it, and thereby deter him—and by his example deter others—from doing the same. So for this reason every man has a right to enforce the law of nature and punish offenders.
So there are two distinct rights: (i) the right thateveryone has, to punish the criminal so as to restrain himand prevent such offences in future; (ii) the right that an injured party has to get reparation. Now, a magistrate, who by being magistrate has the common right of punishing put into his hands, can by his own authority (i) cancel the punishment of a criminal offence in a case where the public good doesn't demand that the law be enforced; but he can't (ii) cancel the satisfaction due to any private man for the damage he has received. The only one who can do that is the person who has been harmed. The injured party has the power of taking for himself the goods or service of the offender, by right of self-preservation; and everyone has a power to punish the crime to prevent its being committed again, by the right he has of preserving all mankind, and doing everything reasonable that he can to that end. And so it is that in the state of nature everyone has a power to kill a murderer, both to deter others from this crime that no reparation can make up for, by the example of the punishment that everyone inflicts for it, and also to secure men from future crimes by this criminal; the murderer has renounced reason, the common rule and standard God has given to mankind, and by the unjust violence and slaughter he has committed on one person he has declared war against all mankind, so that he can be destroyed as though he were a lion or a tiger.... This is the basis for the great law of nature, Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed. Cain was so fully convinced that everyone had a right to destroy such a criminal that after murdering his brother he cried out ‘Anyone who finds me will slay me’—so plainly was this law written in the hearts of all mankind.
- To this strange doctrine of mine, namely that in the state of nature everyone has the power to enforce the law of nature, I expect this objection to be raised: It is unreasonable for men to be judges in their owncases, because self-love will bias men in favour of themselves and their friends. And on the other side, hostility, passion and revenge will lead them to punish others too severely. So nothing but confusion and disorder will follow, and that is why God has—as he certainly has—established government to restrain the partiality and violence of men. I freely allow that civil government is the proper remedy for the drawbacks of the state of nature. There must certainly be great disadvantages in a state where men may be judges in their own case; someone who was so unjust as to do his brother an injury will (we may well suppose) hardly be so just as to condemn himself for it! But I respond to the objector as follows
- If the state of nature is intolerable because of the evils that arebound to follow from men’s being judges in their own cases, and government is to be the remedy for this, let us do acomparison . On the one side there is the state of nature;on the other there is government whereone man—and remember that absolute monarchs are only men!—commands a multitude, is free to be the judge in his own case, and can do what he likes to all his subjects, with no-one being allowed to question or control those who carry out his wishes, and everyone having to put up with whatever he does, whether he is led by reason, mistake or passion. How much better it is in the state of nature, where no man is obliged to submit to the unjust will of someone else, and someone who judges wrongly (whether or not it is in his owncase) is answerable for that to the rest of mankind!
- The state of war is a state of enmity and destruction. Sowhen someone declares by word or action—not in a suddenoutburst of rage, but as a matter of calm settled design—thathe intends to end another man’s life, he puts himself into astate of war against the other person; and he thereby exposeshislife to the risk of falling into the power of the•other personor anyone that joins with•him in his defence and takes uphis quarrel. For it is reasonable and just that I should have aright to destroy anything that threatens me with destruction,because the fundamental law of nature says that men areto be preserved as much as possible, and that when noteveryone can be preserved the safety of the innocent is tobe preferred.·In line with this·, I may destroy a man whomakes war on me or has revealed himself as an enemy tomy life, for the same reason that I may kill a wolf or a lion;because such men are not under the ties of the common lawof reason, have no rule except that of force and violence, andso may be treated as beasts of prey—dangerous creaturesthat will certainly destroy me if I fall into their power.
17.So it comes about that someone who tries to get anotherman into his absolute power thereby puts himself into astate of war with the other, for such an attempt amountsto a declaration of a plan against thelifeof the other man.If someone wants to get me•into his power without myconsent, I have reason to conclude that he would use me ashe pleased when he had got me•there, and would destroyme if he wanted to; for no-one can want to have me in hisabsolute power unless it’s to compel me by force to somethingthat is against the right of my freedom, i.e. to make me aslave. To be sure of my own survival I must be free from suchforce; and reason tells me to look on him—the person who wants me in his power—as an enemy to my survival, wantingto take away the freedom that is the fence to it. So someonewho tries to enslave me thereby puts himself into a state ofwar with me. Someone wants to take away•the freedom ofsomeone else must be supposed to have a plan to take away•everything else from the person, because freedom is thefoundation of all the rest; and that holds in a commonwealthas well as in the state of nature.18.This makes it lawful for me to kill a thief who hasn’tdone me any harm or declared any plan against my life, otherthan using force to get me in his power so as to take awaymy money or whatever else he wants. No matter what heclaims he is up to, he is using force without right, to get meinto his power; so I have no reason to think that he won’t,when he has me in his power, take everything else away fromme as well as my liberty. So it is lawful for me to treat himas someone who has put himself into a state of war with me,i.e. to kill him if I can; for that is the risk he ran when hestarted a war in which he is the aggressor.
Hobbes' State of Nature is a state of appetite and self-interest -- Locke's is a state of non-domination
Locke's Non-Aggression Principle¶
though this is a state of liberty, it isn’t a state of licence in which there are no constraints on how people behave. A man in that state is absolutely free to dispose of himself or his possessions, but he isn’t at liberty to destroy himself, or even to destroy any created
thing in his possession unless its destruction is required for some nobler purpose. The state of nature is governed by a law that creates obligations for everyone. And reason, which is that law, teaches anyone who takes the trouble to consult it, that because we are all equal and independent, no-one ought to harm anyone else in his life, health, liberty, or possessions. This is because:
- we are all the work of one omnipotent and infinitelywise maker;
- we are all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order to do his business; (common telos/team)
- we are all the property of him who made us, and he made us to last as long as he chooses, not as long as we choose; (bias against action because of unknown greater telos)
- we have the same abilities, and share in one common nature, so there can’t be any rank-ordering that wouldauthorize some of us to destroy others, as if we weremade to be usedcby one another, as the lower kindsof creatures are made to be used by us. Everyone is obliged to preserve himself and not opt out oflife willfully, so for the same reason everyone ought, whenhis own survival isn’t at stake, to do as much as he can topreserve the rest of mankind; and except when it’s a matterof punishing an offender, no-one may take away or damageanything that contributes to the preservation of someoneelse’s life, liberty, health, limb, or goods.7.So that•all men may be held back from invading therights of others and from harming one another, and so that•the law of nature that aims at the peace and preservationof all mankind may be obeyed, the enforcement of that lawof nature (in the state of nature) is in every man’s hands, sothat everyone has a right to punish law-breakers as severelyas is needed to hinder the violation of the law. For the law ofnature, like every law concerning men in this world, would befutile if no-one had power to enforce it and thereby preservethe innocent and restrain offenders. And in the state ofnature ifanyonemay punish someone for something badthat he has done, theneveryonemay do so. . . .8.That is how in a state of nature one man comes to havea·legitimate·power over another. It isn’t an unconditionalpower, allowing him to use a captured criminal accordingto the hot frenzy or unbridled extremes of his own will;but only a power to punish him so far as calm reason andconscience say is proportionate to his crime, namely as muchpunishment as may serve for•reparation and•restraint—for•those two are the only reasons why one man may lawfullyharm another, which is what we call ‘punishment’. Bybreaking the law of nature, the offender declares himselfto live by some rule other than that of reason and commonfairness (which is the standard that God has set for theactions of men, for their mutual security); and so he becomesdangerous to mankind because he has disregarded andbroken the tie that is meant to secure them from injuryand violence. This is an offence against the whole·human·species, and against the peace and safety that the law ofnature provides for the species. Now, every man, by the righthe has to preserve mankind in general, may restrain and ifnecessarydestroythings that are noxious to mankind; andso he can do to anyone who has transgressed that law asmuch harm as may make him repent having done it, andthereby deter him—and by his example deter others—fromdoing the same. So for this reasonevery man has a right toenforce the law of nature and punish offenders.
In 6, the license for noble use?
"no one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions....Everyone as he is is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his Station willfully...and may not unless it be to do Justice on an Offender, take away, o"
"there cannot be supposed any such Subordinatio
"State of Nature" is really talking about the kinds of passions (emotional drives) that people have.
Feudalism had within it aligned physical power, political power, and economic power, which kept it stable.
Post-feadalism, there needed to be inducement to citizens to not disrupt the status quo. Locke's arguments are internal bargains between various passions (mostly, bargaining with the desire for safety and security) to induce citizens to behave.
Liberalism is often seen as a restriction on the powers of the state, but it was also a restriction on newfound powers of individuals. It was a new negotiation between the state and individuals when individuals had just gained a lot more potential power.
- goal as lower bound
- nature as non-dominance (more natural -- minus dominance hierarchies)
- nature as passions (more natural -- minus regulation of passions)
- fear, anger
- common protection of rights