PHIL 41150: Political Philosophy
Dr. Robert Lane
Lecture Notes: Monday March 24, 2003

[3.] The Political Relationship (Second Treatise ch. VII - IX).


In the transition from the state of nature to civil society, individuals keep some natural rights (e.g. the natural right to defend oneself -- the exception to the otherwise exclusive right of the state to use force) but they surrender many others to the state (e.g., the natural right to punish others -- the state has the exclusive right to use force). The question for Locke is: how is this transition from the state of nature to civil society morally justified?


[3.1.] Turning Over the EPLN.


Locke describes the transition in a rough way in ch.VII: all men have the natural right judge of and punish the breaches of that law [viz. the natural law] in others, as he is persuaded the offence deserves, even with death itself, in crimes where the heinousness of the fact, in his opinion, requires it. But because no political society can be, nor subsist, without having in itself the power to preserve the property, and, in order therunto, punish the offences of all those of that society; there and there only is political society, where every one of the members hath quitted his natural power [i.e. the executive power of the law of nature], resigned it up into the hands of the community in all cases that excludes him not from appealing for protection to the law established by it. (VII:87, p.480, emphasis added)


So very roughly, Locke's view is that a political society is one in which all individuals have turned over their EPLN to "the community". The community then becomes a sort of "umpire," with the authorityN to:

1)      settle disagreements among individuals as to whether the law of nature has been violated

2)      decide on what punishments should accompany specific violations ("the power of making laws," VII:88)

3)      punish those from outside the community who injure members of the community ("the power of war and peace, VII:88)

4)      "employ" the "force" of its members to execute its laws

The purpose of all this is to preserve "the property [including the bodies and lives] of all the members of that society, as far as is possible." (VII:88)


This echoes Locke's definition of political power from back in ch.I:


Political power, then, I take to be a right of making laws and penalties of death, and consequently all less penalties for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the force of the community, in the execution of such laws, and in the defence of the commonwealth from foreign injury; and all this only for the public good. (I:3, p.461)


So in effect, political society comes into being when individuals turn over their EPLN to a community. This is Locke's answer to our Question 1: "What is a Political Society?"


[3.2.] From State of Nature to Civil Society.


The transition from state of nature to civil society takes place in two steps:


1.      the creation of a community that collectively possesses everyone's EPLN:


"The only way, whereby any one divests himself of his natural liberty, and puts on the bonds of civil society, is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community, for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security against any, that are not of it." (VIII:95, p.481, emphasis added)


         This community is like "one body, with a power to act as one body, which is only by the will a determination of the majority." (VIII:96, p.481) I.e., in creating a community, individuals are combining themselves into a single entity with the ability to make decisions by way of considering what the majority of its constituents desire.

         The transfer of the collective EPLN is based on voluntary consent: "Men being, as has been said, by nature, all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent." (VIII:95, p.481) [the consent can be explicit or implicit ("express" or "tacit"; see VIII:119-121, pp.482-3]


But the community is not the state -- as of yet, "there is no formally constituted body" that makes and enforces laws.[i] Such a body is created in the second step:


2.      the transfer of the collective EPLN to a constitutional form:


         The community transfers the collective EPLN to a constitutional form, not directly to specific individuals; it's the constitutional form that enables the identification of particular persons who will rightfully exercise political power

         Members can decide to confer the ELPN to:

1.       a democracy

2.       an oligarchy

3.       a (constitutional, not absolute) monarchy [on these different forms of government, see Ch.X, p.485].

         The selection of constitutional form is made by majority rule; in step 1, each individual implicitly agreed to abide by the decisions of the majority of persons in the community; if this isn't the case then

         every individual in the community will have just as much freedom to do as he desires as he has in the state of nature (XIII:97, p.482)

         the only alternative would be to gain unanimous consent, which is practically impossible (XIII:98, p.482)



[i] Thomas, Locke on Government p.25.

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