Friday, January 27, 2012

Locke Again on Liberty and Equalty

In Search of the Republic--29

Locke devoted the entire First Treatise of Government to answering Robert Filmer's claim that patriarchal authority given by God to Adam evolved into contemporary absolute monarchical authority. As Locke unfolded his theory about the true origins of government in his Second Treatise, he devote an additional chapter to elaborate on the differences between partriarchal and political power. In that chapter, Locke elaborated on some concepts that he introduced eartlier: liberty and equality. And he sees these two concepts as inextricably linked.

First, perhaps anticipating the charge of being a "leveler," Locke explains that he does not endorse indiscrimininate equality:

"Though I have said above, Chap. II. That all men by nature are equal, I cannot be supposed to understand all sorts of equality: age or virtue may give men a just precedency: excellency of parts and merit may place others above the common level: birth may subject some, and alliance or benefits others, to pay an observance to those to whom nature, gratitude, or other respects, may have made it due: and yet all this consists with the equality, which all men are in, in respect of jurisdiction or dominion one over another; which was the equality I there spoke of, as proper to the business in hand, being that equal right, that every man hath, to his natural freedom, without being subjected to the will or authority of any other man."

According to Locke, merit, character, age, and even  social status may demand distinctive levels of respect or deference. None of these, accrding to Locke, conflict with  assertion of natural equality--that every man possess the right to exercise his natural liberty without the permission  and without being subject to the arbitrary will or authority of any other man.

And lest readers be confused about the liberty he envisioned, Locke again explicated the relationship between liberty and law:

"For law, in its true notion, is not so much the limitation as the direction of a free and intelligent agent to his proper interest, and prescribes no farther than is for the general good of those under that law: could they be happier without it, the law, as an useless thing, would of itself vanish; and that ill deserves the name of confinement which hedges us in only from bogs and precipices. So that, however it may be mistaken, the end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom: for in all the states of created beings capable of laws, where there is no law, there is no freedom: for liberty is, to be free from restraint and violence from others; which cannot be, where there is no law: but freedom is not, as we are told, a liberty for every man to do what he lists: (for who could be free, when every other man's humour might domineer over him?) but a liberty to dispose, and order as he lists, his person, actions, possessions, and his whole property, within the allowance of those laws under which he is, and therein not to be subject to the arbitrary will of another, but freely follow his own."

In other words, men enter into political society and and subject themselves to law in order to make secure their liberties. Because the state of nature is a precarious one, one's liberties never are secure. Moreover, in a state of nature each man is responsible for defending his own liberties. In order to secure their liberties, men leave the state of nature and establishing a political society. In doing so, they form one political body authorized to enact laws for the public good. Moreover, in political society men relinguish the right to punish privately those who infringe upon their rights. The supreme government makes laws on behalf of each individual to protect their rights and executes punishment on behalf of each individual to those who break those laws.

As Locke summarizes it:

"But though men, when they enter into society, give up the equality, liberty, and executive power they had in the state of nature, into the hands of the society, to be so far disposed of by the legislative, as the good of the society shall require; yet it being only with an intention in every one the better to preserve himself, his liberty and property; (for no rational creature can be supposed to change his condition with an intention to be worse) the power of the society, or legislative constituted by them, can never be supposed to extend farther, than the common good; but is obliged to secure every one's property, by providing against those three defects above mentioned, that made the state of nature so unsafe and uneasy. And so whoever has the legislative or supreme power of any common-wealth, is bound to govern by established standing laws, promulgated and known to the people, and not by extemporary decrees; by indifferent and upright judges, who are to decide controversies by those laws; and to employ the force of the community at home, only in the execution of such laws, or abroad to prevent or redress foreign injuries, and secure the community from inroads and invasion. And all this to be directed to no other end, but the peace, safety, and public good of the people."

1 comment:

Mrs. AL (Always Learning) said...

This series should be required reading in high school and above. Thanx again for posting this!!!!