Sunday, February 5, 2012

Locke on Revolution

In Search of the Republic--33

In his concluding chapter, Locke discusses the dissolution of government. Although Locke directly mentions neither Charles II nor James II, the context of his comments refer to their reigns. Indeed, some historians believe Locke added portions of this concluding chapter after the revolution of 1688.

Locke identifies two general ways in which the government is dissolved: when legislature is altered and when executive acts contrary to the trust given by the people.

Locke calls the legislature the “the soul that gives form, life, and unity, to the common-wealth.” Therefore, “therefore, when the legislative is broken, or dissolved, dissolution and death follows.”

He lists four ways the legislature dies, all attributed ultimately to the executive. He alone has the power and means to do so:

First, That when such a single person, or prince, sets up his own arbitrary will in place of the laws, which are the will of the society, declared by the legislative, then the legislative is changed:

Secondly, When the prince hinders the legislative from assembling in its due time, or from acting freely, pursuant to those ends for which it was constituted, the legislative is altered

Thirdly, When, by the arbitrary power of the prince, the electors, or ways of election, are altered, without the consent, and contrary to the common interest of the people, there also the legislative is altered

Fourthly, The delivery also of the people into the subjection of a foreign power, either by the prince, or by the legislative, is certainly a change of the legislative, and so a dissolution of the government: for the end why people entered into society being to be preserved one entire, free, independent society, to be governed by its own laws; this is lost, whenever they are given up into the power of another.”

The executive authority dissolves the government in two general ways. First, he tries to set up his own arbitrary authority in place of duly enacted laws. Second, when he corrupts the legislature through money or offices, or threats.

What I have said here, concerning the legislative in general, holds true also concerning the supreme executor, who having a double trust put in him, both to have a part in the legislative, and the supreme execution of the law, acts against both, when he goes about to set up his own arbitrary will as the law of the society. He acts also contrary to his trust, when he either employs the force, treasure, and offices of the society, to corrupt the representatives, and gain them to his purposes; or openly preengages the electors, and prescribes to their choice, such, whom he has, by solicitations, threats, promises, or otherwise, won to his designs; and employs them to bring in such, who have promised before-hand what to vote, and what to enact.”

And when the government is dissolved through miscarriages of those in authority, the supreme power returns to the people.

And the people have a right to act as supreme, and continue the legislative in themselves; or erect a new form, or under the old form place it in new hands, as they think good.

To those who cynically ask, “Who is to judge whether or not the Prince or the legislature has acted contrary to their trust, Locke provides a brief, resounding answer:

The people shall be judge.”

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