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Locke on the state - Essay Example

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Locke on the state

In order to understand a normative account of government, it is useful to understand the descriptive. By examining theories regarding the human state of nature, it is possible to set forth standards and norms by which people ought to live, including those relating to who should rule. This essay will analyze Locke's account of the origins and purpose of governance, with the aim of understanding how supporting the conflicting ideals of autonomy and authority might be remedied.
Locke's state of nature comprises three elements; a state of perfect freedom, a state of equality and a state of natural law, which commands "no-one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions" (9). Accepting these elements is of fundamental importance in understanding the origins and role of government, but there are problems to be overcome. The natural law immediately limits the scope of the first, in that we do not have a perfect freedom to jeopardize another person's safety or invade their property. Secondly, if every person is equal, there is no natural claim to authority, which seems to conflict with the notion of obeying the law as set down by a government. The inclusion of the moral law in Locke's state of nature helps us to understand the motivations behind an argument for setting up a political governing body. We may all be equal on Earth, but the existence of a natural law which states we are duty bound not to harm others implies the existence of an objective morality as created by some other superior being, i.e. God.
This theological aspect of Locke's account is important. It means that every individual is at liberty to behave in a way which fits within the parameters of a natural moral duty. Furthermore, as the law is created by a superior being, there must be some reason to accept that the law should be upheld. Although it might seem absurd, in this day and age to accept an appeal to God as a reason to accept an argument, Locke also appeals to an idea of natural reason which is inherent in all of us. Co-operation with the natural law ensures our survival, and so it is unreasonable to think anyone would object to it. Hence, each person is not only equally bound to abide by the natural law, but each person is also equally bound to ensure that others abide by it. "In transgressing the law of nature, the offender declares himself to live by another rule other than that of reason" (Locke 10), and so offers himself up to be punished by those who have not. The equality of every man within a state of nature also means that each individual who has not broken the natural law has the right to punish the offender. The severity of that punishment should be adequate not only to ensure the perpetrator does not commit the same act again, but also act as a deterrent for other would-be criminals to do something similar. From this reasoning, it is believed that mankind will be preserved and live in a state of relative security.
By Locke's own admission, this right to punish, may seem like "a very strange doctrine" (10), but without it, the law of the land would only apply to those who are naturally resident within it. Foreigners who have not consented to domestic legal policy would be free to act under their own standards and so the freedoms and safety of native habitants would be in doubt. It must then be a natural law that governs all mankind, regardless of cultural ...Show more
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Summary

Carefully explain and evaluate Locke's account of the origins and purpose of political governance, together with how submission to common legislative, judicial and executive bodies can be consistent with the preservation of one's natural rights to life, liberty, equality and private property.
Author : walterbertha
Locke on the state
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