Second Treatise of Government | John Locke

Summary of: Second Treatise of Government: The Original Classic Edition
By: John Locke


Dive into the world of John Locke’s ‘Second Treatise of Government: The Original Classic Edition’ and explore the fundamental principles at the heart of his political philosophy. Through this summary, you’ll unravel the concept of the state of nature, where individuals are governed by natural laws granted by God; and how property, labor and ownership are interwoven within it. Discover the limitations on ownership, Locke’s approach towards slavery, and the differences between parental and political power. Uncover his thoughts on legitimate political systems, the separation of powers, and understand the limitations and responsibilities of the executive and legislative branches.

Living in the State of Nature

The state of nature is a society without government or laws. In this state, everyone is free and equal, and the only law is the law of nature. This code of ethics is inherent in each of us and dictates that we should not harm others and should preserve ourselves and humankind. In the state of nature, we have the right to defend ourselves and our property against those who try to harm us, but we must do so reasonably. Punishment is only allowed for reparation and deterrence, without being excessive. For instance, if someone stole your banana in the state of nature, you could take the banana back and demand a cookie as reparation. But it would be unreasonable to beat or murder the thief, no matter how precious that banana was.

Limits of Ownership

In a system without government or laws, ownership can be a tricky concept. According to Locke, ownership is earned through labor. This means that people can own resources that originally belong to no one by dedicating labor to them. However, there are limits on ownership. Firstly, the law of nature dictates that we must respect others and their property. Secondly, we can’t own so much that there isn’t enough left for everyone else. And thirdly, we may only own as much as we can actually use or consume. Locke stressed that the earth and its resources were created for everyone’s use, and we must respect this by putting limits on the appropriation of land and other goods.

Locke’s Enlightened Thoughts on Slavery

In a time when slavery was rampant, John Locke’s philosophy on human freedom and the natural state of being was revolutionary. According to Locke, human beings are born free, and no power on earth has the right to interfere with this natural liberty. Although some argue that a person could willingly give up their freedom and become a slave, Locke believed that this was not possible under the laws of nature. Selling one’s work to others is acceptable, but offering one’s life and becoming property is not. The only possible circumstance in which a person may become a slave is when they forfeit their right to life through committing a serious crime. Overall, Locke places clear limits on slavery and ownership by appealing to the state of nature and the idea of natural liberty for all human beings.

Power in Parenting and Politics

The summary delves into the concept of power and how it is bestowed upon individuals in society, specifically in parenting and politics. The author of the book believes that children can be ruled by their parents until they exhibit reasoning faculties to govern themselves. On the other hand, political power is deemed legitimate only after the consensus of all individuals. Locke’s philosophy highlights the significance of obtaining people’s consent before any political power can be exercised. The book provides a powerful insight into the governing principles of society and discusses various ideas about the right to wield power among different individuals, including those belonging to different nations.

Justifying Conquest

The idea of subjugation through conquest has a strong historical precedent. However, no one has the right to exert power over people simply because they are stronger. Even in a just war, conquest does not justify political power. The conqueror’s power must be limited to those who have consented to battle, and their families’ rights must be protected. This summary delves into political power and how it can be justified, leading to an understanding of what a legitimate political system should look like.

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