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People Power

Essay by 24  •  August 29, 2010  •  1,792 Words (8 Pages)  •  1,318 Views

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Like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke discusses the idea of the commonwealth, or as he more frequently titles it political or civil society. Locke believes that man is born with a title to perfect freedom. This concept of freedom is a power given by the law of Nature to man for the preservation of, "his property, that is, his life, liberty and estate, against the injuries and attempts of other men"(Locke 350). Man is thus given the power to judge and punish those who have infringed upon his rights. Wherever a group of men quit this executive power of the law of nature, and give it to the public, political or civil society will emerge. "And this puts men out of a state of Nature into that of a commonwealth, by setting up a judge on Earth, with authority to determine all controversies."(352) Man chooses to enter into this civil society with the belief that it will make laws that are for the public good. By doing this man is consenting to the rule of the political body and has vowed to submit to the determination of the majority. It is here only by man's consent that he can be part of civil society. Locke feels that absolute monarchy is inconsistent with this concept of civil society and therefore can never be a form of civil government. It places no common authority over all and thus, by investing the authority in one person, the entire system suffers. Locke feels that only through a commonwealth can man live in peace and harmony with his fellow man without the threat of harm or theft of property from others.

The concept of consent is extremely important to Locke's theory. Without this consent man cannot be subjected to the political power of another because by nature, men are all free, equal and independent. By confirming to unite into a community man strips himself of his natural liberties and consents to the laws of civil society. Therefore, Locke asserts, "For when any number of men have, by the consent of every individual, made a community, they have thereby made that community one body, with a power to act as one body, which is only by the will and determination of the majority."(353) Meaning that each man gives up his own private judgments in favor of those of the majority. There are two forms of consent according to Locke, express and tacit consent. Express consent is that which man enters into a society to become a subject of that government. Tacit consent is referring to what should be considered consent where the individual hasn't made any indications of it at all. Locke explains that tacit consent to the community is given when a man possesses or enjoys anything from the jurisdiction of that government. "Since the government has a direct jurisdiction only over the landÐ'...only as he dwells upon, and enjoys that: the obligation any one is under, by virtue of such enjoyment, to submit to the government, begins and ends with enjoyment."(355) Once man gives his consent to be a part of the commonwealth he is bound to remain permanently a subject to it, unless it becomes dissolved.

If men in the state of Nature have the right to property and freedom, then why would they concede everything to be under the control of a greater power? Locke answers this as man being fearful of the dangers others may impose upon their property. "This makes him willing to quit a condition, which however free, is full of fears and continual dangers"(356). Man joins into this civil society because the goal of the body is that of mutual preservation of the life, liberties and estates of its people. "The great and chief end therefore, of men's uniting into commonwealthsÐ'...is the preservation of their property"(357). The preservation of property is the intention of the community to preserve man's property and liberty for only the common good, which in the state of Nature could never exist.

Locke states that by a commonwealth he does not particularly mean democracy; rather he uses the term to underscore the point that the community, regardless of its form of government, exists for the commonwealth, for the good of all. The preservation of the society and of every person in it is the first and fundamental natural law. As is the establishment of legislative power the first and fundamental positive law of all commonwealths. "This legislative is not only the supreme power of the commonwealth, but sacred and unalterable in the hands where the community have once placed it"(359). Locke identifies the legislative power as being the most important part of the government. No one may challenge the power of the legislative body, or pass laws of their own; the majority invests all such power in this body and every member of society must adhere to the laws laid down by the legislative body. There are limits though to the power the legislative body possesses. The first is that the legislator cannot be absolutely arbitrary over the lives and fate of the people. "Their power in the utmost bounds of it, is limited to the public good of the society. It is a power, that has no other end but preservation, and therefore can never have a right to destroy, enslave or designedly to impoverish the subjects"(360). Moreover, the rules that the legislator makes for other men's actions must be comparable to the law of Nature. Secondly the legislative is bound to dispense justice. Thirdly, without the consent of man, the supreme power cannot take away his property. The last limitation of the legislator is that the legislator cannot transfer the power delegated to him of making laws to another.

Despite the high powers of the legislature, the people are still supreme over all, and have the power to remove or alter the legislation, as they deem best. "There can be but one supreme power, which is the legislative, to which all the rest are and must be subordinate, yet the legislative being only a fiduciary power to act for certain ends, there remains still in the people a supreme power to remove or alter the legislative, when they find the legislative act contrary to

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