Readings for this part of your journey
The Second Treatise of Civil Government edited by Macpherson
The Second Treatise of Civil Government
In this section of the course we are going to explore Locke's
Second Treatise of Civil Government. Locke is a political
philosopher of the first importance, but he was not an arm-chair theorist.
Locke, as you shall see, was involved in the historical events of the last
three and a half decades of the seventeenth century which led to the
Glorious Revolution of 1688 in which James II was forced to flee to France
being replaced on the throne of England by William of Orange and his wife
Mary (daughter of James II). This relatively peaceful revolution was of
enormous importance in English history as it represents the point at which
power shifts finally from the King to Parliament.
In the Second Treatise Locke is asking questions which were of
fundamental importance in making the Whig case that the house of Stuart
was abusing its powers. Machaivelli had asked questions like: "How should
a prince rule so as to stay in power?" Locke is asking another question.
Locke wants to know what the difference is between a legitimate and an
illegitimate civil government. If someone were to ask you this question
right now -- would you have a good answer? Try it. Here is a form.
Please use it to try to explain what the difference is between a
legitimate civil government which is properly doing its job, and a
government which is not, one against which its citizens could legitimately
If you found that exercise difficult, you will find that by the end of
this section of the course you will have a clear view of at least one
answer to this question -- the one supplied by Locke's Second Treatise
of Civil Government.
You have already been introduced to
John Locke (1632-1704), the author of the Second Treatise of Civil
Government in the preceding unit of this course. Locke's father
fought on the puritan and Parliamentary side in the early part of the
English Civil War. Locke was an Oxford scholar and doctor who became
involved with the great political conflicts in England after the
Restoration of Charles II. Locke is famous for writing An Essay
Concerning Human Understanding, which deals with the extent and
limits of human understanding. Locke is also famous for writing the
Two Treatises of Civil Government and the Letters Concerning
Toleration which deal with conflicts in English politics and
religion. Locke's views have had an enormous impact on our thinking in
various ways. The Letters Concerning Toleration, for example,
argue for a distinction between Church and State which was influential
among the founding fathers of the United States. Locke's prestige as a
philosopher gave weight to his arguments. Similarly, the Second
Treatise along with his other works, very much impressed Thomas
Jefferson. So, Locke's ideas very likely played a role in the writing of
the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
Scholars have debated the extant of Locke's influence in the colonies, on
Jefferson and the Declaration as well as on those who wrote the Federalist
papers and the Consititution. The current state of scholarship would say
that Locke did have some considerable influence.
Earl of Shaftsbury
Anthony Ashley Cooper was a very
rich commoner, who became involved in government under the Commonwealth.
When that government began to collapse after the death of Oliver Cromwell,
Shaftsbury became involved in the consultations and negotiations which led
to the restoration of Charles II. After the Restoration in 1660 Anthony
Ashley Cooper played a major role in the English government and politics.
He was a hard working government official.
Locke met Anthony Ashley Cooper in 1666 and moved to London the next
year to become his personal physician, secretary researcher, political
operative and friend. Living with him Locke found himself at the very
heart of the storm in English politics in the 1670s and 1680s. In 1668
Locke oversaw an operation in which a suppurating cyst was removed from
his patron's liver. (Locke's recorded observations are sufficiently good
that modern doctors have no trouble determining what Lord Ashley's ailment
was). Miraculously Cooper survived the operation. (Remember this was a
time before the theory of germs!) The family gave Locke all the credit for
the success of the operation.
Lord Ashley eventually became Lord Chancellor of England and at that
point was made the First Earl of Shaftsbury. Shaftsbury eventually had a
falling out with the King (who probably never trusted him since he had
been part of the Commonwealth government). He was dismissed as Lord
Chancellor in 1672 and became the leader of the opposition to the
government. He was the leader of the Country Party (which shortly became
the Whig party) in opposition to the Court party (which became the