One of the most notable philosophers and greatest thinkers in history, John Locke, devoted his works on political philosophy which provided insights about the interaction between humans and the government. His views pertain to a civil society wherein the citizens are bestowed with rights and are bounded by the laws that the government imposed. His perceptions about civil society can be found on a detailed account in his work entitled, Two Treatises of Government.
One aspect that Locke has discussed in his book is about the state of nature. He argues that humans behave the way they do out of their capacity to reason. Within this state of nature, humans act in an orderly fashion because they are under the laws of the government which is what he refers to as the entry of human in a social contract. Given the logic and the capacity to reason, it entails a natural state for humans to act freely without any interventions from other people. However, Locke pointed out that though this freedom is natural among rational men, this also has its limitation. In his own words:
Though this is a state of liberty, it is not a state of license. Though man in that state have an uncontrollable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, but where some use than its bare preservation calls for it. (Locke 191).
Under the state of nature, humans are all equal because of the possession of logic and thus, being made by one “sovereign master,” the law which governs the state of nature obliges each individual to respect other’s freedom.
To be able to materialize that law of nature, humans created the government where laws are to be made and to conduct the behavior of the citizens. These laws entitle its constituents of services, benefits, and protection which they thoroughly enjoy. Locke pertains to a civil government which is created by the people. Its very essence boils down to the fact that it is the people to be governed who decide for the welfare of the society. He emphasized that since making a united decision would be difficult, the majority will have to dominate. The very nature of the government is composed of the people who are being governed, with separate departments – executive and legislative – that are established to make sure that the will of the people is heard. At the same time, checks and balance must be assured between these departments in order to avoid abuse of power which will cause social disorder.
Aforementioned is the government being created by the people and thus, can be taken away by the people. Social disorder caused by the abuse of power will lead people to take the matter in their own hands by means of a revolution. Unlike Hobbes who views revolution as a cruel product of human’s anarchical behavior as part of his or her nature, Locke perceived revolution as a necessary part of the civil society. Hobbes have favored monarchy over the rule of the people because of revolution and indicated that to maintain social order, a strict king is needed to conduct the people’s behavior. While Locke indicated the necessity of revolution to topple leaders who serve personal interests using the power vested by the people, he stated that revolution should only be utilized if it failed to protect the “life, health, liberty and possessions” of the people.
Their contrasting views are derived from different historical contexts where Hobbes’ saw revolution results into absolute chaos in his society, while Locke who has had enough of monarchical abuse saw revolution as a solution to pave the way for a government which is focused on the people. Contrary to Hobbes, Locke highly regards human intellect and reason which are traits different from other creatures. The people know their well-being and thus made the government as their embodiment, a representation.
Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government. London: Whitmore and Fenn, 1821.