Halifax and Locke. The final act in the drama of English politics in the seventeenth century came with climactic suddenness in the bloodless Revolution of 1688. The ill-judged efforts of James II to foster Catholicism touched Protestant opinion in England as the stupidities and degradation of Restoration government had not, for this question was settled. The bulk of Englishmen were unchangeable Protestant and after a brief experience with James were ready to decide that Protestant supremacy was essential.
The speed-and ease with which the Glorious Revolution was accomplished, though helped along by the incomparable fatuity of James, showed that more than Protestantism was settled. It laid the ghost of republicanism, if indeed that ghost was still able to walk, for no one worth mentioning wished to try again the sad experiment of the Commonwealth. England was to be a monarchy, but a monarchy controlled by parliament upon lines fixed by the results of the civil wars.
After the settlement of the succession in William and Mary there could never again be a doubt that the crown was in the keeping of parliament, if it chose to exert itself. English government thus settled into the form which it kept for upwards of a hundred years, and without the reforms of representation which seemed inevitable in 1650.
It was, indeed, a crass form of class-government, which in the course of the eighteenth century developed some of the worst abuses of class government, but still it was after its fashion representative, and in comparison with any other European government it might be called liberal. The principles of this settlement were summed up by the two most enlightened Englishmen of their generation, the statesman George Savile, First Marquis of Halifax, and the philosopher John Locke.
Though the threat of a Catholic dynasty probably occasioned the Revolution, the settlement closed a chapter in the relations of religion and politics. Never again would the two be united as they had been since the Protestant Reformation.
The Toleration Act was the only practicable basis for permanent peace between the churches, and though the Test Act survived to become a curiosity of English legislation, the injustice to Catholics and Dissenters was far different from persecution.
Nothing is clearer in the political thought of Halifax and Locke than the recession of doctrinal and ecclesiastical questions from the position of dominant interest which they had held. Locke as a young man had hoped for a policy of comprehension in the English church itself, and when this hope was defeated he turned to a theory of almost universal toleration and of practical separation between church and state.
Something not too remote from this was achieved in England by the Revolution, and more and more it became the accepted solution everywhere of this ancient problem. The whole intellectual temper of both Locke and Halifax was secular to a degree that would have been practically impossible fifty years before. The contrast even with Thomas Hobbes was striking.
Though he had been perhaps as nearly non-religious as any man that ever lived, he had devoted half of Leviathan to the problem of imperium and sacerdotium. Locke, whose personal life was a distillation of the best qualities of Puritanism, was able to pass the whole question over except as it affected his argument for toleration.
Both Halifax and Locke belonged in this respect to the eighteenth rather than the seventeenth century, they could meet theological dispute with the deadliest weapon, indifference. Personally religious and ethically Christian, Locke was profoundly reasonable and anti-dogmatic.
The same qualities of mind are discernible in the political theories of both Halifax and Locke. In both, common sense counts for more than logic. Both were cautious and willing to remain conservative where circumstances permitted. Both were in a marked degree pragmatic and compromising, not inclined to argue over much with what they took to be accomplished fact but inclined rather to accept and make the best of it. Halifax perhaps came nearer than any man in the seventeenth century to making this frame of mind a working political hypothesis.
No man had a greater distrust of large generalizations or a prettier wit for pricking bubbles. With characteristic irony and perhaps with a shade of gentlemanly indifference to careful thinking, he let himself off the hard task of making a positive theory; he was enlightened and penetrating in the highest degree, but he was essentially an empiric and a skeptic.
To a philosopher like Locke this easy-going distrust of generalization was not possible. He too was an empiricist but with a large residue of philosophic rationalism and a firm belief in self-evident principles of right and wrong. Unfortunately common sense is a poor organ for synthetizing really opposed philosophical positions.
The result in Locke was a series of compromises which always left the first principles unclear. It is true that his compromises satisfied nearly everyone for upwards of a half century and that by common sense he grasped firmly the fundamental ethical ideal of the English settlement, that of individual rights.
Yet his compromises went far to conceal the insufficiencies both of the ideal itself and of its realization in eighteenth-century England. As a consequence later political thought was related to Locke in a highly complex fashion
What chiefly impressed Halifax’s Inquiring and skeptical mind Is the fact that there are few if any general principles that hold good of government. It is, as he says, a coarse thing, made up mostly of expedients and compromises, with hardly a proposition in it that is not deceitful. A loud profession of principles is usually a pretense to cloak the pursuit of private or partisan advantage.
What men choose to call fundamentals, he says, is
a nail everybody would use to fix that which is good for them; for all men would have that principle to be immovable that serves their use at the time.
Fundamental is a word used by the laity, as the word sacred is by the clergy, to fix everything to themselves they have a mind to keep, that nobody else may touch it.
Nothing is more certain than that every human institution will change and the so-called fundamentals of government with them. The divine right of kings, the indefeasible rights of property or persons, and laws which may not be repealed or modified are all attempts to bind the future; they neither can nor ought to be effective. Laws and constitutions, he says, are made not once but a hundred times.
In themselves they can do little and in the end they mean just what those who interpret and administer and enforce them intend them to mean. The common law, he says, with evident reference to Coke, hovers in the clouds, except as it is set in motion by a court or an executive, and then it becomes whatever the execution of the court’s judgment makes of it.
In the last resort law and government depend upon the intelligence and good will of the persons who conduct them. Abstractions count for something, but concrete interests and forces for much. Government as Halifax envisaged it was mainly the business of a ruling class, but of an intelligent and public spirited class.
Its chief virtue is to be a practicable compromise between power and liberty, capable of expanding to meet an emergency, adaptable to changing circumstances, strong enough to keep the peace but liberal enough to avoid repression.
Despite this emphasis on the personnel of government, Halifax had too much experience of affairs to imagine that a government could de as it liked. Behind the government is the nation, and nations make governments, not contrariwise. A people who loses its king is still a people, but a king who loses his people is no longer a king.
There is in every nation a supreme power that alters the constitution as often as the good of the people requires. Some such principle of national life and self-preservation-which Halifax frankly admits he cannot define or forecast-is the nearest thing to a fundamental known to politics.
There is a natural reason of state, an undefinable thing, grounded upon the common good of mankind, which is immortal, and in all changes and revolutions, still preserveth its original right of saving a nation, when the letter of the law perhaps would destroy it.
This inherent power of self-development in a people will not and ought not to be curbed. The real power of a government depends upon its responsiveness to this internal drive. Without it neither constitutions nor force can long prevail. In this very general sense all government depends upon consent.
A representative body is the best practicable device for giving voice to a nation’s aspirations, but Halifax clearly regarded it as only a device. For practical purposes there must be room also for an indefinable power of leadership, a kind of omnipotence for great occasions, by which a nation may at some critical times be secured from ruin.
It is upon this basis of expediency and national history that Halifax constructed his estimate of the crisis in England. Abstractly, he says in his New Model at Sea, there are three possibilities. One would be absolute monarchy-he was thinking of France-which, he admits, has some advantages in unity and speed of execution.
But it destroys the competent state of freedom in which men ought to live, and in any event it is impossible in England both because of the national tradition and because England’s greatness must lie in trade, which is ‘the creature of liberty.
A second possibility, which might be theoretically preferable to monarchy, would be a commonwealth, but the invincible objection is that Englishmen do not like it. Monarchy is perhaps a thing of bells and tinsel, but the fact remains that England’s one experiment with a commonwealth ended in military dictatorship. The one remaining and the only real possibility, therefore, is a mixed monarchy, a constitutional government divided between king-and parliament.
Halifax was well content with the choice, for such government, he thought, gives the best compromise between power and liberty. It is a mean between absolute monarchy and commonwealth:
We take from one the too great power of doing hurt, and yet leave enough to govern and protect us; we take from the other, the confusion, the parity, the animosities, and the license, and yet reserve a due care of such a liberty, as may consist with men’s allegiance.
Parliaments may be troublesome but they give great strength to a wise administration.
In two respects, however, Halifax failed to understand the machinery of the new government. He did not see that ministers must become dependent on parliament and responsible to it, instead of being the personal choice of the monarch.
Probably no one could have seen this until the course of parliamentary history made it plain, and Halifax died before the evidence was fairly in. Very naturally, therefore, he failed to see also that political parties had become an inherent part of parliamentary government.
His judgment of parties was markedly hostile, an attitude due in part to his experience with the disreputable cabals of the Restoration and the intransigent factions of the revolutionary period, but also to a fastidiousness of temper that made it hard for him to cooperate when he could not control.
A party he judged to be at the best a kind of conspiracy against the rest of the nation, and party-discipline he felt to be incompatible with liberty of private opinion. This low estimate of political parties was typical until the publication of Burke’s Present Discontents in 1770.
Halifax’s political acumen surpassed that of every other English statesman of his age. Probably most historians would now agree with Macaulay’s assertion that through frequent and violent revolutions of public feeling, he almost invariably took that view of the great questions of his time which history has finally adopted.
He had, to be sure, almost no political theory; almost he said that no political theory was possible. Certainly none was possible for him in terms of the absolute rights and obligations-the strong blacks and whites with no grays that the seventeenth century characteristically loved.
In this qualifying temper, this willingness to compromise, this readiness to judge in terms of expedience, lay the note of the eighteenth century. His onslaught on fundamentals, side by side with Locke’s attack on innate ideas, was the antecedent to Hume’s empirical criticism of the theory of natural rights.
His emphasis upon expedience as an ever-present t2ctor in political adjustment was introductory to ethical and political utilitarianism, which was the only live social philosophy in England throughout most of the eighteenth century and which attained its mature influence only in the philosophical radicalism of Bentham and the Mills. Thus Halifax, though he would not have been flattered by being called a philosopher, displayed an intellectual temper which became an integral part of philosophy.
Locke: The Individual and the Community:-
The political philosophy of John Locke wore the guise of an occasional performance. It was contained in two essays published in 1690 with the avowed purpose of defending the Revolution, and of these essays the first, which was devoted to the refutation of Filmer, had no permanent importance.
In fact, however, the second treatise was far from being merely a tract for the times; it reached back into the past, right across the whole period of the civil wars, and joined hands with Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity, which had summed up the political thought of England at the close of the Reformation and before the break between parliament and the king.
Through Hooker Locke was joined with the long tradition of medieval political thought, back to St. Thomas, in which the reality of moral restraints on power, the responsibility of rulers to the communities which they ruled, and the subordination of government to law were axiomatic.
It was not that Locke was in any sense an antiquarian. The chief mark of his genius was neither learning nor logic but an incomparable common sense by which he gathered together the chief convictions, in philosophy, politics, morals,-and education, that the experience of the past had generated in the more enlightened minds of his generation.
By giving to these a simple and sober yet persuasive statement, he passed them on to the eighteenth century, where they became the matrix from which grew the later political philosophy both of England and the Continent.
The medieval tradition, which Locke tapped through Hooker, was an indispensable part of the constitutional ideals of the Revolution of 1688. The years of the civil wars had changed but had not destroyed it. Locke’s problem, therefore, was not to reproduce historically the thought of Hooker but to gather together anew the abiding elements of that thought and to restate them in the light of what had happened in the intervening century.
Of all the figures in this intervening century incomparably the most important for the development of a consistent political theory had been Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes, with his clear-cut proof that political absolutism can be deduced from rigidly individualist principles, was the opponent whom Locke should have undertaken to refute if he were to give an equally penetrating defense of constitutional government.
Unfortunately he did not assume this obligation in his second treatise but continued his refutation of Filmer. In view of Locke’s controversial purpose this Is understandable, for his royalist opponents were far from identifying themselves with Hobbes, who was unpopular with both sides.
Moreover, they had revived Filmer and had thus made him an obvious target. Filmer had the merit, also, for controversial purpose of being in some respects absurd and of seeming more absurd than he was. Locke failed to discriminate Filmer’s absurdities from his solid arguments, which were largely derived from Hobbes.
Since Locke intended his treatises for popular tracts, he made the obvious choice, but it detracted seriously from their philosophical incisiveness. They never came to terms with the hardest problems. This is indeed characteristic of his philosophy generally. Like most philosophies that lean heavily on common sense, it is often lacking in analytic thoroughness and therefore fails to get back to first principles.
So far as concerns his political philosophy, the gist of the issue may be stated as follows. The medieval tradition that reached Locke through Hooker, and the constitutional ideals followed in the settlement of 1688, held that government-the king specifically but not less parliament itself and every political agency-is responsible to the people or the community which it governs; its power is limited both by moral law and by the constitutional traditions and conventions inherent in the history of the realm.
Government is indispensable and its right is therefore in a sense indefeasible, but it is also derivative in the sense that it exists for the well-being of the nation. This argument clearly presumes the corporate or social reality of the community, not a difficult assumption in an age when society was regulated by custom and in any event a settled principle of the medieval Aristotelian-ism which inspired Hooker.
The main result of Hobbes’s analysis, however, had been to show that a community as such is a pure fiction, that it has no existence except in the cooperation of its members, that this cooperation is always due to advantages enjoyed by its members individually, and that it becomes a community only because some individual is able to exercise sovereign power.
Upon this analysis Hobbes had based his conclusion that subjection is unavoidable in any form of government, and that ideas such as contract, representation, and responsibility are meaningless unless backed by a sovereign’s power. Hence they are valid within the state but not for the state.
The logical opposition between these two points of view is extreme. The first is stated in terms of functions. It conceives both individuals and institutions as doing a socially valuable work, regulated by government for the good of all, and within the framework of the law which makes the group a community.
The second is stated in terms of individual self-satisfaction. It conceives society as composed of persons actuated by selfish motives, looking to law and government for security against their equally selfish fellows, and seeking the largest amount of private good consistent with keeping the peace.
If Locke could have adopted either point of view and rejected the other, he would have been more Consistent than he was. The circumstances under which he wrote required him to adopt both, and this Ought to have entailed an examination of principles and a synthesis of the highest order. It was in fact a task that exceeded Locke’s powers.
His defense of the Revolution was practically. upon the lines marked out by Hooker and already adopted in substance by Halifax. It assumes that the English people forms a social group persisting continuously through the changes of government required by its political evolution and setting moral standards which its rulers must respect.
On the other hand, there were urgent reasons why Locke had to adopt into his social philosophy a large part of Hobbes’s premises. With or without Hobbes’s systematically egoistic psychology a theory of society in terms of individual interests was in Locke’s day a foregone conclusion.
The whole drift of the theory of natural law was in this direction and to this tendency Locke made no small contribution. For he interpreted natural law as a claim to innate, indefeasible rights inherent in each individual. Of such rights that of private property is the typical case. Consequently his theory was by implication as egoistic as that of Hobbes.
Both government and society exist to preserve the individual’s rights, and the indefeasibly of such rights is a limitation on the authority of both. In one part of Locke’s theory, therefore, the individual and his rights figure as ultimate principles; in another society itself plays this part. There is nothing which adequately explains how both can be absolute.
The Natural Right to Property:-
Though Locke was not directly criticizing Hobbes, he attacked some ideas more typical of him than of Filmer, notably. the theory that the state of nature is a war of all against all. Locke held that the state of nature is one of peace, good will, mutual assistance and preservation. This is defended on the ground that the law of nature provides a complete equipment of human rights and duties.
The defect of the state of nature lies merely in the fact that it has no organization, such as magistrates, written law, and fixed penalties, to give effect to the rules of right. Everything that is ever right or wrong is so eternally; positive law adds nothing to the ethical quality of different kinds of conduct but merely provides an apparatus for effective enforcement. In the state of nature every man must protect his own as best he can, but his right to his own and his duty to respect what is another are as complete as ever they can become under government. It will be noted that this is exactly the ground that Thomas had taken centuries before Locke.
Locke was merely repeating Hooker and through him the medieval tradition about the relation between law and morals. If the fiction about a state of nature be laid aside, this can mean only one thing, namely, that moral rules are broader in their application than the rules of positive law and are valid whether governments observe them or not. Just what gives morality its force remains a question. It might depend upon divine will, or it might be rationally self-evident, or it might depend on the fact that society is more deeply ingrained in human nature than government and so sets standards that governments cannot defy, In any case Locke emphatically held that moral rights and duties are intrinsic and prior to law; governments are obligated to give effect by their law to what is naturally and morally right.
it is evident, then, that Locke’s whole theory depended upon explaining exactly what was meant by the law of nature upon which his pre political condition of mutual assistance rested and in accordance with which political society arose. At least it was incumbent on him to show why it was binding even without administration or enforcement. In fact he never gave and careful analysis of it at all, his most explicit treatment of it being merely incidental to his discrimination-following Aristotle and directed against Filmer-of paternal from political power.
Because it was traditional to discuss property in connection with the family, this had the effect of uniting his treatment of natural Jaw with his theory of the origin of private property. Before discussing the general-question of the validity which Locke attributed to natural law, therefore, it will be better to present his theory of the right to private property, for he constantly assumes that this is the type to which all natural rights are analogous.
In the state of nature, Locke believed, property was common in the sense that everyone had a right to draw subsistence from whatever nature offers, Here again he was bringing ideas from a far distant past. In the Middle Ages it had been not uncommon to suppose that common ownership is a more perfect and hence a more natural state than private ownership, the latter being attributed to the effects of sin upon human nature after the fall of man. In the Roman law also there existed the very different theory that private property begins with the appropriation of things which before had a common use though no communal ownership.
Locke departed from both theories by asserting that a man has a natural right to that with which he has mixed the labor of his body, as for example by enclosing and tilling land. Apparently he was generalizing from the example of colonists in a new land like America, but it is probable that he was influenced also by a strong sense of the superior productivity of private agricultural economy as compared with the communal tillage of a more primitive system.
Locke believed that greater production would raise the standard of living throughout the community. In the eighteenth century the enclosure of land did In fact increase the yield, but the capitalist landlord took advantage of his strategic position to sequestrate the benefits.
Whatever the origin of Locke’s theory may have been, his argument was that the right to private property arises because by labor a man extends, so to speak, his own personality into the objects produced. By expending his internal energy upon them he makes them a part of himself. In general their utility depends upon the labor expended upon them, and thus Locke’s theory led to the later labor-theories of value in classical and socialist economics.
From Locke’s theory of the origin of private property it follows that the right is prior even to the primitive society which he described as the state of nature. As he himself said, property is without any express compact of all the commoners.
It is a right which each individual brings to society in his own person, just as he brings the physical energy of his body. Hence society does not create the right and except within limits cannot justly regulate it, for both society-and government exist, in-part at least, to protect the prior private right of property.
This account of property, though introduced almost casually, had a profound effect on Locke’s whole social philosophy. He never said, and almost certainly did not believe, that there was no natural right except property. The expression which he most commonly used to enumerate natural rights was life, liberty, and estate.
Frequently, however, he used property where he seems to have meant any right, and since property was the only natural right which he examined at length, it was inevitable that it should stand out as the typical and important right. In any case, he conceived all natural rights on the same lines as property, that is to say, as attributes of the individual person born with him, and hence as indefeasible claims upon both society and government.
Such claims can never justly be set aside, science society itself exists to protect them; they can be regulated only to the extent that is necessary to give them effective protection. In other words, the life, liberty, arid estate of one person can be limited only to make effective the equally valid claims of another person to the same rights.
This theory, in all its social and political implications, was as egoistic as that of Hobbes. It is true that Locke drew a different picture of the state of nature. The war of all against all no doubt seemed to his common sense to be overdrawn, but like Hobbes he was saying in substance that society exists to protect property and other private tight, Which society does not create.
As a result the psychology which in eighteenth century grew out of Locke’s theory of mind was fundamentally egoistic in its explanation of human behavior. It ran in terms of pleasure and pain, and not like Hobbes’s in terms of self-preservation, a doubtful improvement-but the calculation of pleasure was ex, actually as self-centered as the calculation of security.
Hobbes’s better logic had its way in spite of Locke’s better feeling. By a strange any undersigned cooperation the two men fastened on social theory thy presumption that individual self-interest is clear and compelling, While a public or a social interest is thin and unsubstantial.
Perhaps the influence of Locke, precisely because it was less aware of its principle, was the more insidious. He left standing the old theory of natural lay with all its emotional connotations and almost religious compulsions but he completely changed, without knowing it, the meaning which the term had in writers like Hooker.
Instead of a law enjoining the common good of a society, Locke set up a body of innate, indefeasible individual rights which limit the competence of the community and stand as bars to prevent interference with the liberty and property of private persons.
Like later liberals he assumed that the two things preservation of the common good and protection of private rights come to the same thing. In the existing state of politics and industry perhaps this was measurably true, but there was no logical ground for it except the vague assumption that in the harmony of nature some, how good will be the final goal of ill. This sentimental trust in nature, quite unwarranted by anything that modern science or modern philosophy knew about it, ran right across the history of political and economic theory in the eighteenth century.
It is exceedingly difficult to understand exactly what Locke believed to be the philosophical justification for his theory of natural rights, or in other words to see how he meant to unite his political theory with his general philosophical position. That all individuals are endowed by their creator with a right to life, liberty, and estate, aside from all reference to their social and political associations, is certainly not a proposition for which any empirical proof can be given.
There seems to be no way whatever to prove it; it must stand, as Thomas Jefferson said, simply as self-evident, an axiom from which social and moral theorems can be deduced but which in itself is more obvious than any other ethical principle. Probably this is what Locke believed.
The tendency to regard natural law in moral and legal science as analogous to axioms in geometry was well settled in seventeenth century thought after Grotius, But even If some moral values are admitted to be self-evident, it Is far from obvious that they must take the form of innate individual rights. Probably Locke never really faced this question, since he seems not to have been aware how greatly his own theory of natural rights differed from the older versions of the theory.
If this latter question be put aside, however, it is still hard to see how Locke’s philosophical position warranted him in believing that an apparently self-evident proposition, in ethics or any other subject, is for that reason true. The first book of the Essay concerning Human Understanding was devoted to showing that no idea is innate, that is, so fundamentally a part of the mind that belief in it is warranted apart from evidence. For practical purposes this is the same as saying that self-evidence is not reliable, since even a false proposition, because of custom or habit, may appear to be obvious.
Undoubtedly Locke meant his attack on innate ideas to be a solvent for all kinds of prejudice, in morals and religion as well as in science. His own belief, that ideas come from the senses, he regarded as affording a basis for knowledge quite different from the spurious test of innateness.
In accord with this empirical theory of the origin of ideas, Locke gave up the belief that any empirical science-one which depended on the report of the senses about physical existences-could be demonstrably true. Yet he retained the current belief that any fully reliable science must be demonstrable. He supposed that reason was able to perceive necessary agreements and disagreements between some ideas and that these sufficed to support a few demonstrable sciences such as mathematics, and he supposed also that ethics was included among these.
Hence he believed that his political theory was supported by the self-evident truths of a demonstrable science of ethics. Thus his philosophy as a whole presented the anomaly of a theory of the mind which was in general empirical, joined with a theory of the sciences and a procedure in political science which was rationalist. The curious result in his social philosophy was a theory markedly tolerant and critical in defending religious freedom and capable of being highly dogmatic in defending rights of property.
In philosophy the weight of Locke’s influence was on the side of empiricism, that is, on the side of a psychology in which human knowledge and behavior are explained from the senses and in which the rules of conduct claim the validity of generalizations from experience. It was manifest that natural rights-indefeasible claims to liberty of action inherent in human beings whatever their social relationships or without social relationships could not be verified in this way, nor could they pass unchallenged as axioms after his refutation of innate ideas.
Thus it happened that his English successors in the first half of the eighteenth century (following suggestions in the Essay) rapidly developed a theory of behavior in terms of pleasure and pain, the first operating as a force of attraction and the second as one of repulsion, and a theory of value in which the greatest net sum of pleasures, after deducting the pains as negative quantities, was set up as the social| valuable end of conduct.
At first a mainly academic psychology allied to a theological ethics, this theory passed through a French medium into the hands of Bentham and the philosophical radicals. Logically, as Hume showed, it eliminated altogether Locke’s natural rights and fictions about the state of nature and a contract.
It remained egoistic,however, both in its psychological explanation of behavior and in its theory of value ethical, political, and economic and merely assumed the coincidence of individual freedom with the greatest public good The individualism of all social theory between Locke and John Stuart Mill depended less on logic than on its agreement with the interests of the class that mainly produced it.
Having described the state of nature as a condition of peace and mutual aid and having defined natural rights, on the analogy of property, as prior even to society, Locke next proceeded to derive civil society from the consent of its members.
This part of his theory suffered inevitably from the inherent contrariety of what he took from Hooker and what agreed with Hobbes. Civil power he had defined as the right of making laws with penalties for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the force of the community, in the execution of such laws all this only for the public good, Such a power can arise only by consent, and though this may be tacitly given, it must be the consent of each individual for himself.
For civil power can have no right except as this is derived from the individual right of each man to protect himself and his property. The legislative and executive power used by government to protect property is nothing except the natural power of each man resigned into the hands of the community, or resigned to the public,and it is justified merely because it is a better way of protecting natural rights than the self help to which each man is naturally entitled. This is the original compact by which men incorporate into one society; it is a bare agreement to unite into one political society, which is all the compact that is, or needs be, between the individuals, that enter into, or make up a commonwealth.
The difficulty with this theory is that Locke is nowhere clear as to what precisely does arise by the original compact. Is it society itself or only government? That the two are different he emphatically asserted at a later point in the second Treatise, where he argued that a political revolution which dissolves a government does not as a rule dissolve the community which that government rules.
Moreover, the individual resigns his natural right to the community or the public, which presumably must be some kind of entity if it can receive a grant of power. On the other hand, right is lodged, necessarily according to Locke’s theory, only in the hands of individuals until they resign it.
Yet he regarded this surrender of individual right as conditional against both society and government, for individual power is resigned only with an intention in everyone the better to preserve himself his liberty and property, and society itself is obliged to secure everyone’s property.
To clarify this problem those Continental writers, like Althusius and Pufendorf, who had elaborated the theory of compact most carefully, had postulated two contracts, the one between individuals giving rise to a community and the other between the community and its government. Some such position Locke tacitly assumes, though he nowhere states it. The twofold contract, of course, explains nothing, since the propriety of using the same concept to cover the two cases is really the doubtful point, but it does give formal clarity to the theory.
Formal clarity was not a quality which Locke greatly valued and hence he contented himself with a conflation of two points of view. The older theory which he got from Hooker assumed a community capable of holding its magistrates morally responsible; this he mainly followed in his defense of the Revolution as a justifiable effort to make English government serve the needs of English society. The newer theory, most clearly stated by Hobbes, assumed only individuals and their private interests, and this also Locke followed in so far as he made both society and government agencies for protecting life, liberty, and estate.
The two phases of Locke’s theory are united-very precariously, it must be admitted-by the hypothesis that an act of the community is constituted by the agreement of a majority of its members. The consent by which each person agrees with others to form a body politic obligates him to submit to the majority; as Pufendorf had argued, the fiction of a social contract must be helped out with the further fiction of unanimous consent. And the agreement of a majority is identical with an act of the whole society.
That which acts any community, being only the consent of the individuals of it, and it being necessary to that which is one body to move one way, it is necessary the body should move that way whither the greater force carries it, which is the consent of the majority.
This way of solving the difficulty, however, is open to objection from both sides. If an individual’s rights are really indefeasible, it is no better, for him to be deprived of them by a majority than by a single tyrant apparently it did not occur to Locke that a majority could be tyrannous.
Nor is there any good reason why an individualist should resign his private judgment merely because those who disagree with him are numerous. On the other hand, if the public or the community really has a unitary quality of its own, there is no a priori reason why its decision must always be made by a numerical majority. Older theories of popular sovereignty, such as Marsilio’s, had commonly held that the prevailing part of a community may be weighted for quality as well as for quantity. In general it cannot be said that the principle of majority-rule has any such obvious validity as Locke imputed to it.
Society and Government:-
On the whole Locke regarded the setting up of a government as a much less important event than the original compact that makes a civil society. Once a majority has agreed to form a government, the whole power of the community is naturally in them. The form of the government depends upon what disposition the majority, or otherwise the community, makes of its power. It may be retained or it may be delegated to a legislative body of one form or another. Following the experience of the English Revolution, Locke assumed that the legislative power is supreme in government, though he admitted the possibility that the executive may share in lawmaking. Both powers, however, are limited.
Legislative power can never be arbitrary, for even the people who set it up had no such power; it cannot rule by ex-temporary decrees, since men unite to have known law and judges; it cannot take property without consent, which Locke interprets to mean by majority-vote; and it cannot delegate its legislative power, since this is unalterably in the hands where the community has placed it. In general, its power is fiduciary, since the people have supreme power to alter the legislature when it acts contrary to the trust reposed in it.
The executive is further limited by a general dependence on the legislature and also because the prerogative is limited by law. For the sake of freedom it is important that legislative and executive power should not be in the same hands. Every detail of Locke’s account of the relation between legislatures and executives reflects some phase of the controversy between the king and the parliament.
The power of the people over government, however, is still rot quite as complete in Locke as it came to be in later and more democratic theories. Though he called the power of the legislature fiduciary and a delegation from the majority that acts for the community, he retained the older view that the grant of the community divests the people of power so long as the government is faithful to its duties. In this respect his theory was logically somewhat arbitrary, as Rousseau later pointed out.
For if government is merely the trustee of the people, it is hard to see why the principal should have bound his hands by executing the trust. The people’s legislative power is in effect limited to a single act (though Locke admits that a democracy is conceivable), namely, that of setting up a supreme legislature. Even if the community resumes its power for good cause, it cannot do so till the government be dissolved.
A democrat like Rousseau naturally considered this to be an unwarranted limitation on the perpetual power of the people to govern itself as it saw fit. Probably several causes united to fix Locke in his opinion. He was a cautious and sober-minded man, in no wise willing to encourage license even though he had to defend a revolution. Besides, he rightly regarded democratic government, at least in England, as an academic question.
More important than these reasons, probably, was the persistence in his mind of the tradition which he derived from Hooker and which had governed the thought of Coke and Sir Thomas Smith. The right of a community to govern itself had not been thought inconsistent with a kind of indefeasibly in the right of its king and other governing organs, which after all had a status or a vested interest in their places.
This phase of Locke’s theory persisted in the Whig liberalism of the eighteenth century, which regarded government, while responsible for the common well-being, as a balance between the great interests of the realm, such as crown, nobility, church, and commonalty.
With Edmund Burke this conception became a starting-point for the theory of modern conservatism. The English Revolution did not break violently the tradition of English government, and similarly Locke, its philosophical exponent, was the most conservative of revolutionists. Locke’s ideas in France in the eighteenth century had quite a different history.
At whatever date his treatises were written, Locke’s purpose was to defend the moral right of revolution; hence at the end of his second treatise he discussed the right to resist tyranny. His most effective arguments depended on principles taken from Hooker. In substance it amounts to this English society and English government are two different things. The second exists for the well-being of the first, and a government which seriously jeopardizes social interests is rightly changed. This argument is supported by a rather lengthy examination of the right which can be gained by conquest. Locke here distinguished between just and unjust warfare.
A mere aggressor gains no right, and even a conqueror in a just war can never establish a right which contravenes the right of the conquered to their liberty and property. Th argument is directed against any theory that a government can derive a just power merely from conquest or from success in the use of force The principle of Locke’s argument is essentially the same as that late, developed by Rousseau, that moral validity and force are two distinctions, the latter being incapable of giving rise to the former.
Consequently a government which begins in force can be justified, as all governments are justified, only by its recognition and support of the moral rights inherent in persons and communities. In other words, the moral order is permanent and self-perpetuating, and governments are only factors in the moral order. In this sense natural law meant for Locke substantially what it had meant for Cicero and Seneca and the whole of the Middle Ages.
A government, as distinct from a society, is dissolved either by a change in the location of legislative power or by a violation of the trust which the people have reposed in it. Locke contemplated two cases, both drawn from English experience in the preceding fifty years, He wished to show that the king had been the real author of the Revolution by attempting to stretch the prerogative and to rule without parliament; this was a dislocation of the supreme legislative power vested by the people in their representatives. He had also a retentive memory for the misbehavior of the Long Parliament and accordingly he had no thought of leaving the legislature unfettered.
Any invasion of the life, liberty, or property of subjects is ipso facto void, and a legislature which attempts these wrongs forfeits its power. In this case power reverts to the people, who must provide by a new act of constitutional legislation for a new legislature. As in all such arguments, Locke created a considerable, and perhaps needless, confusion by his use of the word lawful.
He continually speaks of unlawful acts of the executive or legislature when he well knows that there is no legal remedy, and of lawful resistance to tyranny when he means resort to an extra-legal but morally defensible remedy. Broadly speaking he used lawful as synonymous with just or right and made no distinction between what is morally just and what is legally actionable. This usage grew from and perpetuated the traditional belief that law-natural, positive, and moral-is all of a piece, and that there are therefore fundamental laws not made even by the supreme legislature.
The reality of such rules in English law disappeared with the very Revolution which Locke was defending, though the belief in moral limitations on parliament persisted. Perhaps the American practice of discriminating between constitutional and statutory law, and between ordinary legislation and extraordinary legislation by referendum, was closer to Locke’s Ideas.
The Complexity of Locke’s Theory:-
Locke’s political philosophy can hardly be represented in a simple and straightforward exposition because of the logical difficulties which it reveals when it is subjected to analysis. In spite of the simplicity which it seems on the surface to possess and which made it the most popular of political philosophies, it is in reality involved.
This was due to the fact that Locke saw with great clarity a multitude of issues involved in the politics of the seventeenth century and tried conscientiously to combine them all. But his theory had no logical structure elaborate enough to contain so complicated a subject-matter.
Though circumstances made him the defender of a revolution, he was by no means a radical, and in intellectual temperament he was the least doctrinaire of philosophers. Perhaps something is explained by the fact that his mature life fell in a generation when the results of civil war were accomplished but not acknowledged.
His principles he mainly inherited and he never examined them very thoroughly. But he was extraordinarily sensitive to realities and absolutely candid in trying of face them. The mid-period of the seventeenth century had changed enormously both English politics and English thought, and yet it had not broken continuity with the days before the civil wars.
Locke’s political philosophy was an effort to combine past and present and also to find a nucleus of agreement for reasonable men of all parties, but he did not synthesize all that he combined. As he combined diverse elements from the past, so from his political philosophy emerged diverse theories in the century following him.
The defects of logical structure in Locke’s political theory arose from the fact that he never made up his mind what exactly was fundamental and what was derivative. There are in fact no less than four levels in his account of civil society, and the last three are represented as successfully derivative from the first.
Yet Locke never hesitated, if it was convenient, to impute a kind of absoluteness to-each of the four. The foundation of the whole system was represented as being the individual and his rights, especially that of property. On the whole this must be regarded as the most significant phase of his political theory, which made it primarily a defense of individual liberty against political Oppression.
Second, men are also members of a community, and though Locke described society as depending on tacit consent and as meaning effectively a majority, he constantly spoke of the community as a definite unit and the trustee of the individual’s rights.
Third, beyond society there is government, which is trustee for the community somewhat as the latter is for the individual.
Finally, within government the executive is less important and less authoritative than the legislature. Yet Locke certainly did not regard the king and his ministers a merely a committee of parliament. In the defense of liberty and property the legislature controls the executive, and the community Controls government.
Only in the remote event that society itself is dissolve a contingency which Locke never seriously contemplated, does the defense of liberty revert to self-help. Society, the legislature, and even the king were all treated as having a kind of vested right, or permanent, authority, only to be forfeited for cause, though the individual right, of property and liberty were the only rights which Locke declared to be absolutely indefeasible. The plausibility of Locke’s theory was greatly increased by not trying to show too precisely how the actual power of institutions is derived from the equal and inalienable rights of individuals.
The actual complexity of Locke’s political thought, conceale4 beneath its apparent simplicity of statement, makes difficult an estimate of its relations to later theories. What was immediately grasped included its most obvious but also its least important Consequences.
The enormous vogue which he enjoyed during the earlier part of the eighteenth century was probably due precisely to the deceptive simplicity of his thought, which has always commended his philosophy to common sense. Such liberal thought as survived the success of the Revolution carried on the spirit of Locke’s philosophy most truly in respect to religious toleration, which had real vitality in eighteenth century England despite the political disqualification of Catholics and Dissenters by the continuation of the Test Act.
The supremacy of parliament was no longer a controversial issue and party differences about the power of the crown had little importance. With some lip service to Locke, Whiggism in the eighteenth century represented quite subsidiary elements of his Treatise, that the powers of government remain indefeasibly in the organs where they have once been placed, unless one tries to invade the province of another, and that government is at bottom a balance of the vested interests of the realm crown, landed aristocracy, and corporations.
In this almost nothing of Locke’s theory of individual rights remained but much of what ireton, in his dispute with the Levellers, had called the permanent fixed interests of the kingdom. This made it possible for the myth of a separation of powers to persist to the end of the century.
As Black stone said,
Every branch of our civil polity supports and is supported, regulates and is regulated, by the rest for the two houses naturally drawing in two directions of opposite interest, and the prerogative in another still different from them both, they mutually keep each other from exceeding their proper limits; while the whole is prevented from separation, and artificially connected together by the mixed nature of the crown, which is a part of the legislative, and the sole executive magistrate.
The monopoly of power by the landowning class was contrary not only to Locke’s theory of individual rights but also to his theory of the importance of property in general.
The greatest importance of Locke’s philosophy, therefore, lay beyond the contemporary English settlement in the political thought of America and France which culminated in the great revolutions at the end of the eighteenth century.
Here Locke’s defense of resistance in the name of inalienable rights of personal liberty, consent, and freedom to acquire and enjoy property had their full effect. Because all these conceptions were in germ much older than Locke and had been the birthright of all European peoples since the sixteenth century, it is impossible to attribute their existence in America and in France to him alone, but he was known to everyone who gave any attention to political philosophy.
His sincerity, his profound moral conviction, his genuine belief in liberty, in human rights, and in the dignity of human nature, united with his moderation and good sense, made him the ideal spokesman of a middle-class revolution. As a force in propagating the ideals of liberal but not violent reform Locke probably stands before all other writers whatsoever. Even his more doubtful ideas, such as the separation of powers and the inevitable wisdom of majority decisions, remained a part of the democratic creed.
In the course of the eighteenth century the system of natural law, which provided the logical basis for Locke’s political philosophy, receded gradually from the dominating position which it held in the scientific thought of the seventeenth century. This was due in part to a general progress of empirical method both in the natural sciences and in social studies, but in no small degree to the development of those parts of Locke’s philosophy which stressed the importance of a natural history of human understanding.
This development followed lines already suggested by Locke himself. It greatly expanded the psychological explanation of behavior, making it depend upon the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain as its sole motives. In place of the rational standard of inherent good sought by the theory of natural law it put a utilitarian theory of moral, political, and economic value.
About the middle of the century Hume showed that this development if logically carried through, made it possible to dispense with the theory of natural law altogether. The internal structure of Locke, political philosophy was thus completely destroyed. Yet most of its practical purposes and much of its inward spirit passed over to utilitarianism. Though less explicitly a defense of revolution, it continue Locke’s spirit of cautious but radical reform. Its program continued the same idealization of individual rights, the same belief in liberalism as a panacea for political ills, the same tenderness for the rights of property, and the same conviction that public interests must be conceived in terms of private well-being.