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Individual Liberties And The Command Of Government

1622 words - 7 pages

According to John Locke, all men are born in a state of freedom. This freedom, however,

only emerges under the command of law, creating an interesting tension between individual

liberties and the command of government. In his work Second Treatise of Government, Locke

examines the construction of the social contract by resolving the tension between these two

doctrines. Freedom, to Locke, is the motivating force behind the social contract: there is no

freedom without law. Nevertheless, Locke invokes a hypothetical supposition of the State of

Nature, the natural condition of humankind, to explore the theoretical conditions of individuals

predisposing the establishment of organized societies. Law, in this line of argument, presents

itself as a form of natural law and presides over human reason. While authority ultimately

confers the visible freedoms developed by the social contract, Locke uses the concept of law to

legitimize these freedoms in the state of nature, through the development of the political society,

and the transaction of these freedoms under the civil government.

The state of nature invokes laws of nature that leave individuals at complete liberty to

conduct their life free from the interference of others. In this state of nature, individuals are in

“a state of perfect freedom” whereby all people are autonomous and self-reliant actors (Locke

1690; 8). All men are born in the exact same state, with no one individual having privileges or

advantages over another. Only God is able to bestow some advantage in power upon one man

over another. It is to this end that he asserts, “the natural liberty of man is to be free from any

superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but to have

Weinberg 2

only the law of nature for his rule” (17). While law in and of itself is generally associated with

the regulations imposed by a political authority, Locke argues that laws in the state of nature are

not shaped by any organized legislature. This does not mean, however, that it is a state of license:

one is not free to do all that one pleases, or even anything that one judges to be in one’s interest.

Ultimately, Locke’s view holds that natural liberties free individuals from the grips of absolutist

power, however these individuals are still bound by the divine laws of nature.

While Locke believed God created men, and that divine law existed, he did not

believe it was the same thing as natural law. Natural law can be discovered by reason

alone. The Law of Nature that governs Locke’s State of Nature is firmly rooted in an

interlocking relationship between the human faculty of reason and self-preservation. Locke

believes that all men are born with natural reason and that their reason transforms into

natural law and the need for perfect liberty: “the state of nature has a law of nature to

govern it, which obliges everyone: and reason, which is the law,...

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