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Locke And Publius: Comparing Their Views On Civil Government

1501 words - 6 pages

Throughout history there have been significant debates, theories and agendas set forward as to what the best form of government is. Many of those individuals and groups who have written on the topic have their critics because they offer points that are highly controversial in theory and problematic when put into practice. John Locke and Publius, which is the collective name for Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, both published essays with regards to the nature of government and largely championed the notion of democracy. With Locke writing on constitutional government in England and Publius writing on and essentially establishing governmental mechanisms in the United States, both parties inspired the rise of liberalism and democratic government in the modern world (Tinder, 67). However, there are questions to be asked of them and indeed comparisons to be made. This essay will examine the arguments set forth by Publius and Locke with a view to proving that they do indeed champion strong government and arguably exclude arbitrary governmental traits that may constrain attempts to do what is best for the individual rather than the people as a whole. In effect, the constraints they put in place in their texts established a balance of power that had its limits and weaknesses but ultimately appeared to be fair.
John Locke wrote The Second Treatise of Government in 1689 and Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay (Publius) wrote The Federalist Papers in 1787 and 1788. There are common themes shared between them despite the century that passed between their respective publication dates. One such theme is human nature and qualities individuals possess that make a difference to government. Although Locke covers a wide range of subject in his treatise, he makes it clear that human nature is fundamentally selfish and concerned with possessions, thus opening individuals up to become susceptible to greed as a result of the need to “enlarge possessions beyond the use of his family” (Locke, 22). However, he repeatedly refers to humans as “rational creatures” (Locke, 57), thus implying that they have the ability to think logically and make sensible and reasonable decisions despite the fact that individuals may be prone to ignorance or be biased by their own interests (Locke, 57). Publius, on the other hand, considered government to be indicative of human nature in that it was necessary because men were “no angels” and were malleable to the wishes of others (Publius, 337). This contrasts with the assertions of Locke as it does not imply that man is selfish but does acknowledge their ability for wrongdoing in the absence of governance. In fact, the implication is that human nature is somewhat prone to acts of violence as a result of passion and conviction (Publius, 16), which is detrimental to the interests of the whole. As far as rationality goes, their argument is closer to that of Locke in that they believe a human is capable of rational...

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