Notes on John Locke

analytical Essay
3129 words
3129 words

Notes on John Locke (1632-1704), selections from The Second Treatise of Government (1690) As we will examine it, a defining theme of the American experience from Thomas Jefferson through Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Martin Luther King, Jr. is democratic revolution: these and other major figures seek to change the existing social structure, in order to expand the circle of democracy - to encompass ever larger groups of people within a democratic framework which recognizes the basic equality and rights of each member. Using Jefferson as the starting point, the circle of democratic rights initially includes white males over the age of 41 who meet certain property requirements. Elizabeth Cady Stanton seeks to enlarge this circle to include women - as Martin Luther King, Jr., seeks to enlarge the circle to include people of color. How do you argue for revolutionary change? The American experience is striking not only for its theme of revolutionary change: more fundamentally, these diverse calls for revolution all rest on a shared, central argument. This argument begins from certain premises, and uses those premises to support a specific conclusion - the conclusion that democratic revolution, radical social change in the direction of increasing equality with regard to rights and standing before the law, is justified. The shared argument looks like this: [P1] Governments (Jefferson, Cady Stanton) and laws (Martin Luther King, Jr.) are legitimate only if they rest on the consent of the governed and protect basic rights. [P2] If governments and laws lack this consent, and/or fail to protect these rights, then [C1] such governments are no longer legitimate, and/or such laws are unjust. [P3] Illegitimate governments and/or unjust laws require no allegiance. Therefore, [C2] Illegitimate governments and/or unjust laws must be dissolved and replaced with legitimate governments and/or just laws i.e., governments and/or laws which rest on the consent of the governed and protect basic rights (i.e., which meet the conditions of [P1]). While Jefferson first articulates this argument as the central justification for the American Revolution, we will see this argument used to support the struggle for women's suffrage (Cady Stanton) and the struggle for civil rights for American blacks (Martin Luther King, Jr.). But Jefferson did not invent this argument or its underlying assumptions. Among other sources, Jefferson was deeply influenced by Locke's views on human nature and the political arrangements befitting that nature - especially as Locke articulated his political philosophy in Two Treatistes of Government (1690).

In this essay, the author

  • Explains that a defining theme of the american experience from thomas jefferson through elizabeth cady stanton to martin luther king, jr. is democratic revolution.
  • Explains that governments and laws are legitimate only if they rest on the consent of the governed and protect basic rights.
  • Explains that the american democratic/revolutionary argument is rooted in the writings of english philosopher john locke.
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