Essay on Individual Liberties and the Command of Government

Essay on Individual Liberties and the Command of Government

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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 legisla...

... middle of paper ...

...y of the government. The

responsible wielding of power is an obligation the legislature has to society, as the

authority of law is entrusted to the legislature for the preservation of mankind and the

public good.

No civil government, no matter their power, can infringe upon the unalienable

freedoms of humankind – the right to life, liberty and property. Men agree to form a

compact and invest power in an authority because they wish their lives and property to be

protected by the government. Within the social contract there is the presence of a common

morality, the laws of nature, preservation, liberty, and of course the rule of law as

prescribed to civil governance. In the state of nature, the emergence of the social contract

and in the institution of civil governance, the fundamental freedoms persist through

unwritten laws inherent in humanity.

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