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Locke’s idea of the People’s right of Revolution

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发表于 3/13/2014 20:30:02 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式
本帖最后由 郭国汀 于 3/23/2015 22:48 编辑


Locke’s idea of the People’s right of Revolution
Guoting Guo


“The power that every individual gave thesociety, when he entered into it, can never revert to the individuals again, aslong as the society lasts, but will always remain in the community; becausewithout this there can be no community, no commonwealth, which is contrary tothe original agreement… but if they have set limits to the duration of theirlegislative, and made this supreme power in any person, or assembly, onlytempor\ary; or else, when by the miscarriages of those in authority, it isforfeited; upon the forfeiture, or at the determination of the time set, itreverts to the society, and the people have a right to act as supreme, andcontinue the legislative in themselves; or erect a new form, or under the oldform place it in new hands, as they think good.”[1]Lockeasserted.

Inthis conclusion Locke involves some important political philosophy idea: origincompact are among all member of a community not between the ruler and thepeople; this contract has special character which cannot change arbitrary, andsovereignty of the commonwealth come from the consent of the people. Thesupreme power is the legislative which is the trustee only and people assovereignty has right to forfeit it and has the right of revolution againsttyranny. In fact, Locke’s theory justifies the British Revolution in1688 andhas significant influence on the American Revolution in 1776 and numberlessrevolutions in the world. In my short essay, I would like focus on Locke’s  idea of the people’s right of revolution againstPrince or government.

Aristotleaccording to the number of rulers divide the governments into three categories:rule by one, Monarchy (Tyranny); by few, Aristocracy (Oligarchy); and by many,Polity(Democracy); Until middle age and before modern time, Christian politicalthinkers claimed that all states power come from divined God; even at earlier moderntime, Hobbes still announced the sovereignty of state belong to the absoluteMonarchy, for he believes that even tyranny are better than the state of naturewhich he described as “the war of all against all”. However, Locke’s politicalidea is revolutionary, he asserted that the legislative is the supreme power inany society and the people remain the supreme power to remove or alter thelegislative,  when they find thelegislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them[2],and all other powers in the society derived from and subordinate to it.[3] Accordingto Locke, the end of men enter intosociety is for enjoyment of their properties in peace and safety, and the  fundamental positive law of all society isthe establishing of the legislative power, which is not only the supreme power,but sacred and unalterable; [4] Sincethe members of legislative are elected by people periodically, and the peopleauthorize the legislative to make laws and set rules as guards and fences tothe properties of all the members or the society,[5]asa logical result,  people are thesovereignty of the state, and the People’s Sovereignty in fact justify theright of revolution of the people.

Lockeassumes thatmen by nature are allfree, equal and independent, without his consent, no one can be put out of thisestate, nor subjected to the political power of another.[6] Sopeople’s consent actually becomes the root of all political power. Forenjoyment of lives, liberty and estate peace and security and avoid the stateof war, mankind quit their natural power, resign it to the public which canpunish the offences,[7]consentto constitute Political Society, that is, freemen consent of unite andincorporate into a society[8]. In such society must be have adecisive power, an authority and a standing rule and common judge to appeal toresolve the controversies and disputes among people.[9]Thusexcludes all private judgement, the legislators make laws, Umpire settlestanding rules, official apply and execute those rules equally to all member ofthe society, and  common judges decidesall disputes happen between any members of that society and punishes thoseoffence.[10]

Lockeproposed that the end of government is good of mankind, and the end ofpolitical power is to preserve citizen’s lives, liberties and fortune; Hedefined political power as: a right of mankind to make laws with penalties ofdeath, and all less penalties, regulate and preserve the property, employ theforce of the community, execute laws, defence the commonwealth from foreigninjury, for the public good.[11] Heassumes that the power origin from the compact and mutual consent of those whomake up the community.[12] Thus,political power should be limited and not an absolute or arbitrary.

Sincepeople have the sovereignty of State, and the government is limited, whenever aPrince or legislative or government breach the trust and abuse the power toinvade the property, threaten the lives or deprive the liberty of the people,or simply as a tyrant,  as a result willbring the situation even worse than the state of nature and introduce to thestate of war among the people, in such cases, People have the Right ofRevolution which is inalienable.
Although suggested that individual can neverrevert the power which has given to community after they enter intocommonwealth, Locke firmly asserts the people’s right of revolution. However toexecute such right must be very careful and only under strict condition, if thegovernment act within its legal power and did not invade the fundamental rightof the people, no right to revolution.  Lockeurged that “Anyone who by force invades the rights of people or prince, andlays the foundation for overturning the constitution and frame of any justgovernment is guilty of the greatest crime; they should be esteemed the commonenemy and pest of mankind.”[13] Lockeinsists that in some situation, people have an inalienable right of revolutionagainst authority.

          Since the fundamental end ofgovernment is protect the lives, liberty and estate of the people, and thereason why mankind voluntary agree to give up their natural power enter into acommunity is for enjoyment of their property peace and security, therefore whenhappen following cases, which constitute fundamental breach of contract, thepeople have either the right of dissolve the legislative or the right of revolutionto overturn the government:
When the legislative acts against the trust by endeavour to invade the property ofthe people; When legislative make themselves masters or arbitrary disposers of the lives,liberties, or fortunes of the people;
Wherever the legislators endeavour to take away and destroy the property of the people;
“where the laws cannot be executed, it is all one as if there were no laws”[14].
Wheneverthe legislators or Prince reduce people to slavery under arbitrary power,
Wheneverthe legislative transgress this fundamental rule of society; endeavour to graspthemselves, or put into the hands of any other absolute power over the lives,liberties, and estates of the people;
Whenthe legislative (or the Prince) act contrary to their trust, the government aredissolved,[15]andwhenever the government disappear the society may be return to state of nature.According to Locke,  Want of a commonjudge with authority, puts all men in a state of nature, the state of nature isa state of perfect freedom to order actions, dispose possessions within the bounds of the law of nature; Also a stateof equality, all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, all the sameadvantages of nature, use of the same faculties, equal one amongst anotherwithout subordination or subjection.[16]Ina state of nature, one man comes by a power over another, every man has a rightto punish the offender, has a power to kill a murderer,[17]andhas the executive power of the law of nature[18].
Ifabove situation occurs, either the legislative changed or the legislators actcontrary to the end for which they were constituted; those who are guilty areguilty of rebellion.[19]Because by breach of the trust, Prince and legislative forfeit the power, “whenthe legislative is broken or dissolved, dissolution and death follows,” for“the constitution of the legislative is the first and fundamental act ofsociety,”[20]Locke explained. They put themselves into a state of war with the people, whoare thereupon absolved from any farther obedience, and are left to commonrefuge against force and violence. The people have a right to resume theiroriginal liberty, by establishment of a new legislative provide for their ownsafety and security[21],or overthrow the government to constitute a new one.

Lockeobserved that anyone by force takes away the establish legislative of anysociety, and the laws by them make pursuant to their trust, he thereby takeaway the Umpire, for a peaceable decision of all controversies, and a bar tothe state of war amongst them, so destroying the authority. By removing thelegislative established by the society they expose the people a new to thestate of war,[22]which Under Locke’s pen, is a state of enmity and destruction and theforce without authority. Because by the fundamental law of nature forpreserved, one may destroy a man who makes war upon him; such man have no otherrule, but force and violence. [23]Whoeverattempts to get another man into his absolute power or uses force without rightand law against anyone does put himself into a state of war,[24] andonce begun, will continue to destroy the other whenever he can, until theaggressor offers peace, for everyone has a right to defend himself to resistthe aggressor[25].

Lockeargued that the people shall be judge whether the prince or legislative actcontrary to their trust.[26]But how many person constitute “the People”, a part or majority or whole, isnot clear; in mankind history, from time to time and one state from another,always there are those who are ambition and greedy for power, assumed that theyrepresent of the people or for public good to do something, but for themselvesselfish interest in fact. Despite Locke also put it that where there is nojudicature on earth to decide controversies amongst men, God is judge: he aloneis the true and judge of the right. But every man is judge for himself.[27] Ifcontroversies arise between a Prince and some of the people, in a matter wherethe law is silent, or doubtful, the people Umpire should be the Body of thepeople[28].

Insummary, Locke’s idea of the right of revolution against tyranny is base on hispolitical philosophy: political society are built upon voluntary agreementamount people whose end is to protect their lives, liberty and estate; thefundamental end of government is for the common good, in the original contract,the reason why people quit their natural power according to the law of nature,consent to give government political power, is avoid the state of war and enjoythe their property peace and security; thus the government power should belimited for absolute or arbitrary power may create the state of war; thesupreme power in civil society is the legislative, and people have the finalsay, that is people has the sovereignty; if the legislative as the supremepower or ruler in a civil society breach their trust and invade and destroy theproperty of the people, or reduce people to slavery or any other action whichbetray the fundamental end of the people to constitute political society,  then government will be dissolved and revertto the state of nature, people has the right of revolution to change thelegislative or overthrow the government to set up a new government or transferthe political power to new legislative.



[1]John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, Edited by Peter Laslett, CambridgeUniversity Press  1988 second treatise§.243

[2]  Locke, second treatise §.149

[3]Locke, second treatise §.150.

[4]Locke, second treatise §.134

[5]Locke, second treatise §.222

[6]Locke, second treatise §.95

[7]Locke, second treatise §.89

[8]Locke, second treatise §.99

[9]Locke, second treatise §.91

[10]Locke, second treatise §.87

[11]Locke, second treatise §.3

[12]Locke, second treatise §.171.

[13]Locke, second treatise §.230.

[14]Locke, second treatise §.219

[15]Locke, second treatise §.221

[16]Locke, second treatise §.4

[17]Locke, second treatise §.11

[18]Locke, second treatise §.13

[19]Locke, second treatise §.227

[20]Locke, second treatise §.212

[21]Locke, second treatise §.222

[22]Locke, second treatise §.227

[23]Locke, second treatise §.16

[24]Locke, second treatise §.19

[25]Locke, second treatise §.23

[26]Locke, second treatise §.240

[27]Locke, second treatise §.241

[28]Locke, second treatise §.242



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