John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government

In his Two Treatises of Government, Locke details his beliefs on human nature and politics. The anchor to Locke’s political philosophy was the notion that humans have the right to private property.

According to Locke, when God created man, man only had to live by the laws of nature, and as long as peace was preserved, one could do as he pleased. Man’s right to self-preservation meant that man also had the right to have the things that are needed in order for one to survive and live happily; and those have been provided by God.

Since man is the owner of his own body, any product or good that is the result of his physical labor should also belong to him. A man who decides to farm and create food, for example, should therefore be the owner of that land and the food produced from the land. According to Locke’s ideas on private property, one should not take possession of something if another individual is harmed in the process because God wants everyone to be happy, and man should not take more than he needs, for that could be used by another person. Since immoral people exist, however, man should create laws to ensure and protect his rights to property and freedoms.

It is the sole purpose of government, Locke believed, to support the well-being of everyone. And though some natural rights are surrendered when a government is established, a government has the ability to protect rights more effectively than one person could alone. If the government no longer supports the well-being of everyone, it should be replaced, and it is the moral obligation of the community to revolt.

According to Locke, if a proper government exists, both individuals and societies should flourish not only materially, but spiritually. The government should provide a freedom that aligns with the self-perpetuating natural law created by God.

Though published later in his life, once Locke had returned to England after living in exile, Two Treatises of Government was written during a time of great political tension between the monarchy and Parliament. Locke believed that there could be a greater type of government, and his political philosophy had a profound impact on Western philosophy.