Message Font: Serif | Sans-Serif
No. of Recommendations: 0
At the start of chapter 2, Lockes says the following:

"TO understand political power right, and derive it from its
original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man..."

To back track for a second, Locke states at the end of chapter 1 that political power, unlike other kinds of power, is the "right of making laws with penalties of death" (and by default, "all lesser penalties") for the "preservation of property" and the protection of the community from foreign enemies.

Locke refers to man, in this hypothetical state of nature, as possessing perfect freedom. By making this assertion, Locke is beginning to establish a line of reasoning that will suggest that man will only relinquish this "perfect freedom" if giving it up leads to a better outcome.

What does Locke mean by "perfect freedom"?

Locke means you can (try to) do whatever you want. Nobody can say to you in a meaningful way "you can't do that!" or "by what right do you do that?". Since there is no government, because the existence of a government implies the loss of "perfect freedom", you will not face the consequences of legal/government authorities. After all, they do not yet exist. But, we know, you will still lface consequences.

Is any of this meaningful? The reality is no condition of perfect freedom has ever existed for people.

As long as human beings have found themselves living with other human beings, by choice or by imposition, there is a struggle for control. You have your will, and I have my will. Isn't this all we can truthfully say?

Whether my will is exerted over you, or vice versa, depends on a variety of factors. Maybe you trust me. Maybe I am scared of you.

Power is a concept that only has meaning in a social context.

For Locke to talk about a condition of "perfect freedom" he is trying to assert that different kinds of power exist in different social settings.

One social setting is 'before government', which he calls a state of nature. The other is 'after government has been established'.

We can criticize this point by saying that in terms of power the only factor that has changed is who wields it and how. In a 'before government' setting, there are no formal institutions of government. But there still are people trying to control one another, which, I would argue, is the more substantive definition of government. Whether formal institutions of government exisit is almost an aside.

Living in a country where the word freedom has such a positive connotation, the expression "perfect freedom" is, on the surface, a positive term. But if we go far back into humanity's past, we can imagine what life was like before formal institutions of government existed. But, when I go there in my head, it is frightening.

(Locke knows this. Later he will argue that it is only reasonable that man would want to get out of this "state of nature", which we could also call a "state of anything goes", a "state of absolute chaos".)
Print the post  


When Life Gives You Lemons
We all have had hardships and made poor decisions. The important thing is how we respond and grow. Read the story of a Fool who started from nothing, and looks to gain everything.
Contact Us
Contact Customer Service and other Fool departments here.
Work for Fools?
Winner of the Washingtonian great places to work, and Glassdoor #1 Company to Work For 2015! Have access to all of TMF's online and email products for FREE, and be paid for your contributions to TMF! Click the link and start your Fool career.