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If you wanted to join “the others” government, and they were willing to accept you, you would have to submit to their laws. In return you would receive the security that is concomitant with laws and law enforcement.

Locke, and I would say other social contract theorists as well, start with the assumption that people are rational actors. To be rational means to follow the laws of nature. Laws of nature, which Locke ultimately connects to God, revolve around the idea that people are equal, in the sense that God put people on earth and does not favor one person over another.

He then looks at society, as it actually existed, and sought to examine whether or not government and the institutions associated with it were in accordance to the laws of nature. If a government existed that was not in synch with that laws of nature, it was unjust.

If people are rational, then at some point they will band together to create a society. Social contract theory asks, what kind of government (and there are also implications for what kind of economic system) is most in accordance with the laws of nature?

Once you join “the others” government you will no longer *enforce* the laws of nature (up to a point. You still retain the right to self defense), a right you possessed in the state of nature. A major benefit of government, Locke argues, is that since it is difficult to remain rational/impartial when someone infringes on your rights, government can intervene in a more measured and less violent way. Locke states that “Civil government is the proper remedy for the inconveniences of the state of nature.”

Locke immediately proceeds to remind the reader that since absolute monarchs are “but men”, supporters of this form of government are ultimately allowing one person to assume great power with few constraints. How much better than the state of nature is it to live under an absolute monarch if he has the same tendencies to partiality as every other man? In fact, it might be better to live in a state of nature. At least in a state of nature you are not bound to any laws but the laws of nature. Under an absolute monarch, the tendency to be forced to submit to just and unjust laws is great.

In Hobbes view (haven’t read Hobbes yet) the state of nature is such a nasty place to live that living under an absolute monarch would be preferred since only an absolute monarch could bring a swift and lasting end to this chaos.

In Locke’s view, there is no difference. In fact, living in a state of nature may be better than living under an absolute monarch.
Where are, or have their ever been, people living in a state of nature?

To this objection Locke says that all “princes and rulers of independent governments” are in a state of nature with each other. Unless there is a single “body politic”, a single community, then a state of nature exists (will explore this more).

Locke finished chapter 2 by referencing Richard (?) Hooker, who he quotes.

It appears that in this last section Locke is addressing the objections of some who assert that there never has been a state of nature and that men have never specifically spelled out the specifics of the social contract, what they can do and cannot do. Locke responds, apparently relying on the authority of Hooker, that since people are not equipped to survive alone, in isolation, we are naturally induced to living in concert with one another. This decision, Locke adds, is done with the consent of each member of society.

So to sum up

The state of nature, life before government, is a condition that is embedded in the nature of man. Man is a social animal, not equipped to live alone; but he is also a rational creature. Therefore, the government that man creates, or ought to create, is rational. The test of rationality is whether or not something is in accordance with the laws of nature, which emanate from the creator (Do all social contract theorists ultimately rely on god to argue about the nature of man/natural law? Hard to imagine they all do. Will explore this more.)
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