The 10-Book Challenge: Book #3

An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent and End of Civil Government by John Locke

I had not anticipated reading some of the most influential Western works concerning the philosophies of government, but after reading Four Theories of the Press (see Book #2), I felt that I needed to go directly to these sources for more study.

It just so happens that I picked up some of these collections a few years ago at The Factory in Franklin, Tenn., and held onto them. So my few bucks are now paying big dividends for me.

You can look this up anywhere online, of course, but here are a few brief points. Locke focuses on a couple of major premises in this work: 1) natural law and the freedom it grants mankind; and 2) the idea of the social contract.

The social contract concerns people who, for safety, improved living conditions, etc., decided to give up their natural rights in exchange for living as a civilized unit. This is a contract of mutual consent. It is rule by the majority. In exchange, of course, it is the government’s requirement to ensure the safety and well-being of its citizens.

Locke then argues that an absolute monarchy is inconsistent with civil society. Members of society have the right, he says, to make corrections when a monarch’s values and actions do not match those of society at large.

My favorite quote comes from Locke’s rebuttal to the idea that by simply becoming a ruler over many, the responsibility that comes with absolute authority acts as a purifying agent for any singular person’s personality flaws.

“He that would have been insolent and injurious in the woods of America, would not probably be much better in a throne.” (Chap. 7, Sec. 92)

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