Locke’s Political Theory

Kramnick, Isaac. Essays in the History of Political Thought. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall, 1969.

On Locke:
The Social Bearing of Locke’s Political Theory


Page 183. Locke was primarily a theorist of the liberal state, as constitutional or limited government as opposed to arbitrary or absolute government, of government conditional on the consent of the governed, or of majority rule qualified by individual rights.

184. A more realistic quality was given to the constitutional interpretation by those who saw Locke’s state as, in effect, a joint-stock company whose shareholders were men of property (but who were members of civil society? If just property holders, then not all-inclusive).

184. Against the sovereign civil society, the individual has no rights. Locke was a majority-rule democrat—a pre-curser to Rousseau.

185. Assumptions:
1. that while the laboring class is a necessary part of the nation, its members are not in fact full members of the body politic and have no claim to be so.
2. members of the working class cannot live a fully rational life.

Quotes to Consider:

187. human beings of the laboring class were a commodity out of which riches and dominion might be derived.

189. when Locke looked at his own society, he saw two classes with different rationality and different rights. Locke was no Leveller.

191. The transformation of equal into differential natural rights comes to light in Locke’s theory of property….the industrious could rightfully acquire all the land…leaving others to sell their labor.

191. This disparity in property is natural…it takes place out of the bounds of society and without compact.

196. the great reason for men’s uniting into society and putting themselves under government is to preserve their property…. their “lives, liberties and estates.”

197. Locke thought that everyone was in civil society even if everyone did not have property for two reasons: only they have a full interest in the preservation of property, and only they are capable of that rational life—that voluntary obligation to the law of reason…the laborers don’t have property-so are subject to civil society but not full members of civil society (based on the two assumptions above).

John Locke and the Doctrine of Majority Rule

222. 1st argument: men have a “native right… to have such a legislative over them as the majority should approve and freely acquiesce.”

222. 2nd argument: if the minority refused to be concluded by the majority, the society would speedily disintegrate.

223. 3rd argument: denial of the right of the majority to conclude the minority would deprive the commonwealth of its title to govern.

224. 4th argument: political bodies move by a greater force, which is the will of the majority.

225. 5th argument: majority rule is based on a majority of individual consents.


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