Second Treatise of Government

Second Treatise of Government

John Locke

Copyright © 2010–2015 All rights reserved. Jonathan Bennett

[Brackets] enclose editorial explanations. Small ·dots· enclose material that has been added, but can be read as though it were part of the original text. Occasional •bullets, and also indenting of passages that are not quotations, are meant as aids to grasping the structure of a sentence or a thought. Every four-point ellipsis . . . . indicates the omission of a brief passage that seems to present more difficulty than it is worth.—-The division into numbered sections is Locke’s.

First launched: January 2005 Last amended: March 2008


Preface 1

Chapter 1 2

Chapter 2: The state of nature 3

Chapter 3: The state of war 7

Chapter 4: Slavery 9

Chapter 5: Property 10

Chapter 6: Paternal power 19

Chapter 7: Political or Civil Society 26



Second Treatise John Locke

Chapter 8: The beginning of political societies 32

Chapter 9: The purposes of political society and government 40

Chapter 10: The forms of a commonwealth 42

Chapter 11: The extent of the legislative power 43

Chapter 12: The legislative, executive, and federative powers of the commonwealth 46

Chapter 13: The subordination of the powers of the commonwealth 48

Chapter 14: Prerogative 53

Chapter 15: Paternal, political, and despotic power, considered together 56

Chapter 16: Conquest 58

Chapter 17: Usurpation 65

Chapter 18: Tyranny 65

Chapter 19: The dissolution of government 70

Locke on children 80



Second Treatise John Locke Preface

Preface to the two Treatises

Reader, you have here the beginning and the end of a ·two-part· treatise about government. It isn’t worthwhile to go into what happened to the pages that should have come in between (they were more than half the work). [The missing pages, that were to have been included in the Second Treatise, i.e. the

second part of the two-part treatise, were simply lost. They contained an

extended attack on Sir Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha, a defence of the divine

right of kings, published in 1680 (Filmer had died in 1653). The lost

pages presumably overlapped the attack on the same target that filled

Locke’s First Treatise of Government and also occupy a good deal of space

in the Second.] These surviving pages, I hope, are sufficient •to establish the throne of our great restorer, our present King William; •to justify his title ·to the throne· on the basis of the consent of the people, which is the only lawful basis for government, and which he possesses more fully and clearly than any other ruler in the Christian world; and to •justify to the world the people of England, whose love of their just and natural rights, and their resolve to preserve them, saved this nation when it was on the brink of slavery and ruin ·under King James II·. If these pages are as convincing as I flatter myself that they are, the missing pages will be no great loss, and my reader can be satisfied without them. ·I certainly hope so, because· I don’t expect to have either the time of the inclination to take all that trouble again, filling up the gap in my answer by again tracking Sir Robert ·Filmer· through all the windings and obscurities of his amazing system. The king and the nation as a whole have since so thoroughly refuted his hypothesis that I don’t think anyone ever again will be •bold enough to speak up against our common safety, and be an advocate for slavery, or •weak enough to be deceived by contradictions dressed

up in elegant language. If you take the trouble to tackle the parts of Sir Robert’s discourses that are not dealt with here, stripping off the flourish of dubious expressions and trying to turn his words into direct, positive, intelligible propositions, and if you then compare these propositions with one another, you will soon be satisfied that there was never so much glib nonsense put together in fine-sounding English. If you don’t think it worthwhile to look through all his work, just try the part where he discusses usurpation, and see whether all your skill is enough to make Sir Robert intelligible and consistent with himself and with common sense. I wouldn’t speak so plainly of a gentleman who is no longer in a position to answer, if it weren’t that in recent years preachers have been espousing his doctrine and making it the current orthodoxy of our times. . . . I wouldn’t have written against Sir Robert, labouring to show his mistakes, inconsistencies, and lack of the biblical proofs that he boasts of having as his only foundation, if there weren’t men among us who, by praising his books and accepting his doctrine, clear me of the charge of writing only against a dead adversary. They have been so zealous about this that if I have done him any wrong I can’t hope they will show me any mercy. I wish that where they have done wrong to the truth and to the public, they would •be as ready to correct it ·as I am to admit errors proved against me·, and that they •would give due weight to the thought that the greatest harm one can do to the monarch and the people is to spread wrong notions about government. If they did, it might for ever put an end to our having reason to complain of thunderings from the pulpit! If anyone who is really concerned about truth tries to refute my hypothesis, I promise him either to admit any mistake he fairly convicts




Second Treatise John Locke Chapter 1

me of or to answer his difficulties. But he must remember two things: •That picking holes in my discourse—objecting to this turn of phrase or that little incident—is not the same

as answering my book. •That I shan’t let scolding pass as argument. . . .

Chapter 1

1. In my First Treatise of Government I showed these four things: (1) That Adam did not have, whether by natural right as a father or through a •positive gift from God, any such authority over his children or over the world as has been claimed. (2) That if even he had, his heirs would not have the same right. (3) That if the right were to be passed on to his heirs, it would be indeterminate who were his heirs, because there is no law of nature or •positive law of God that settles this question in every possible case; so it wouldn’t be determinate who inherited the right and thus was entitled to rule. (4) Even if all that had been ·theoretically· determined, ·it would be useless in practice·: the knowledge of the chain of heirs running back to Adam has been utterly lost, so that nobody in all the races of mankind and families of the world would have the slightest claim to have that ·supposed· right of inheritance. All these premises having, as I think, been clearly established, no rulers now on earth can derive the faintest shadow of authority from the supposed source of all ·human political· power, Adam’s private dominion and paternal rule. So if you don’t want to •give reason to think that all government in the world is the product purely of force and violence, and men live together only by the same rules as the lower animals, where strength settles every issue, and so •lay a foundation for perpetual disorder

and mischief, riots, sedition and rebellion (things that the followers of that ·‘force and violence’· hypothesis so loudly cry out against), you will have to find another account of the beginnings of government, another source for political power, and another way of settling who the people are who ·ought to· have it—other, that is, than what Sir Robert Filmer has taught us.

[The word •‘positive’, used in section 1 and again in 13 and elsewhere, is a technical term. A positive law is one that some legislator imposes; it

comes from the decision of some law-making authority. The contrast is

with a natural law, which isn’t •laid down by anyone but simply •arises out of the natures of things. So a positive gift from God would be simply

a gift as ordinarily understood; Locke throws in ‘positive’, presumably,

because even a natural right that Adam had would in a sense be a

gift from God, because God gave Adam his nature; but it wouldn’t be

a positive gift, arising from an explicit gift-giving action on God’s part.

Similarly with the notion of a positive law of God’s.].

2. For this purpose, I think it may be worthwhile to state what I think political power is; so that the power of a •government official over a subject can be distinguished from that of a •father over his children, a •master over his servant, a •husband over his wife, and a •lord over his slave. Because it sometimes happens that one man has all these




Second Treatise John Locke 2: The state of nature

different powers, we can get clearer about how the powers differ by looking at the different relationships in which the man stands: as ruler of a commonwealth, father of a family, and captain of a galley. 3. So: I take political power to be a right to •make

laws—with the death penalty and consequently all lesser penalties—for regulating and preserving property, and to •employ the force of the community in enforcing such laws and defending the commonwealth from external attack; all this being only for the public good.

Chapter 2: The state of nature

4. To understand political power correctly and derive it from its proper source, we must consider what state all men are naturally in. In this state men are perfectly free to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and themselves, in any way they like, without asking anyone’s permission—subject only to limits set by the law of nature.

It is also a state of equality, in which no-one has more power and authority than anyone else; because it is simply obvious that creatures of the same species and status, all born to all the same advantages of nature and to the use of the same abilities, should also be equal ·in other ways·, with no-one being subjected to or subordinate to anyone else, unless ·God·, the lord and master of them all, were to declare clearly and explicitly his wish that some one person be raised above the others and given an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty

5. The judicious ·Richard· Hooker regards this natural equality of men as so obvious and unquestionable that he bases on it men’s •obligation to love one another, on which he builds their •duties towards each other, from which ·in turn· he derives the great •maxims of justice and charity.

Here are his words:

A similar natural inducement has led men to realize that they have as much duty to love others as to love themselves. Things that are equal must be measured by a single standard; so if I inevitably want to receive some good—indeed as much good from every man as any man can want for himself—how could I expect to have any part of my desire satisfied if I am not careful to satisfy the similar desires that other men, being all of the same nature, are bound to have? To offer them anything inconsistent with their desire will be to grieve them as much as ·it would grieve· me; so that if I do harm I must expect to suffer, because there is no reason why others should show more love to me than I have shown to them. Thus, my desire to be loved as much as possible by my natural equals gives me a natural duty to act towards them with the same love. Everyone knows the rules and canons natural reason has laid down for the guidance of our lives on the basis of this relation of equality between ourselves and those who are like us.




Second Treatise John Locke 2: The state of nature

6. But though this is a state of •liberty, it isn’t a state of •licence ·in which there are no constraints on how people behave·. A man in that state is absolutely free to dispose of himself or his possessions, but he isn’t at liberty to destroy himself, or even to destroy any created thing in his posses- sion unless something nobler than its mere preservation is at stake. The state of nature is governed by a law that creates obligations for everyone. And reason, which is that law, teaches anyone who takes the trouble to consult it, that because we are all equal and independent, no-one ought to harm anyone else in his life, health, liberty, or possessions. This is because

•we are all the work of one omnipotent and infinitely wise maker;

•we are all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order to do his business;

•we are all the property of him who made us, and he made us to last as long as he chooses, not as long as we choose;

•we have the same abilities, and share in one common nature, so there can’t be any rank-ordering that would authorize some of us to destroy others, as if we were made to be used by one another, as the lower kinds of creatures are made to be used by us.

Everyone is obliged to preserve himself and not opt out of life willfully, so for the same reason everyone ought, when his own survival isn’t at stake, to do as much as he can to preserve the rest of mankind; and except when it’s a matter of punishing an offender, no-one may take away or damage anything that contributes to the preservation of someone else’s life, liberty, health, limb, or goods.

7. So that •all men may be held back from invading the rights of others and from harming one another, and so that •the law of nature that aims at the peace and preservation

of all mankind may be obeyed, the enforcement of that law of nature (in the state of nature) is in every man’s hands, so that everyone has a right to punish law-breakers as severely as is needed to hinder the violation of the law. For the law of nature, like every law concerning men in this world, would be futile if no-one had power to enforce it and thereby preserve the innocent and restrain offenders. And in the state of nature if anyone may punish someone for something bad that he has done, then everyone may do so. . . .

8. That is how in a state of nature one man comes to have a ·legitimate· power over another. It isn’t an unconditional power, allowing him to use a captured criminal according to the hot frenzy or unbridled extremes of his own will; but only a power to punish him so far as calm reason and conscience say is proportionate to his crime, namely as much punishment as may serve for •reparation and •restraint—for •those two are the only reasons why one man may lawfully harm another, which is what we call ‘punishment’. By breaking the law of nature, the offender declares himself to live by some rule other than that of reason and common fairness (which is the standard that God has set for the actions of men, for their mutual security); and so he becomes dangerous to mankind because he has disregarded and broken the tie that is meant to secure them from injury and violence. This is an offence against the whole ·human· species, and against the peace and safety that the law of nature provides for the species. Now, every man, by the right he has to preserve mankind in general, may restrain and if necessary destroy things that are noxious to mankind; and so he can do to anyone who has transgressed that law as much harm as may make him repent having done it, and thereby deter him—and by his example deter others—from doing the same. So for this reason every man has a right to enforce the law of nature and punish offenders.




Second Treatise John Locke 2: The state of nature

9. No doubt this will seem a very strange doctrine to some people; but before they condemn it, I challenge them to explain what right any king or state has to put to death or ·otherwise· punish a foreigner for a crime he commits in their country. The right is certainly not based on their laws, through any permission they get from the announced will of the legislature; for such announcements don’t get through to a foreigner: they aren’t addressed to him, and even if they were, he isn’t obliged to listen. . . . Those who have the supreme power of making laws in England, France or Holland are to an Indian merely like the rest of the world, men without authority. So if the law of nature didn’t give every man a power to punish offences against it as he soberly judges the case to require, I don’t see how the judiciary of any community can punish someone from another country; because they can’t have any more power over him than every man can naturally have over another.

10. As well as •the crime that consists in violating the law and departing from the right rule of reason—crime through which man becomes so degenerate that he declares that he is deserting the principles of human nature and becoming vermin—there is often •transgression through which some- one does harm to someone else. In the latter case, the person who has been harmed has, in addition to the general right of punishment that he shares with everyone else, a particular right to seek reparation from the person who harmed him; and anyone else who thinks this just may also join with the injured party and help him to recover from the offender such damages as may make satisfaction for the harm he has suffered.

11. So there are two distinct rights: (i) the right that everyone has, to punish the criminal so as to restrain him and prevent such offences in future; (ii) the right that an

injured party has to get reparation. Now, a magistrate, who by being magistrate has the common right of punishing put into his hands, can by his own authority (i) cancel the punishment of a criminal offence in a case where the public good doesn’t demand that the law be enforced; but he can’t (ii) cancel the satisfaction due to any private man for the damage he has received. The only one who can do that is the person who has been harmed. The injured party has the power of taking for himself the goods or service of the offender, by right of •self-preservation; and everyone has a power to punish the crime to prevent its being committed again, by the right he has of preserving •all mankind, and doing everything reasonable that he can to that end. And so it is that in the state of nature everyone has a power to kill a murderer, both •to deter others from this crime that no reparation can make up for, by the example of the punishment that everyone inflicts for it, and also •to secure men from future crimes by this criminal; he has renounced reason, the common rule and standard God has given to mankind, and by the unjust violence and slaughter he has committed on one person he has declared war against all mankind, so that he can be destroyed as though he were a lion or a tiger. . . . This is the basis for the great law of nature, Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed. Cain was so fully convinced that everyone had a right to destroy such a criminal that after murdering his brother he cried out ‘Anyone who finds me will slay me’—so plainly was this law written in the hearts of all mankind.

12. For the same reason a man in the state of nature may punish lesser breaches of the law of nature. ‘By death?’ you may ask. I answer that each offence may be punished severely enough to make it a bad bargain for the offender, to give him reason to repent, and to terrify others from offending in the same way. Every offence that can be •committed in




Second Treatise John Locke 2: The state of nature

the state of nature may also be •punished in the state of nature—and punished in the same way (as far as possible) as it would be in a commonwealth. I don’t want to go into the details of the law of nature or of its punitive measures, ·but I will say this much·:- It is certain that there is a •law of nature, which is as intelligible and plain to a reasonable person who studies it as are the •positive laws of commonwealths. [See the explanation of ‘positive’ after section 1.] It may even be plainer—as much plainer as •reason is ·plainer·, easier to understand, than the fancies and intricate ·theoretical· contrivances of men who have tried to find words that will further their conflicting hidden interests. For that is what has gone into the devising of most of the legislated laws of countries. Really, such laws are right only to the extent that they are founded on the law of nature, which is the standard by which they should be applied and interpreted.

13. To this strange doctrine ·of mine·, namely that in the state of nature everyone has the power to enforce the law of nature, I expect this objection to be raised:

It is unreasonable for men to be judges in their own cases, because self- love will bias men in favour of themselves and their friends. And on the other side, hostility, passion and revenge will lead them to punish others too severely. So nothing but confusion and disorder will follow, and that is why God has—as he certainly has—established government to restrain the partiality and violence of men.

I freely allow that civil government is the proper remedy for the drawbacks of the state of nature. There must certainly be great disadvantages in a state where men may be judges in their own case; someone who was so •unjust as to do his brother an injury will (we may well suppose) hardly be so •just as to condemn himself for it! But I respond to the objector as follows [the answer runs to the end of the section]:- If

the state of nature is intolerable because of the evils that are bound to follow from men’s being judges in their own cases, and government is to be the remedy for this, ·let us do a comparison·. On the one side there is the •state of nature; on the other there is

•government where one man—and remember that absolute monarchs are only men!—commands a mul- titude, is free to be the judge in his own case, and can do what he likes to all his subjects, with no-one being allowed to question or control those who carry out his wishes, and everyone having to put up with whatever he does, whether he is led by reason, mistake or passion.

How much better it is in the state of nature, where no man is obliged to submit to the unjust will of someone else, and someone who judges wrongly (whether or not it is in his own case) is answerable for that to the rest of mankind!

14. It is often asked, as though this were a mighty objection: ‘Where are there—where ever were there—any men in such a state of nature?’ Here is an answer that may suffice in the mean time:- The world always did and always will have many men in the state of nature, because all monarchs and rulers of independent governments throughout the world are in that state. I include in this all who govern independent communities, whether or not they are in league with others; for the state of nature between men isn’t ended just by their making a pact with one another. The only pact that ends the state of nature is one in which men agree together mutually to enter into one community and make one body politic. . . . The promises and bargains involved in bartering between two men on a desert island,. . . .or between a Swiss and an Indian in the woods of America, are binding on them even though they are perfectly in a state of nature in relation to one another; for truth and promise-keeping belongs to men




Second Treatise John Locke 3: The state of war

•as men, not •as members of society—·i.e. as a matter of natural law, not positive law·.

15. To those who deny that anyone was ever in the state of nature, I oppose the authority of the judicious Hooker, who writes:

The laws. . . .of nature bind men absolutely, just as men, even if they have no settled fellowship, no solemn agreement among themselves about what to do and what not to do. What naturally leads us to seek communion and fellowship with other people is the

fact that on our own we haven’t the means to provide ourselves with an adequate store of things that we need for the kind of life our nature desires, a life fit for the dignity of man. It was to make up for those defects and imperfections of the solitary life that men first united themselves in politic societies. (The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Bk 1, sect. 10)

And I also affirm that all men are naturally in the state of nature, and remain so until they consent to make themselves members of some political society. I expect to make all this very clear in later parts of this discourse.

Chapter 3: The state of war

16. The state of war is a state of enmity and destruction. So when someone declares by word or action—not in a sudden outburst of rage, but as a matter of calm settled design—that he intends to end another man’s life, he puts himself into a state of war against the other person; and he thereby exposes his life to the risk of falling to the power of the •other person or anyone that joins with •him in his defence and takes up his quarrel. For it is reasonable and just that I should have a right to destroy anything that threatens me with destruction, because the fundamental law of nature says that men are to be preserved as much as possible, and that when not everyone can be preserved the safety of the innocent is to be preferred. ·In line with this·, I may destroy a man who makes war on me or has revealed himself as an enemy to my life, for the same reason that I may kill a wolf or a lion; because such men are not under the ties of the common law

of reason, have no rule except that of force and violence, and so may be treated as beasts of prey—dangerous creatures that will certainly destroy me if I fall into their power.

17. So it comes about that someone who tries to get another man into his absolute power thereby puts himself into a state of war with the other, for such an attempt amounts to a declaration of a plan against the life of the other man. If someone wants to get me •into his power without my consent, I have reason to conclude that would use me as he pleased when he had got me •there, and would destroy me if he wanted to; for no-one can want to have me in his absolute power unless it’s to compel me by force to something that is against the right of my freedom, i.e. to make me a slave. To be sure of my own survival I must be free from such force; and reason tells me to look on him—the person who wants




Second Treatise John Locke 3: The state of war

me in his power—as an enemy to my survival, wanting to take away the freedom that is the fence to it. So someone who tries to enslave me thereby puts himself into a state of war with me. Someone wants to take away •the freedom of someone else must be supposed to have a plan to take away •everything else from the person, because freedom is the foundation of all the rest; and that holds in a commonwealth as well as in the state of nature.

18. This makes it lawful for me to kill a thief who hasn’t done me any harm or declared any plan against my life, other than using force to get me in his power so as to take away my money or whatever else he wants. No matter what he claims he is up to, he is using force without right, to get me into his power; so I have no reason to think that he won’t, when he has me in his power, take everything else away from me as well as my liberty. So it is lawful for me to treat him as someone who has put himself into a state of war with me, i.e. to kill him if I can; for that is the risk he ran when he started a war in which he is the aggressor.

19. This is the plain difference between the state of •nature and the state of •war. Some men—·notably Hobbes·—have treated them as the same; but in fact they are as distant from one another as a state of •peace, good will, mutual assistance and preservation is distant from a state of •enmity, malice, violence and mutual destruction. A state of nature, properly understood, involves

men living together according to reason, with no-one on earth who stands above them both and has au- thority to judge between them.

Whereas in a state of war a man uses or declares his intention to use force against another man, with no-one on earth to whom the other can appeal for relief.

It is the lack of such an appeal that gives a man the right of war against an aggressor, ·not only in a state of nature but· even if they are both subjects in a single society. [The rest of this section expands on Locke’s version in ways that ·dots· can’t easily indicate.] If a thief has already stolen all that I am worth and is not a continuing threat to me, I may not harm him except through an appeal to the law. But if he is now setting on me to rob me—even if it’s just my horse or my coat that he is after—I may kill him. There is the law, which was made for my protection, but there is no time for it to intervene to save me from losing my goods and perhaps losing my life (and if I lose that there is no reparation). Furthermore, it is the thief’s fault that there is no time for an appeal to the judge that stands over him and me—namely, the law—and so I am allowed to make my own defence, and to be at war with the thief and to kill him if I can. What puts men into a state of nature is the lack of a common judge who has authority; the use of unlawful force against a man’s person creates a state of war, whether or not there is a common judge and (therefore) whether or not they are in a state of nature.

20. But for men who are in a society ·under a government·, the state of war ends when the actual force ends; and then those on each side ·of the trouble· should equally submit to the fair determination of the law. . . . But in the state of nature, where there are no positive laws or judges with authority to appeal to, once a state of war has begun it con- tinues—with the innocent party having a right to destroy the other if he can—until the aggressor offers peace, and seeks reconciliation on terms that will make up for any wrongs he has done and will give the innocent person security from then on. What if the situation is like this?

There is time and opportunity for an appeal to the law, and to legally constituted judges, but the remedy is not available because of a manifest perverting




Second Treatise John Locke 4: Slavery

of justice, a barefaced twisting of the laws so that they protect or even reward the violence or injuries perpetrated by some men or some party of men.

In such a case it is hard to think we have anything but a state of war. For wherever violence is used and injury done, even if it is done by people appointed to administer justice and is dressed up in the name, claims, or forms of law, it is still violence and injury. The purpose of the law is to protect and get compensation for the innocent, by an unbiased treatment of all who come under it; and when this is not genuinely done, war is made upon the sufferers, and

they—having nowhere on earth to appeal to for justice—are left to the only remedy in such cases, an appeal to heaven.

21. ·In a state of nature· where there is no authority to decide between contenders, and the only appeal is to heaven, every little difference is apt to end up in war; and that is one great reason for men to put themselves into society, and leave the state of nature. For where there is an authority, a power on earth from which relief can be had by appeal, the controversy is decided by that power and the state of war is blocked. [The remainder of the section discusses, in the light of this, a passage in the Old Testament, Judges xi.]

Chapter 4: Slavery

22. The •natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of men but to be ruled only by the law of nature.

The liberty of man •in society is

to be under no legislative power except the one es- tablished by consent in the commonwealth; and not under the power of any will or under restraint from any law except what is enacted by the legislature in accordance with its mandate.

Freedom then is not what Sir Robert Filmer tells us (Obser- vations on Hobbes, Milton, etc., page 55), namely a liberty for everyone to do what he wants, live as he pleases, and not be tied by any laws. Rather, ·freedom is one of two things·. •Freedom of nature is being under no restraint except the law

of nature. •Freedom of men under government is having a standing rule to live by, common to everyone in the society in question, and made by the legislative power that has been set up in it; a liberty to follow one’s own will in anything that isn’t forbidden by the rule, and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man. [Here and elsewhere, Locke uses ‘arbitrary’ not in our current sense of something

like •‘decided for no reason’ or ‘decided on a whim’ or the like; but rather in a broader sense, current in his day, as meaning merely •‘decided’ or ‘depending upon someone’s choice’. In that older and weaker sense of

the word, the fear of being under someone’s ‘arbitrary will’ is just a fear

of being at the mercy of whatever he chooses to do to you, whether or not

his choice is ‘arbitrary’ in the now-current sense.]

23. [In this section Locke writes that a man doesn’t have the power to take his own life. He presumably means that a man




Second Treatise John Locke 5: Property

may not rightly take his own life because the fundamental law of nature says that men are to be preserved as much as possible (section 16). He continues:] This freedom from absolute, arbitrary power, is so necessary to a man’s survival, so tightly tied to it, that losing it involves losing ·all control over· his own life. ·That’s why no-one can voluntarily enter into slavery·. A man doesn’t have the power to take his own life, so he can’t voluntarily enslave himself to anyone, or put himself under the absolute, arbitrary power of •someone else to take away his life whenever •he pleases. Nobody can give more power than he has; so someone who cannot take away his own life cannot give someone else such a power over it. If someone performs an act that deserves death, he has by his own fault forfeited his own life; the person to whom he has forfeited it may (when he has him in his power) delay taking it and instead make use of the offending man for his own purposes; and this isn’t doing him any wrong, because whenever he finds the hardship of his slavery to outweigh the value of his life, he has the power to resist the will of his master, thus bringing the death that he wants.

24. What I have been discussing is the condition of complete slavery, which is just a continuation of the state of war between a lawful conqueror and a captive. If they enter into any kind of pact—agreeing to limited power on the one side and obedience on the other—the state of war and slavery ceases for as long as the pact is in effect. For, as I have said, no man can by an agreement pass over to someone else something that he doesn’t himself have, namely a power over his own life.

I admit that we find among the Jews, as well as other nations, cases where men sold themselves; but clearly they sold themselves only into drudgery, not slavery. It is evident that the person who was sold wasn’t thereby put at the mercy of an absolute, arbitrary, despotic power; for the master was obliged at a certain time to let the other go free from his service, and so he couldn’t at any time have the power to kill him. Indeed the master of this kind of servant was so far from having an arbitrary power over his •life that he couldn’t arbitrarily even •maim him: the loss of an eye or a tooth set him free (Exodus xxi).

Chapter 5: Property

25. God , as King David says (Psalms cxv.16), has given the earth to the children of men—given it to mankind in common. This is clear, whether we consider •natural reason, which tells us that men, once they are born, have a right to survive and thus a right to food and drink and such other things as nature provides for their subsistence, or •revelation, which gives us an account of the grants that God made of the world

to Adam and to Noah and his sons. Some people think that this creates a great difficulty about how anyone should ever come to own anything. I might answer ·that difficulty with another difficulty, saying· that if the supposition that

God gave the world to Adam and his posterity in common

makes it hard to see how •there can be any individual




Second Treatise John Locke 5: Property

ownership, the supposition that God gave the world to Adam and his successive heirs, excluding all the rest of his posterity

makes it hard to see how •anything can be owned except by one universal monarch. But I shan’t rest content with that, and will try to show ·in a positive way· how men could come to own various particular parts of something that God gave to mankind in common, and how this could come about without any explicit agreement among men in general. [Here and throughout this chapter, ‘own’ will often replace Locke’s ‘have a property


26. God, who has given the world to men in common, has also given them reason to make use of it to the best advantage of life and convenience. The earth and everything in it is given to men for the support and comfort of their existence. All the fruits it naturally produces and animals that it feeds, as produced by the spontaneous hand of nature, belong to mankind in common; nobody has a basic right—a private right that excludes the rest of mankind—over any of them as they are in their natural state. But they were given for the use of men; and before they can be useful or beneficial to any particular man there must be some way for a particular man to appropriate them [= ‘come to own them’]. The wild Indians ·in north America· don’t have fences or boundaries, and are still joint tenants ·of their territory·; but if any one of them is to get any benefit from fruit or venison, the food in question must be his—and his (i.e. a part of him) in such a way that no-one else retains any right to it. [The last clause of that is puzzling. Does Locke mean that the Indian can’t

directly get benefit from the venison except by eating it? That seems to

be the only way to make sense of ‘part of him’; but it doesn’t fit well with

the paragraph as a whole.]

27. Though •men as a whole own the earth and all inferior creatures, every •·individual· man has a property in his own person [= ‘owns himself’]; this is something that nobody else has any right to. The labour of his body and the work of his hands, we may say, are strictly his. So when he takes something from the state that nature has provided and left it in, he mixes his labour with it, thus joining to it something that is his own; and in that way he makes it his property.

He has removed the item from the common state that nature has placed it in, and through this labour the item has had annexed to it something that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour is unquestionably the property of the labourer, so no other man can have a right to anything the labour is joined to—at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others. [Note Locke’s statement that every man ‘has a property in his own person’. He often says that the

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