Locke’s Second Treatise of Government


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Describe the “State of Nature” for Locke. What is the difference between the” State of Nature and the “State of War” for Locke? Why does he take it that people leave the “State of Nature”? What is the relationship between the “State of Nature,” property, and government for Locke?

State of Nature

The concept of “state of nature” according to John Locke is characterized by the nonexistence of political administrative bodies, but not the nonexistence of shared obligation. Locke’s state of nature also teaches that all humankind are equal and independent and out of the law of nature, are supposed to protect their lives as well as that of other humankind. He believes that human beings are inherently endowed with the right to life, right to liberty, and right of possession of property, which are the factors that if understood and endorsed by all, then the state of nature could be relatively peaceful. Locke asserts that the state of nature is a situation that is characterized by equality, whereby no individual has more rights, power, and control over other people, since all creatures, including human species, are created with similar statuses (8). Therefore, no individual is subordinate to another individual, but to God who is the creator of all things. Locke considers that in the state of nature, people are free to order their moves and actions, to dispose their possessions in a manner they consider fit. However, all orders and actions of individuals are within the limits of the law of nature (8).

State of Nature versus State of War

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According to Locke, the state of nature and the state of war are not a similar phenomenon (7). While the state of nature is characterized by human race living together, without one being subjected to or superior to others, and is governed by reason. The state of war, on the other hand, takes its course when individuals make portrayals of force against other individuals without a mutual authority. In such a scenario, the party that has been attacked has a moral right to war. “When an individual declares that he/she plans or anticipates to attack or end the life of another individual, then he/she puts himself or herself into what Locke refers to as the state of war”( 8). The peril is that he puts his life at risk of subsiding to the authority and power of the person he intended to attack or any other person who comes to offer support in defense. Locke argues that it is right and just for the attacked person to defend himself or herself through destroying the life of the person who intended to hurt them. Hence, while the want of a common control or judge is the basic trait that describes the state of nature, unwarranted force without reason is the foundation of the state of war (9)

Locke believes that individuals ought to leave the state of nature because of three critical things that this state lacks. He feels that a just civil society provides assurance for the protection of individuals’ lives and their property (28). Nature does not offer a well-known established law that individuals can follow the authority and power to support and back the verdict, and an identified and indifferent magistrate. It is due to this reason that individuals ought to give up their natural rights, which includes the right to act as they wish within the confines of the law of nature and their control and influence in punishing an offender who commits crimes against the natural law. Indeed, the initial right is partially relinquished through acquiescing oneself to the established laws of civil society that are stricter as compared to those of natural law. The subsequent right is given up entirely in favor of placing oneself under the shelter of the society’s executive power (32). In fact, Locke notes that the civil society is a system that is reliant to the three basic characteristics, including the established law, a magistrate, and an administrative working, which are aimed at ensuring that individuals coexist peacefully and safely.

State of Nature, Property, and Government  

According to Locke, the state of nature, property and government are interrelated. In the state of nature, every individual is equal to each other. They are at liberty to conduct themselves as they wish so long as they do not interfere with another individual (3). However, they are prevented from quarrels that arise due to conflict of interests through the use of reason. Hence, the state of law according to Locke bestows every reasonable individual the responsibility to maintain and enforce the natural law through giving punishments to individuals who violate it. It is the task of every reasonable individual to punish criminals owing to the fact that all are equal inherently.

However, things change with the introduction of property. Initially, everything belongs to all of us in common, but when individuals spend their time and energy cultivating the land and hence improving its productivity, they acquire property interest. “Individuals are at liberty to pursue their possessions, health, life, and liberty (11), but the story gets complicated and multifaceted upon the introduction of a fiscal system. The introduction of a civic society or government requires that all persons voluntarily relinquish their inherent rights to their distinct society, which contrasts the rights endowed by the state of natural law. The government establishes and enforces fixed rules for behavior and conduct of all individuals, which is a commonwealth that acts as an arbitrator in the judgment of possessions dispute among individuals who have voluntarily given up their state of natural law. According to Locke, the main agenda behind the creation of governments is to safeguard ‘property’ that could be threatened with destruction and adverse possession by other political structures if not protected (11).


what is Locke’s theory of property? How does this relate to us leaving the “State of Nature?” What is Locke’s position on slavery? Why does he take this position? What is Locke’s opinion of “common” vs “private” property? How might this color his opinion of the lifestyle of the indigenous peoples of North America?

Theory of Property

In Chapter five of the second Treatise of Government, Locke holds that God gave the earth and all its belongings to me for their consumption according to the state of natural law. His concept of property ownership is founded on the manner in which he develops it. “Each and every individual has property in his or her hands, which is inherently his and no one has a right use other individuals’ personality to possess property, unless by obtaining consent. In other words, an individual’s labor of his or her hands is austerely his/hers (11). Therefore, when individuals transform a thing that is in the natural state through laboring on it, they make it their property. Hence, Locke’s theory of property proposes that the altering the form of a thing from the actual state provided by nature makes it a property of the person whose labor is exerted. By removing the element from its natural state and replacing it to another state through mixing his or her labor, the item then take possession of and is excluded from being a thing with a common right to everyone. The laborer becomes unquestionably the rightful owner of the property he has transformed and no other person can have the right to own property in instances where labor has been exerted (11).

Indeed, Locke’s concept of property relates to individuals leaving the state of nature in a variety of ways. Individuals living in the state of nature are subject to the inherent law in which every person has the right to execute when other people put their natural rights at risk (3). In this state, individuals acquire property through adding labor to the acreage. Indeed, this is followed by bartering and eventually evolving fiscal currencies that enables individuals to amass large quantities of property together, which is a phenomenon that describes our contemporary state. In the modern times we are living in, the concept of natural law is no longer sufficient in offering protection for the liberty and property of persons, which is why individuals are leaving their natural states to joining civic society. Through joining a civic society, individuals have to follow the established judicial power in the distinct society and are not at liberty to execute law as they wish. Every member of society has a duty to follow and obey the laws that govern the society in which he/she joins (29).

Locke’s Position on Slavery

Locke argues that there are two forms of slavery, including legitimate and illegitimate. He believes that slavery is a phase described by the state of war whereby the subjugator has absolute power over the conquered. In such a scenario, both the victor and the victim may form an agreement where the victor can have access to some degree of rule and the conquered promises to obey. In this case, the state of war and the form of slavery are at par. “In the natural state, man is free from any form of superiority, including the authority relating to power under heaven” (9). He/she is not under the mercies or will of legislative control of humanity, but ought to be ruled by the law of nature. In civic society, man’s liberty is under no control or authority apart from the one established by assent in the state. Therefore, a man is not under the control of any will or manacles under laws established by other political bodies other than the one, which is founded by the legislature in line with his or her mandate.

Locke believes that the only time that slavery can be considered as legitimate is when a person is defeated in combat, and his conqueror places him or her under an outright rule (9). Certainly, this slavery is allowed based on the reason that the person defeated in warfare violated the rule of natural law by carrying out some transgression, but failed to emerge victorious when the wronged person sought reimbursement by applying force. Indeed, this form of slavery, according to Locke, is legitimate and can only be brought to an end when the victor and the enslaved seek for new terms of leniency and obedience for their association. In contrast, illegitimate slavery occurs when persons with authority and control use their power to get control over individuals without any reasonable cause. Hence, for Locke, it is unlawful to enforce individuals into slavery. In fact, the reasons Locke takes this position on slavery is due to his believe in liberty for all humanity, apart from those that threaten to jeopardize their safety, property, and well-being.

Common and Private Property

Locke opens chapter 5 by affirming the Bible teaching that God has given the earth to man, which represents his thought on common property (10). In the natural state, this means that man property is a product bestowed to men due to their existence as opposed to their social contract. Therefore, the earth is a common property of all men. In contrast, the human body is given to each individual as private property. Hence, if a man uses the private property to alter the form of the common property, then it becomes his/her private property. Indeed, the lifestyle of the indigenous people of North America can agree with Locke’s opinion on property possession in the sense that they cohabitate in the traditional ways. They maintain or actively seek to maintain their customary ways, including acquiring of property as they are still in their state of nature.


When, for Locke, is revolt against the government justified? How is this right tied to natural rights had in the “State of Nature” Does Locke take it that this “right of rebellion? will lead to constant rebellion? Why or why not?

Justification of Revolt

According to Locke, there are various scenarios where revolt against the government is justified. The first instance is when the government exercises its powers beyond its right. A good and just leaders lead according to the legislative works that is bound by the law. Therefore, they cannot break the law to act on their selfish demands. When a government stops acting for the benefit of its people, then individuals can justly revolt against their government. Quoting clause 229 of the Second Treaties of government, every government should act in accordance with what is good for its people…” but when the rulers grow exorbitant while exercising their authority and powers, and use it not for the preservation of people’s property but destruction, then revolt is justified”(75)

In addition, when a government stops to function for its people, then it can be replaced and dissolved. During this time, the citizens are at liberty to recreate a civil state that gives the interest of the people a priority. Locke argues that reforming the legislature as well as laws is just as it prevents individuals from rebellion. For Locke, revolt against an unjust government is dignified and rightful as it protects them from the impacts of unjust oppression. When individuals exercise their powers to make laws without the consent of the people, then they are formulating illegitimate laws (70). In such circumstances, the citizens are not obliged to follow or obey laws that have been made without authority. For Locke, when persons in authority abuse their powers, they may be overthrown, or the government can be dissolved because citizens of distinct nations are the best judges of their governments. By revolting against the government, people free themselves from subjection and oppression. Indeed, this is due to the reason that they will have freedom and liberty to counterattack the force of the leaders who attempt to impose themselves upon them illegitimately (pp. 70).

When the government has been dissolved or overthrown, a condition characterized by its cessation to carry out its duties for the people, it is replaced. The people of the land are at liberty to reconstruct the legislature with the intentions of creating a new one that functions in the interest of the people, lest they find themselves under the tyrannical rule. Locke argues that revolting against the government through the processes of dissolving it and reforming the constitution protects the people against upheaval and uprisings as it gives them opportunities to air their views through changing the laws and legislation.

Natural Rights and Revolt Against Government

Justification of revolt against the government is interrelated to the rights that individuals have in the state of nature. In the natural state, it is adequate that the rights of people are maintained and preserved, “…. no-one has the right to take away or destroy something that gives preservation of someone else” (4). However, people in the state of nature may act irrationally, which is why we require having governments. If man in the state of nature has all that liberty, then it is hard to expect him/her to part with his/her freedom for an unjust administration. Although the natural state accords him/her the right to liberty, the fulfilment and enjoyment of this right is indeterminate, highly insecure and unsafe, which guarantee him/her to willingly quit the natural state to join a more secure and peaceful body “…..unite to form a community or government, which is more secure, and peaceful …(32). Every individual signs and consents to the legislative, judiciary, and executive branch, including the government, which enforces it to abide to and respect the will of its people. When the government violates the inherent rights of its people, then it is bound to experience justified revolt against it, just as a criminal in the state of nature. Therefore, justified revolt against a tyrannical government by its people is similar to the punishment that is given to a person who violates the rights of the state of law.

Locke’s take on the right of revolt against government is that it might lead to constant rebellion, though not as much as other hypothesis insinuate. Indeed, this is due to the reason that when individuals are wretched and miserable, they will tend to exercise their obligation through revolt. In fact, this will happen repeatedly whenever they feel that their rights are being violated. “….and this will occur again”… (74). Locke argues that people who feel that they are wronged and denied their rights severally will be ready to set themselves free whenever a chance is presented. Even if the opportunity fails to occur naturally, they will certainly look for it. It is imperative to note that although revolt against a government is bound to occur frequently, it does not occur because of every little form of abuse of mismanagement. Instead, it takes course after a prolonged and protracted successions of tricks, abuses, and other forms of violation that make the citizens feel that they are being oppressed (74).


How does Spinoza differentiate between “religion” and “superstition”? What are / should be the roles of “religion” and “superstition” in society according to Spinoza?

 Difference Between “Religion” and “Superstition.”

Spinoza differentiates religion and superstition by describing what each stands for. The major difference is that superstition is momentary while religion is consistent. Superstition is momentary since people cannot stay with one superstition for long, they often rush to the other “It’s easy for men to be taken in by any superstition, but it’s not easy for them to stay with one superstition rather than rushing off to another” (3). Religion is a concrete and consistent philosophy that continuously authorizes the monarch to rule as religious edicts deceive the followers. It is worth noting that the “The greatest secret and the whole aim of monarchic rule is to keep men deceived and controlled through fear cloaked in a spurious religious covering. Therefore, they will fight for slavery as they would for salvation, and will think it honorable rather than shameful to give their life’s blood so that one man can have something to boast about” (3). Superstition exists on a befuddled concept of God, “it consists in a confused idea of God” (3). Superstition is also based on fear, hope, and fright, “….look at Alexander the Great, He didn’t make use of fortune-tellers in a genuinely superstitious way until, at the mountain pass known as the Susidan Gates, he had his first experience of being anxious about whether his luck would hold, in a situation that he couldn’t control” (3). On the other hand, religion is based on concrete faith in God and is informed by theology “As for the rebellions that people stir up in the name of religion. They will arise because laws are made about matters of theoretical belief, opinions are condemned as wicked crimes, and those who have the opinions are sacrificed not to the public good but the hatred and barbarity of their opponents (3).

The Roles of “Religion” and “Superstition” in Society According to Spinoza

Spinoza has a negative opinion about superstition and thus recommends the aspect of avoiding it because it is only important where there is fear, anxiety, and pursuit of hope, “If men could manage all their affairs by a definite plan, or if they never ran into bad luck, they would never succumb to superstition” (3). The author opines that people should base their lives on plans to avoid the vulnerability to succumbing to superstition. In this statement, he does not find any importance of superstition apart from assuaging the fears of frightened men. However, he believes that religion is very important for the existence of a society.

Spinoza affirms that religion is important for the existence of the state because the right of worship is a fundamental right that should not be denied to anyone. “The main thing I aim to show in this treatise is that freedom of opinion and worship is not harmful to the piety and peace of the State but essential for them” (4). However, religion is also a source of deception, hypocrisy, and shallow creed in the sense that people do not necessarily uphold the religious edicts of their respective faiths. Finally, Spinoza asserts that “I have often wondered that men who boast of their adherence to the Christian religion, including love, joy, peace, decency of conduct, and honesty towards all quarrel so bitterly among themselves, and daily express their hatred for one another, so that a man’s religion is shown more clearly by where and how he picks his quarrels than by his love, gladness, and so on” (4).

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