Consensual Foundations and Resistance in Locke's 'Second Treatise'

in Theoria
Author: Rory J. Conces
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One of the problems that has dominated Western political thought for the past four hundred years is the tension within the body politic between the ‘will of the collective’, as it is expressed by those vested with authority and power, and the ‘will of the individual’. Among political theorists who have examined this problem, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and John Locke (1632-1704) viewed this potentially ruinous tension in radically different ways. In his famous work Leviathan (1651), Hobbes presents the problem of how we are to socially conduct ourselves as a society, an apparent dilemma whose horns are none other than anarchy and servile absolutism. Either we submit to the constraints imposed upon us by government, or we accept the dire consequences of his infamous state of nature. Since he was well acquainted with the strife of war-torn seventeenth-century Europe (including the Thirty Years War [1618-48] in Central Europe, the Scottish Revolt [1638-40], and the First Civil War [1642-46] as well as the Second Civil War [1648] in England), the choice was an easy one for Hobbes. He leaves no doubt that the dissolution of government is the single worst misfortune that could beset man, resulting in an anarchic condition in which ‘the life of man, [is] solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short’.1 It is therefore to man’s advantage to leave this state by accepting absolute sovereignty as the only rational alternative.

Theoria

A Journal of Social and Political Theory

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