Throughout the readings on Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes, discussion centered around one ruler- a prince or sovereign. John Locke introduced a new form of political thought based on the idea of separation of powers. Hence, no one individual has absolute power. In Second Treatise of Government, Locke talks about the idea of being free and equal, as well as other important topics that distinguish his ideas from his predecessors. I will discuss why, according to Locke’s principles, democracy is a more successful form of government as opposed to tyranny or monarchy.
Locke addresses ideas inherent or explicitly defined in prior methods of thought. Specifically, he recognizes the popular belief that God gives kings authority, so kings have a divine right and justified claim to power. Locke, however, challenges this because he proposes that people are free and equal. Equality involves given rights of humanity because God make people equal such that one cannot dominate another. This is a notion of justice that Locke then links to freedom. An individual is free until his or her exercise of freedom harms another individual. Justice also appears when Locke discusses the right to judge. If anyone has executive power, then personal biases will eventually cause a problem. Therefore, Lock suggests a common judge. With a common judge, similar benefits from Hobbes’ sovereign allow for unbiased judgments and time efficient resolutions. However, for Locke, the common judge does not make the laws as with Hobbes’ sovereign. This allows for checks and balances on power to preserve personal freedoms. In this case, one does have an obligation to the laws because an individual may be tried before the common judge, but there is also the right to revolt and appeal. This highlights a key difference between Locke’s common judge and Hobbes’ sovereign. We can also see this difference in the Unites States’ method of government today in that it is much more similar to Locke’s checks and balances and separation of powers.
Benefits of allocating power appear when analyzing Locke’s explanations about the negative characteristics of usurpation and tyranny. In the case of usurpation, the government has the power to overrule laws which adds an uncertainty to the government’s capabilities. Are there then no limits to the government’s rule? With usurpation, the answer is no, so people may have constant fear toward the government. In a tyrannical state, the ruler can take property, life, and freedom, again leaving the people with uncertainty and fear. In these cases, as well as in a monarchy, denial of representation prevents the people from being able to speak out for themselves. This oppression is a general harm for Locke and can lead to a long chain of abuses in the government.
The benefits that a democracy brings include representation, separation of powers, and, perhaps most importantly, a guarantee of freedom and equality. The constant state of feeling powerless and unable to elicit change is addressed through Locke’s ideas. Recognizing the need for a government for protection, Locke gives us the preliminary ideas of a government run for the people and by the people, making Locke very influential toward the foundation of the United States’ government and its democracy today.
Rebecca Beagan Section 11