Locke And The Legitimacy Of The State: Right Vs. Good

728 words - 3 pages

Locke and the Legitimacy of the State: Right vs. Good

John Locke’s conception of the “legitimate state” is surrounded by much controversy and debate over whether he emphasizes the right over the good or the good over the right. In the midst of such a profound and intriguing question, Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration, provides strong evidence that it is ineffective to have a legitimate state “prioritize” the right over the good.

Locke’s view of the pre-political state begins with his statement that “man is ‘naturally in,’ the state of ‘perfect freedom’ and equality,” (Christman 42). Locke believes that man naturally has the capacity for Reason which in ...view middle of the document...

According to Locke, living in such a state of nature is ‘inconvienent’, for there is no common ground by which to appropriately judge an individual who infringes upon another person natural rights (Christman 43). Therefore, one can not ‘effectively enjoy’ their own rights until they join under a ‘common political authority’ (44). However, this government can only exist under the consent of those who are governed. Additionally, “the natural rights one exercise in [tacitly] consenting to adhere to a political authority fixes the rounds for the legitimacy of that authority,” (45). It is for this reason which Locke “argues that rebellion is justified whenever sovereign acts in ways that are in violation of citizens’ natural rights,” (45). Thus, any absolute power loses its legitimacy once such a sovereign runs against the protection of mans natural rights.

Therefore, does Locke’s version of the legitimate state prioritize the good or the right? Some hold the opinion that Locke places emphasis on the good over the right because of Locke’s writings in the Second Treatise. In this work Locke states that because human beings are “God’s handiwork (and He would...

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