Development of the American Experience
24 November 2009
The Constituents of a State of War
John Locke defines the state of war, and the rightful response of a man to it, as follows.
The State of War is a state of enmity and destruction: And therefore declaring by word or action, not a passionate and hasty, but a sedate settled design upon another man’s life, puts him in a state of war with him against whom he has declared such an intention, and so has exposed his life to the other’s power to be taken away by him, or any one that joins with him in his defence, and espouses his quarrel: it being reasonable and just I should have a right to destroy that which threatens me with destruction. (Locke 689)
In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson in response to the improper treatment of the ...view middle of the document...
This list of grievances is lengthy, suggesting that the wrong doings described had accumulated over the years. This means that this document is a response to the moment in which Jefferson and America recognized that if the King was willing to commit all these atrocities, there is no reason that he might not go farther, and completely destroy their lives. With this, it is clear that America had been forced into a state of war with Britain. In this position, America would be acting within its rights if it chose to pursue the destruction of Great Britain in order to free itself from its absolute power.
Self defense laws reflect this new definition of the consequences of a state of war. The use of deadly force is only permitted to prevent imminent death, sexual assault or severe bodily harm. Use of deadly force for any other reason is seen as excessive and the victim will be seen as the aggressor. It is also mandatory that a person flee if at all possible. These laws attempt to bring about a level of response that best preserves all human life. The choice of America to disassociate from Britain, rather than destroy it reflects the same idea. To attack Great Britain would only bring about more destruction of human lives.
A state of war is a state in which the ultimate goal of both side is destruction of another. To attempt to control another’s life, to strip them of their free will, is to endanger their existence. The natural course of action is to destroy that which aims to destroy you. While this may be true, America’s Declaration of Independence is a prime example of human ingenuity to overcome a natural state and make progress. It shows that man does not and should not have to exist in a state of nature. This is “one great reason of men’s putting themselves into society and quitting the state of nature” (Locke 690). The choice to do so helps avoid the state of war, and creates an option to appeal to the laws men create to raise the quality of life.