The Idea Of Consent In The Works Of Locke And Rousseau

1622 words - 7 pages

The Idea of Consent in the Works of Locke and Rousseau

The idea of consent is a key element in the works of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In the "Second Treatise of Government," Locke puts forth his conception of the ideal form of government based on a social contract. As Locke develops his theory of consent, he also incorporates theories of political obligation on the part of all citizens of his state as well as his theory of revolution and the conditions under which rebellion is permissible. Though Locke may appear to have explored the notion of consent completely, there are some problems with his theory that weaken its impact. Despite the possible problems encountered with ...view middle of the document...

Without this unanimous consent to government as holder of executive power, men who attempt to establish absolute power will throw society into a state of war(745). The importance of freedom and security to man is the reason he gives consent to the government. He then protects himself from any one partial body from getting power over him. He can appeal to a higher authority in his community once the consent of the people sets up a judiciary(746).
As Locke develops his theory of consent, he addresses the issue of liberty and states that in giving consent, men do give up their "natural liberty," which involves being free from the will of any man and living by the law of nature. However, in the social contract we exchange this natural liberty for "freedom of men under government," in which we have a natural, standing rule to live by, common to everyone, made by the legislative(747). With consent to government, men still have the liberty to follow their own will in matters where the law does not dictate otherwise. Therefore, men do not have to suffer enslavement to political institutions. For Locke, this justifies consent to government and ordered society.
Locke incorporates his views on money into his consent theory, for he feels that men have agreed tacitly, with the invention of money, to put a value on property and establish rights to it(751). The consent of men to place a value on money has allowed men to support themselves with property and labor and also "increase[s] the common stock of mankind"(751). Consent makes industry and the accumulation of the wealth of society possible and Locke considers this a positive achievement.
Involved deeply in the theory of consent is Locke's interpretation of political obligation. Locke views government as essential to the evolution of a civil society in which the inconveniences of the state of nature are rejected while the safety and security men desire are protected by government. Therefore, the people, as part of the social contract, have a duty to obey the laws instituted by government and to accept the concept of majority rule as fundamental to the continued equality of the society. In consenting to political authority, men agree to allow the "body with the greater force" to influence policy(769). Men must have confidence in the proper functioning of government because they rely on the social compact. Their obligation is to abide by the terms of the compact so that both people and government enjoy smooth sailing.
Locke also explores the idea of revolution and insists that the people who have created government with unanimous consent in order to preserve their property and safety should not be betrayed by the very institutions they gave birth to. So Locke states that if any of the three powers in government make a move "to take away and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power" then the people are no longer expected to obey the political...

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