An Overview of the Basic Elements in John Locke’s Political Theory and the Natural Rights

Category: Ethics, John Locke
Last Updated: 31 May 2023
Pages: 3 Views: 102

The basic elements in John Locke's political theory are natural rights, social contract, and government by consent, and right of revolution. Locke was very concerned with the "property right" and derived property right from higher law. He also declared that natural law remained valuable in civil society as the fundamental measure of men's rights. For him, natural law effectively begins and ends with the natural right of property. The true end of civil government is defending property and the right of property is the efficient restriction upon the powers of the government. Locke interpreted natural law as a claim to natural rights inherent in each individual. Equally, government and society exist to preserve the individual's rights and the indefeasibility of such rights is a limitation on the authority of both.

According to Locke, primitive man existed in a "state of nature," which was one of peace, good will, mutual assistance, and preservation. The flaw of the state of nature lies merely in the fact that it has no organization to give effect to the rules of right, such as judges, written laws, and fixed penalties. However, in the state of nature, every man must protect his own as best he can. His right to his own and his duty to respect what is another's are as complete as ever they can become under civil government. Moral rights and duties are natural, morality makes law and not law makes morality. Governments have to give effect to what is naturally right before its enactment.

From Locke s theory of the origin of private property, he concluded that the right to property is prior even to the primitive society, which he described as the state of nature. Each individual brings this right to society in his own person. Therefore, society does not create the right of property because the society cannot justly regulate it. At least in part, both society and civil government exist to protect the prior right to private property.

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Political power, according to Locke, can have no right unless it is derived from the individual rights of each man to protect himself and his property. The setting up of a civil government is insignificant for him than the original compact that makes a civil society.

Once a majority has agreed to form a civil government, "the whole power of the community is naturally in them." The specific form or structure the government takes really depends on the disposition of the majority of the community. Moreover, legislative powers cannot take property without consent, which interpreted as majority-vote by Locke.

Having made a distinction between civil society and civil government, Locke continues to discuss the right to oppose tyranny. Civil government exists for the well being of civil society and a government, which seriously jeopardizes social interests. A civil government can only be dissolved either by a change in the location of legislative power or by a violation of the trust which the people have reposed in it. Any invasion of the life, liberty, or property of individuals is void and forfeits its power. In this case, power reverts to the people, who must provide by a new act of legislation for a new legislature.

Locke s sincerity, his deep moral belief, his true faith in liberty, in individual rights, and in the dignity of human nature, united with his control and intelligence made Locke a perfect spokesman of a middle-class revolution. He was an important theoretical force in the encouragement of classic liberal ideals. Those Americans who are still believers in the right to life, liberty, and private property owe him a debt of gratitude for providing no small justification for the inalienability of these civil liberties.

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An Overview of the Basic Elements in John Locke’s Political Theory and the Natural Rights. (2023, May 31). Retrieved from

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