Freedom, Consent, and Economic Inequality in The Second Treatise of Government

Last Updated: 20 Apr 2023
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The writing of The Second Treatise of Government by John Locke shaped the political thinking of the philosophical terms of freedom, consent, and economic inequality. This essay will provide the contents of those philosophies alongside addressing Locke's understandings of political power, liberty, and property.

Political Power is talked about quite frequently though out this book. Locke also refers to political power with the term political society. The purpose of political power to Locke is said as, "I take to be a right of making laws with penalties of death, consequently all less penalties, for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the force of the community, in the execution of such laws, and in the defense of the common-wealth from the foreign injuries; and all this for the public good." (Locke, §3) Locke is focusing on protecting the natural rights of life, liberty and the estate of the common-wealth. The wants that are stated by Locke are talking about objects that the state of nature lacks. First Locke says that man is lacking the established known law allowed by common consent standard of right and wrong.

The second is that man lacks the known and indifferent judge, with the authority to regulate that of the established law. The last is man lacking the power to support the claim of any wrong or right doing and given in due execution(Locke, §124-§126). The people must relinquish their natural rights in order to gain that of those three wants. The people can do this by submitting the legislation of civil society, the first right is slightly abandoned. The second right is given up in favor of placing oneself under the protection of the executive power, Finally, it is observed that this system is possible on the three civil society mentioned above with a law, a judge and an executive working "to no other end, but the peace, safety, and public good of the people." (§131)

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These wants can be achievable only with the consent of the people and there are many ways that the people can show their consent. One way to show consent Is to give explicit consent, is agreeing to the contracts that established that particular society or by joining an already established society. The other way is tacit consent which is accepting the laws and services of the government by the laws being implied by everyone. Whether it's explicit or tacit, consenting means you have to surrender some of your freedom and submit authority to the government in exchange for the protection of all other rights. Which is the biggest reason why people give consent to political society.

The meaning of liberty for Locke is stated as "for liberty is, to be free from restraint and violence from others; which cannot be, where there is no law." ($57) Liberty is not for few people to do whatever they please, but is for each individual to do what they are masters at. For something to count as freedom, there must be enough rules to prevent any individual and the state as well from being domineering. Which is a tough standard for society to be able to make sure no one becomes too powerful over others but is certainly a worthy goal.

An essential aspect for liberty and the preservation of an individual's freedom is that every man has a property, as Locke states, "every man has a "property in his own "person." (§26) and for man to claim property to his own he must mix his labor in with that of common property. Locke says in a more detailed way as stating, "As much land as a man, tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is his property. He by his labor does, as it were, enclose it from the common." (§32)

Man with his private property is allowed to make as much as he needs as Locke said to be limits on property as nothing goes to waste. (§30) The way men would show consent to this is by taking in exchanges of others goods and services, and the way they did that was when, "came in the use of money, some lasting thing that men might keep without spoiling." (§47). The creation of money was for man to not waste those goods not used for himself and exchange those goods away. Money also gives man the opportunity to enlarge his industry, for men can use that money to expand his land, buy better tools, and buy more labor.

Locke has a good amount to say about consent and all readers understand and interpret them in their ways. Poverty is more than just being poor, it's the inequalities that individuals have to face in an economy or society. John Locke believed that economic inequalities come about when people applied their skills or talents in an economy. This means those who are in poverty are there because they aren't willing to put in the work of their skills and talents to grow their property, for wealth is a product of labor.

Nevertheless, there is a fine line of how unfair people have it being in poverty. Economic inequalities have been present in society for many centuries, it should be realized that every person, even the poorest, owns his own life and should be free to engage in peaceful activities in his efforts to acquire a property. But, these poor individuals have almost zero consent to living in poverty.

For the time Locke was writing this, the biggest part that crosses the line of poverty being unfair is the kids born into poverty and forced to stay since they don't get to choose who their parents are, so they have no consent at all. They can't leave the society they are in, because to go to another one they will still be in the same way or even worse off, so they have no rights there either. No society can every reach economic equality for there will always be some individuals more powerful than others for money and property define power. Seeing that those with too much money and property and those with next to nothing are the reasons a society will ever reach full economic equality.

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Freedom, Consent, and Economic Inequality in The Second Treatise of Government. (2023, Apr 20). Retrieved from

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