November 3 2014
A Defence of Locke
Locke’s view on government as set out in “Of Civil Government: Book II” is that governments and governed societies emerge on the basis of individuals consenting to be governed. Furthermore, because of the laws of nature and the state of nature consent is the only legitimate way that government can be established (Locke, 1689). Obviously, this is problematic as generally speaking, no individual born into current day societies (with the exception of immigrants) explicitly consents to be governed by that society. In this essay it will be shown that Locke’s explanation of consent is sufficient to establish legitimate governments given it is possible to leave societies which we would in an everyday western sense consider to be legitimate.
Locke himself realizes that consent of every person within society to every act passed by government would result only in constantly dissolving and re-emerging societies (Locke, 1689). Therefore, one consents to be a part of a particular society rather than consents to every part of that society. This does not immediately seem to be a problem. However, it becomes quickly apparent that even this level of consent is not possible in certain cases. For example, babies are born into and become members of society and yet they cannot consent to anything in that stage of development.
Locke answers this problem in particular by reference to the notion of property. Property rights and inheritances are generally speaking protected by society. Furthermore, in the case of property that is land it is likely tied to a specific place that is part of a nation. He says that if a son inherits from his father under these circumstances, he is consenting to be governed because his consent is tacit in his acceptance of his inheritance because of the nature of property in relation to society (Locke, 1689). This notion of tacit consent, however, raises another issue. This is because if an individual born into a country can give tacit consent to be governed by its ruling powers, then is not a travelling or visiting individual giving tacit consent by using amenities such as roadways etc. to be governed? Clearly this would…