John Locke and the Constitution Essay Sample
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- Category: government
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John Locke and the Constitution Essay Sample
John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government has a profound impact and notable contribution to the current constitution of the US. Locke adhered to the social contract theory in which civil society was established so that a central governing body will resolve conflicts that will naturally evolve among the people who have differing selfish interests and are all equally endowed with the natural right to protect ones’ property. By property, Locke meant the term in its Latin etymology “proprius” which collectively encompasses one’s own life, liberty and possessions (real estate, car, money) (Minton and Shipka) Such basic contention of Locke is embodied in the US constitution as follows, “…No State shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…”(US Constitution)
Unlike Hobbes, Locke contended that the natural state of things is not a state of war by infusing the concept of God to whom all humans equally owe their lives and their very existence. There also exist natural laws of God such as the need to preserve oneself and that of others, which should be naturally implemented. Killing or taking lives would mean stealing from God. God hath not left one man so to the mercy of another. (Locke) Under these premises, human beings are therefore created free, equal, and independent. The notion of universal freedom and equality are sanctified concepts in the US constitution. In fact, freedom of every American citizen is at the heart of American, which is supported and represented in the constitutions bill of rights. The bill of rights (such as freedom of religion, the right against unreasonable search and seizure, cruel and unusual punishment, and self-incrimination, and finally, the right to due process) details the freedom bestowed on every citizen regardless of race, gender, religion or belief, which institutionalized the concept of freedom in civil society.
One of the greatest contributions of Locke which can be inferred from his 2nd treatise is his implicit support for the establishment of a representative government. His ideas about people’s rights and function of governance in the “social contract” necessitates that government must emanate from the people, else there will be no contract at all because monarchs tend to look after their own personal interest than the individual and collective interest of the masses. A representative government is the ideal form of government because the government in “social contract” assumes the “consent of the governed”. (Eagles et al ) Thus, an important provision of the constitution is the election, in which the people are given the opportunity to make a decision of who will govern them. Incidentally, Locke also supported the need for the separation of powers in governance because he recognized “the human frailty of those who wield the powers of state”. (Macfarlane) The constitution defines the powers and duties of the three main branches of government namely: the executive branch (president); the legislative (Senate and Congress) and judiciary (Supreme Court).
Finally, in as much as the people should choose the government, Locke also believed that the people also have to right of revolution. Following the mutual agreement in the social contract theory, the people surrendered some of their natural freedoms in exchange of the protection provided by the government. However, if the government is unable to keep its end of the bargain such as when it abuses its power, the social contract is breached and the natural and moral right of the people to revolt and replace the government may be used. (Kain) This is reflected in the constitution in two ways. First of, in recognizing the possible limitations in the wisdom of the people who framed the social contract (in the form of the constitution), the same is also open to changes or amendments that may be needed so that it maintains its responsiveness to the needs of the people. This eradicates the absolutism of law and opens the law itself to changes that the people want. Secondly, while the right to revolt is not explicitly incorporated in the constitution, the bill of rights provided rights which can be utilized as a conduit to air grievances against the government and legitimately change or even overthrow a corrupt government. These rights included the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and right to assembly, which had been capitalized on by political activists like Martin Luther King, in fighting for changes in society.
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Democratic Government 2nd Edition, Broadview Press, 2003, p193
Kain, Philip J. Marx and Modern Political Theory: From Hobbes to Contemporary
Feminism. Rowman & Littlefield, 1993, pp 54-56
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2nd Edition, McGraw-Hill, 1982, pp417-420