Locke And RousseauThe idea of consent is a key element in the works of John Locke and Jean-JacquesRousseau. In the “Second Treatise of Government,” Locke puts forth hisconception of the ideal form of government based on a social contract. As Lockedevelops his theory of consent, he also incorporates theories of politicalobligation on the part of all citizens of his state as well as his theory ofrevolution and the conditions under which rebellion is permissible.
Though Lockemay appear to have explored the notion of consent completely, there are someproblems with his theory that weaken its impact. Despite the possible problemsencountered with Locke’s idea of consent in a political society, Rousseau, inhis essay “On the Social Contract,” seems to agree with Locke with regardsto the concept of consent as it applies to the use of money. The works of Lockeand Rousseau explore political foundations that depend on a social contractwhich requires consent above all things in order to secure liberty for thepeople. John Locke powerfully details the benefits of consent as a principleelement of government, guaranteed by a social contract. Locke believes in theestablishment of a social compact among people of a society that is unique inits ability to eliminate the state of nature.
Locke feels the contract must endthe state of nature agreeably because in the state of nature “every one hasexecutive power of the law of nature”(742). This is a problem because men arethen partial to their own cases and those of their friends and may becomevindictive in punishments of enemies. Therefore, Locke maintains that agovernment must be established with the consent of all that will “restrain thepartiality and violence of men”(744). People must agree to remove themselvesfrom the punishing and judging processes and create impartiality in a governmentso that the true equality of men can be preserved.
Without this unanimousconsent to government as holder of executive power, men who attempt to establishabsolute power will throw society into a state of war(745). The importance offreedom and security to man is the reason he gives consent to the government. Hethen protects himself from any one partial body from getting power over him. Hecan appeal to a higher authority in his community once the consent of the peoplesets up a judiciary(746).
As Locke develops his theory of consent, he addressesthe 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 andliving by the law of nature. However, in the social contract we exchange thisnatural liberty for “freedom of men under government,” in which we have anatural, standing rule to live by, common to everyone, made by thelegislative(747). With consent to government, men still have the liberty tofollow their own will in matters where the law does not dictate otherwise. Therefore, men do not have to suffer enslavement to political institutions.
ForLocke, this justifies consent to government and ordered society. Lockeincorporates his views on money into his consent theory, for he feels that menhave agreed tacitly, with the invention of money, to put a value on property andestablish rights to it(751). The consent of men to place a value on money hasallowed men to support themselves with property and labor and also”increase the common stock of mankind”(751). Consent makes industry andthe accumulation of the wealth of society possible and Locke considers this apositive achievement. Involved deeply in the theory of consent is Locke’sinterpretation of political obligation. Locke views government as essential tothe evolution of a civil society in which the inconveniences of the state ofnature are rejected while the safety and security men desire are protected bygovernment.
Therefore, the people, as part of the social contract, have a dutyto obey the laws instituted by government and to accept the concept of majorityrule as fundamental to the continued equality of the society. In consenting topolitical authority, men agree to allow the “body with the greater force” toinfluence policy(769). Men must have confidence in the proper functioning ofgovernment because they rely on the social compact. Their obligation is to abideby the terms of the compact so that both people and government enjoy smoothsailing.
Locke also explores the idea of revolution and insists that the peoplewho have created government with unanimous consent in order to preserve theirproperty and safety should not be betrayed by the very institutions they gavebirth to. So Locke states that if any of the three powers in government make amove “to take away and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce themto slavery under arbitrary power” then the people are no longer expected toobey the political authority(807). If the government is guilty of a “breach oftrust they forfeit the power”(807). Locke believes that giving the people theoption to rebel does not provoke frequent uprising against government.
On thecontrary, this option being open is a protective measure and keeps things inorder, for the people will realize there is a way out if the government ceasesto represent their interests. It is, in a sense, a safety valve for the peopleand gives them the reassurance of having some control over government’sactions. Locke’s theory of consent encounters some minor problems. One of thepossible problems regards the propertyless person.
For a man who has nopossessions, the desire for protection of property that motivates men to consentto government is nonexistent. He has no reason to want government and so will bebeyond the reach of political authority. Such a person, Locke maintains, issubject to despotical power(794). Also, Locke feels that anyone who enjoys theprivileges of government, like driving on the roads, gives tacit consent togovernment(777).
However, many people are not conscious of the fact that drivingon the roads is giving consent to government. The education of exactly what isand what is not consent to government is an issue Locke does not address. Histheory of consent is weakened by the fact that many may not be as aware of theirconsent to government as he believes. With regards to revolution, it can be saidthat Locke views rebellion as a way to reinstate political rights violated by anunjust sovereign. He states that once the government has breached the trust ofthe citizenry, the people “have a right to resume their original liberty, and,by the establishment of a new legislative.
. . provide for their own safety andsecurity”(807). The people’s duty is to subvert the authority that is nolonger functioning in a just manner, a manner appropriate to its creation, andto assert their rights as stipulated by the social contract by forming a newgovernment. It is simply a starting over for the society, but no power hasreally changed hands, except on a very temporary basis. The people take powerlong enough to build a new legislative and then relinquish power to the newgovernment.
Revolution ensures that malfunctioning government does not dissolvethe political rights of a society. Jean-Jacques Rousseau develops his politicaltheory in response to the contention of Locke that his idea of government is theideal. Rousseau believes in a much higher level of political participation andobligation, but for the most part concurs with Locke regarding the role ofconsent in establishing government. Rousseau would definitely agree with Lockethat men give their mutual consent to money as a store of value in a society. Rousseau feels that the social compact, as it secures the consent of all, willbenefit every man equally and protect his property. The general will of thepeople “can direct the forces of the state” to ensure “the common good”is served(919).
As money is the element that allows men to acquire wealth andprovide for their families, money would certainly be welcomed by the people,with their consent to its value, as serving the common good. Rousseau wouldcontend that if money existed as a store of value, it could be so only with thefull consent of the people. The general will only acts to serve its own needs ina positive way(920). Therefore, money would be accepted as benefiting society,as Locke maintains.
The works of Locke and Rousseau expand the idea of consentas the pathway to government that serves the people at all times and can berecalled and challenged by the populace if it fails to obey the terms of thesocial contract. Even if Locke’s ideas are only a compilation of ideasswimming around in the philosophical pool in his time, his confidence in theirability to establish a secure, positive political and civil society influencedour founding fathers as they worked to design government. His theory of consentand Rousseau’s expansion on it in his works emphasize how essential it is forboth people and government to be held by certain standards so that everyone issatisfied. In reading Locke and Rousseau, a reader is compelled to compare thetheories of these philosophers with the political reality today. Though theirperception of the ideal government differs, the impact of their work combinedcan be clearly realized.
BibliographyLocke, John. “Second Treatise of Government. ” Rousseau,Jean-Jacques. “On the Social Contract.”