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Locke’sidea of the People’s right of Revolution


   Guoting Guo



   “The power that every individual gave thesociety, when he entered into it, can never revert to the individuals again, aslong as the society lasts, but will always remain in the community; becausewithout this there can be no community, no commonwealth, which is contrary tothe original agreement… but if they have set limits to the duration of theirlegislative, and made this supreme power in any person, or assembly, onlytempor\ary; or else, when by the miscarriages of those in authority, it isforfeited; upon the forfeiture, or at the determination of the time set, itreverts to the society, and the people have a right to act as supreme, andcontinue the legislative in themselves; or erect a new form, or under the oldform place it in new hands, as they think good.”[1]Lockeasserted.


   In this conclusion Locke involves someimportant political philosophy idea: origin compact are among all member of acommunity not between the ruler and the people; this contract has specialcharacter which cannot change arbitrary, and sovereignty of the commonwealthcome from the consent of the people. The supreme power is the legislative whichis the trustee only and people as sovereignty has right to forfeit it and hasthe right of revolution against tyranny. In fact, Locke’s theory justifies theBritish Revolution in1688 and has significant influence on the AmericanRevolution in 1776 and numberless revolutions in the world. In my short essay, Iwould like focus on Locke’s idea of thepeople’s right of revolution against Prince or government.


   Aristotle according to the number ofrulers divide the governments into three categories: rule by one, Monarchy(Tyranny); by few, Aristocracy (Oligarchy); and by many, Polity(Democracy);Until middle age and before modern time, Christian political thinkers claimedthat all states power come from divined God; even at earlier modern time, Hobbesstill announced the sovereignty of state belong to the absolute Monarchy, forhe believes that even tyranny are better than the state of nature which hedescribed as “the war of all against all”. However, Locke’s political idea isrevolutionary, he asserted that the legislative is the supreme power in anysociety and the people remain the supreme power to remove or alter thelegislative, when they find thelegislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them[2],and all other powers in the society derived from and subordinate to it.[3] Accordingto Locke, the end of men enter intosociety is for enjoyment of their properties in peace and safety, and the fundamental positive law of all society isthe establishing of the legislative power, which is not only the supreme power,but sacred and unalterable; [4] Sincethe members of legislative are elected by people periodically, and the peopleauthorize the legislative to make laws and set rules as guards and fences tothe properties of all the members or the society,[5]asa logical result, people are thesovereignty of the state, and the People’s Sovereignty in fact justify theright of revolution of the people.


   Locke assumes thatmen by nature are all free, equal and independent, without hisconsent, no one can be put out of this estate, nor subjected to the politicalpower of another.[6]So people’s consent actually becomes the root of all political power. Forenjoyment of lives, liberty and estate peace and security and avoid the stateof war, mankind quit their natural power, resign it to the public which canpunish the offences,[7]consentto constitute Political Society, that is, freemen consent of unite andincorporate into a society[8]. In such society must be have adecisive power, an authority and a standing rule and common judge to appeal toresolve the controversies and disputes among people.[9]Thusexcludes all private judgement, the legislators make laws, Umpire settlestanding rules, official apply and execute those rules equally to all member ofthe society, and common judges decidesall disputes happen between any members of that society and punishes thoseoffence.[10]


   Locke proposed that the end ofgovernment is good of mankind, and the end of political power is to preserve citizen’slives, liberties and fortune; He defined political power as: a right of mankindto make laws with penalties of death, and all less penalties, regulate and preservethe property, employ the force of the community, execute laws, defence thecommonwealth from foreign injury, for the public good.[11] Heassumes that the power origin from the compact and mutual consent of those whomake up the community.[12] Thus,political power should be limited and not an absolute or arbitrary.


   Since people have the sovereignty ofState, and the government is limited, whenever a Prince or legislative orgovernment breach the trust and abuse the power to invade the property,threaten the lives or deprive the liberty of the people, or simply as a tyrant, as a result will bring the situationeven worse than the state of nature and introduce to the state of war among thepeople, in such cases, People have the Right of Revolution which isinalienable.



   Althoughsuggested that individual can never revert the power which has given tocommunity after they enter into commonwealth, Locke firmly asserts the people’sright of revolution. However to execute such right must be very careful andonly under strict condition, if the government act within its legal power and didnot invade the fundamental right of the people, no right to revolution.

   Locke urged that “Anyone who by force invadesthe rights of people or prince, and lays the foundation for overturning theconstitution and frame of any just government is guilty of the greatest crime;they should be esteemed the common enemy and pest of mankind.”[13] Lockeinsists that in some situation, people have an inalienable right of revolutionagainst authority.



   Since the fundamental end ofgovernment is protect the lives, liberty and estate of the people, and thereason why mankind voluntary agree to give up their natural power enter into acommunity is for enjoyment of their property peace and security, therefore whenhappen following cases, which constitute fundamental breach of contract, thepeople have either the right of dissolve the legislative or the right of revolutionto overturn the government:


   When the legislative acts against thetrust by endeavour to invade the property of the people;


   When legislative make themselves mastersor arbitrary disposers of the lives, liberties, or fortunes of the people;


   Wherever the legislators endeavour totake away and destroy the property of the people; “where the laws cannot beexecuted, it is all one as if there were no laws”[14].


   Whenever the legislators or Prince reducepeople to slavery under arbitrary power,


   Whenever the legislative transgress thisfundamental rule of society; endeavour to grasp themselves, or put into thehands of any other absolute power over the lives, liberties, and estates of thepeople;


   When the legislative (or the Prince) actcontrary to their trust, the government are dissolved,[15]andwhenever the government disappear the society may be return to state of nature.According to Locke, Want of a commonjudge with authority, puts all men in a state of nature, the state of nature isa state of perfect freedom to order actions, dispose possessions within the bounds of the law of nature; Also a stateof equality, all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, all the sameadvantages of nature, use of the same faculties, equal one amongst anotherwithout subordination or subjection.[16]Ina state of nature, one man comes by a power over another, every man has a rightto punish the offender, has a power to kill a murderer,[17]andhas the executive power of the law of nature[18].


   If above situation occurs, either thelegislative changed or the legislators act contrary to the end for which theywere constituted; those who are guilty are guilty of rebellion.[19]Because by breach of the trust, Prince and legislative forfeit the power, “whenthe legislative is broken or dissolved, dissolution and death follows,” for“the constitution of the legislative is the first and fundamental act ofsociety,”[20]Locke explained. They put themselves into a state of war with the people, whoare thereupon absolved from any farther obedience, and are left to commonrefuge against force and violence. The people have a right to resume theiroriginal liberty, by establishment of a new legislative provide for their ownsafety and security[21],or overthrow the government to constitute a new one.

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