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Two Treatises of Government by John Locke

Two Treatises of Government (original 1689; edition 1988)

by John Locke, Peter Laslett (Editor)

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1,895105,215 (3.74)15
Title:Two Treatises of Government
Authors:John Locke
Other authors:Peter Laslett (Editor)
Info:Cambridge University Press (1988), Edition: 3 Student, Paperback, 480 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Political Theory

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Two Treatises of Government by John Locke (Author) (1689)

  1. 00
    Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia by Steven Stoll (M_Clark)
    M_Clark: Locke's theory of property is based upon the value-add provided to land by the person taking possession. It is therefore interesting to read Stoll's book describe how the land in Appalachia was owned by people that had not even visited it who then threw off the original settlers that had improved the land. One of those absentee landlords was, interestingly enough, George Washington. Of course, all of the European settlers in American used Locke's rational to toss the Indians off of their land since they felt, incorrectly, that the Indians had not done anything to improve the land justifying its takeover by Europeans.… (more)
  2. 00
    Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber (M_Clark)
    M_Clark: Graeber's book provides a more anthropological based explanation for the development of money, debt, taxation and government. It paints Locke's ideas about the evolution of government as closer to fantasy.

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
This is one of the classic texts of political philosophy and had a great influence on the development of the US political system. I nevertheless found the book disappointing finding that it providing much less than I had expected. In particular, I found Locke's discussion of property to be particularly unconvincing. That said, it is impressive to think that Locke feared imprisonment and even execution as a result of what he wrote.

One surprising aspect of the book was learning how big a role that American Indians played in the thinking of those days about the "natural state" of man. Locke's theories on the emergence of society and government are, however, pure fantasies and are not supported by modern anthropological research. it was tempted to imagine how different this book would have been if it had been written based upon real research rather than his armchair philosophizing. Unfortunately, for our thinking about politics, Locke's origin myths seem to persevere.

The first treatise is essentially a refutation of Sir Filmer's biblical justification of the monarchy and offers little to the modern reader. Despite that, I found it entertaining to see how Locke demolished Filmer's argunements and to identify a few places were Locke even turned snarky. The second treatise is, of course, the meat of what made this work so famous. It is therefore more entertaining and a more useful read.

This particular edition is not recommended for the casual reader since it strives to be more of a scholarly edition. One of the disadvantages is having to put up with 17th century spelling of words. The introduction material is also very dry and targeted more to explain textual issues than to explain the ideas in the work. ( )
  M_Clark | Apr 29, 2018 |
  OberlinSWAP | Aug 1, 2015 |
  OberlinSWAP | Aug 1, 2015 |
Despite my ambitious plan to at least skim the First Treatise, I only read Locke's Second Treatise.

I was surprised at how much I liked this book, especially since I started out pretty disgusted by Locke's viewpoint. The two main things that irritated me:

1) His opinion that the primary goal of government is to preserve property. This just felt really materialistic to me. I felt better about this one when I read the parenthetical aside in chapter XV that read, "By property I must be understood here, as in other places to mean that property which men have in their persons as well as goods," which I take to mean the intangible qualities of a person as well as the material things he owns. Seems like such an important definition might have been placed a little earlier in the book, but I wasn't Locke's editor.

2) His chapter on slavery, in which he asserts that slavery is okay as long as the people taken as slaves first entered into a state of war, thereby forfeiting their natural rights to life and liberty. In the notes to the edition I read, it explained that Locke used this reasoning to justify the African slave trade in the Americas. It's a real stretch to claim that every African slave in the Americas in the 17th century was a combatant in a just war against the government enslaving them. Even if this were so, how does that justify keeping their children (and grandchildren) as slaves? In another note, I read that Locke had made part of his wealth in the slave trade, so he had a vested interest in finding a reason why slavery was okay. Unlike with property, there were no parentheticals to help me feel better about Locke's views on slavery.

As I read on, I focussed more on how Locke's philosophy fits in with the political situation in England at the time (from James I through Charles I and the civil war, about which I read in David Hume's The History of England, Volume V; my classics reading is already paying off, even if it is primarily helpful when I'm reading other classics) and on just how much United States government is based on Locke's philosophy. This really increased my enjoyment of this treatise.

For more of this review, please visit my blog, Imperfect Happiness. ( )
  ImperfectCJ | May 2, 2014 |
In the Second Treatises of Government, John Locke sets forward the history of how governments came into being. First they started out in a state of nature following the law of nature. They started as family groups with the leader generally being the father. But, he quickly points out that the mother also has rights over the family. After family groups got too big, they normally gravitated to monarchial societies. However, he sets out to prove that there is no Divine Right of Kings. All people are free to choose their own governments. Government is for the protection of the person, all the work of his hands and property, and his liberties. When governments are not protecting and/or are harming their people and their property and liberty, then it is not a valid government. The people have a right to rebel against their rulers, dissolve that government, and create another government because the power resides with the people. Many ideas in this book are foundational to the ideas in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, such as three branches of government, checks and balances, a society based on laws, no lawful right to search and seizure of property without the consent of the person, etc.
  heidip | Jun 8, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (45 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Locke, JohnAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Carpenter, W. S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Deitschmann, CraigNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Langton, JamesNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
LaPierre, Wayne R.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Laslett, PeterEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Laslett, PeterIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McElroy, WendyEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0521357306, Paperback)

This is a new revised version of Dr. Laslett's standard edition of Two Treatises. First published in 1960, and based on an analysis of the whole body of Locke's publications, writings, and papers. The Introduction and text have been revised to incorporate references to recent scholarship since the second edition and the bibliography has been updated.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:45 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

From the Publisher: This is a new revised version of Dr. Laslett's standard edition of Two Treatises. First published in 1960, and based on an analysis of the whole body of Locke's publications, writings, and papers. The Introduction and text have been revised to incorporate references to recent scholarship since the second edition and the bibliography has been updated.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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