John Locke and Escaping Monarchy

HUMN 221-09, Group 3

(Sec. 159-160)

Locke’s Two Treatises of Government being a challenge to the legitimacy of monarchies, it is surprising the amount of power he is willing to invest in an “executor of the laws” in his vision of a better government. In Locke’s ideal government, a legislative body is responsible for creating laws, but an executive branch is given quite a bit of power. Locke even uses the term “moderated monarch[y].” He justifies the executive’s power to go around the legislature by saying that the legislators are not able to “foresee…all that may be useful to the community,” which seems to put the executor on the same sort of ├╝bermenschlich level that some of Locke’s pro-monarchy contemporaries, like Robert Filmer, did by citing the divine right of kings. Rather than creating an entirely new form of government, it could be argued that Locke is describing a parliamentary monarchy in which the king simply has a little less power than he did in 17th century Britain (which included a transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy), but replacing “monarch” with “executive”, “parliament” with “legislators”, and “power” with “prerogative.”

(Sec. 168)

Understanding the potential risks of giving one person this power, Locke tackles the problem of how to deal with abuse of prerogative. It is good that he accounted for this, but it is surprising nevertheless that Locke would be willing to create a system in which abuses could happen and be dealt with after the fact, rather than one in which abuses couldn’t happen at all.

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