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Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government


Chapters 18-19: Of Tyranny, and Of the Dissolution of Government

Summary Chapters 18-19: Of Tyranny, and Of the Dissolution of Government

Locke's tone in the last chapter becomes stronger and more insistent than before. One gets the feeling that the sturdiness of his ideas has solidified his confidence and his writing style. His glib breaking down of Barclay's outmoded notions is surprisi ngly humorous.

Up until this point, Locke has always relied on natural law, often cloaked as the "rule of heaven," to arbitrate civil situations. Now, in this final chapter, when posing the question of who is to judge when the executive or legislative acts contrary to the trust of the people, Locke answers directly that the people must judge. He had placed the power of the decision in the people previously in the text, but now he does so directly without the shroud of divine or heavenly influence.

We should note that Locke's text is far from a call to arms, however. Locke is anxious to prove that he is not providing a system by which government will easily or spuriously be overthrown--in both Chapters 18 and 19, he devotes considerable energy to s howing that, under his model, the rights of people in society are protected, but not in favor of less stability. Locke hoped that the "Glorious Revolution" of William and Mary would usher in a new era of government in England and Europe, however, the precedent of absolute monarchy stood strong. Locke understood that his ideas posed a threat to the power and rule that held society together; this might help to explain why he devotes so much of his work to explaining the stability and elegance of hi s system, under which people could live more freely and in accordance with their natural rights.

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