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Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government

Chapters 12-13: Of the Legislative, Executive, and Federative Power of the Commonwealth, and Of the Subordination of the Powers of the Commonwealth

Summary Chapters 12-13: Of the Legislative, Executive, and Federative Power of the Commonwealth, and Of the Subordination of the Powers of the Commonwealth

Lastly, Locke notes that a city or region may experience a major change in its population and importance, necessitating an alteration of its number of representatives accordingly. It is the executive's prerogative oversee any alteration, as long as it complies with fair and equal representation within the legislative, and rectifies disorder that may spring up in the legislative body over time.


Here Locke introduces the notion of separation of powers. His arguments in Chapter 12 are pragmatic, but we shall soon see him turn to a theoretical discussion of why it might be necessary to divide the executive and legislative. Locke is wary of investing any single governmental body with too much power; a dual legislative / executive would make Locke very concerned, since it would presents a situation in which the governors may have different interests than the governed, which leads to dissolution in Locke's model.

Next, Locke discusses the international character of his civil state. Locke's idea that the state in a "state of nature" would remain governed by natural law across boundaries is perhaps the most outdated of all of his political theories. Much of modern international relations is founded on the idea that one cannot apply the rules of domestic policy to international policy. Some modern authors who maintain that an international code of morality must be maintained in relations between states (this is sometimes called a "cosmopolitan" view) but this view is generally outmoded.

We should also address some of the assumptions Locke has made about the legislative body. The notion of monarchy in which the legislative is wholly invested in the monarch seems anathema to Locke. Secondly, if we recall our discussion in Chapter 9 of Locke's ideal, propertied legislative, we can spot a very revealing phrase towards the end of Chapter 13. Locke explicitly notes that any area or region must be represented "in proportion to the assistance which it affords to the public." Locke's organizing factor for representation is property, as an area's representation is determined by the taxes it pays.

Locke's introduction of executive prerogative at the end of this section introduces an important new component of his civil society model. Although Locke devotes the entire next chapter to this concept, we should keep clear his definition of prerogative as "nothing but a power, in the hands of the prince, to provide for the public good, in such cases, which depending upon unforeseen and uncertain occurrences, certain and unalterable laws could not safely direct." The trust placed by the people in the executive, just like the executive's power to call the legislature into session, stays within the boundaries Locke has set for his civil government.

Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government: Popular pages