Locke: Social Order

John Locke's intellectual curiosity and social activism also led him to consider issues of general public concern in the lively political climate of seventeenth-century England. In a series of Letters on Toleration, he argued against the exercise of any governmental effort to promote or to restrict particular religious beliefs and practices. His epistemology is directly relevant to this issue: since we cannot know perfectly the truth about all differences of religious opinion, Locke held, there can be no justification for imposing our own beliefs on others. Thus, although he shared his generation's prejudice against "enthusiastic" expressions of religious fervor, Locke officially defended a broad toleration of divergent views.

Locke's political philosophy found its greatest expression in the Two Treatises of Civil Government, published anonymously during the same year that the Essay appeared under his own name. In the First Treatise Locke offered a point-by-point critique of Robert Filmer's Patriarchia, a quasi-religious attempt to show that absolute monarchy is the natural system of human social organization. The Second Treatise on Government develops Locke's own detailed account of the origin, aims, and structure of any civil government. Adopting a general method similar to that of Hobbes, Locke imagined an original state of nature in which individuals rely upon their own strength, then described our escape from this primitive state by entering into a social contract under which the state provides protective services to its citizens. Unlike Hobbes, Locke regarded this contract as revokable. Any civil government depends on the consent of those who are governed, which may be withdrawn at any time.


From the outset, Locke openly declared the remarkable theme of his political theory: in order to preserve the public good, the central function of government must be the protection of private property. (2nd Treatise §3) Consider how human social life begins, in a hypothetical state of nature: Each individual is perfectly equal with every other, and all have the absolute liberty to act as they will, without interference from any other. (2nd Treatise §4) What prevents this natural state from being a violent Hobbesian free-for-all, according to Locke, is that each individual shares in the use of the faculty of reason, so that the actions of every human agent—even in the unreconstructed state of nature—are bound by the self-evident laws of nature.

Understood in this way, the state of nature vests each reasonable individual with an independent right and responsibility to enforce the natural law by punishing those few who irrationally choose to violate it. (2nd Treatise §§7-8) Because all are equal in the state of nature, the proportional punishment of criminals is a task anyone may undertake. Only in cases when the precipitate action of the offender permits no time for appeal to the common sense, reason, and will of others, Locke held, does this natural state degenerate into the state of war of each against all. (2nd Treatise §19)

Everything changes with the gradual introduction of private property. Originally, Locke supposed, the earth and everything on it belongs to all of us in common; among perfectly equal inhabitants, all have the same right to make use of whatever they find and can use. The only exception to this rule is that each of us has an exclusive right to her/his own body and its actions. But applying these actions to natural objects by mixing our labor with them, Locke argued, provides a clear means for appropriating them as an extension of our own personal property. (2nd Treatise §27) Since our bodies and their movements are our own, whenever we use our own effort to improve the natural world—the resulting products belong to us as well.

The same principle of appropriation by the investment of labor can be extended to control over the surface of the earth as well, on Locke's view. Individuals who pour themselves into the land—improving its productivity by spending their own time and effort on its cultivation—acquire a property interest in the result. (2nd Treatise §32) The plowed field is worth more than the virgin prairie precisely because I have invested my labor in plowing it; so even if the prairie was held in common by all, the plowed field is mine. This personal appropriation of natural resources can continue indefinitely, Locke held, so long as there is "enough, and as good" left for others with the gumption to do the same. (2nd Treatise §33)

Within reasonable limits, then, individuals are free to pursue their own "life, health, liberty, and possessions." Of course the story gets more complicated with the introduction of a monetary system that makes it possible to store up value in excess of what the individual can responsibly enjoy. (2nd Treatise §37) The fundamental principle still applies: labor is the ultimate source of all economic value. (2nd Treatise §42) But the creation of a monetary system requires an agreement among distinct individuals on the artificial "value" frozen in what is, in itself, nothing more than a bit of "colored metal." This need for agreement, in turn, gives rise to the social order.

Civil Society

The first instance of social organization, on Locke's view, is the development of the family, a voluntary association designed to secure the propagation of the human species through successive generations. (2nd Treatise §78) Although each individual in the state of nature has the right to enforce the natural law in defence of property interests, the formation of a civil society requires that all individuals voluntarily surrender this right to the community at large. By declaring and enforcing fixed rules for conduct—human laws—the commonwealth thus serves as "umpire" in the adjudication of property disputes among those who choose to be governed in this way. (2nd Treatise §87-89) An absolute monarch, by contrast, can only remain in a state of nature with respect to the subjects under its rule.

Securing social order through the formation of any government invariably requires the direct consent of those who are to be governed. (2nd Treatise §95) Each and every individual must concur in the the original agreement to form such a government, but it would be enormously difficult to achieve unanimous consent with respect to the particular laws it promulgates. So, in practice, Locke supposed that the will expressed by the majority must be accepted as determinative over the conduct of each individual citizen who consents to be governed at all. (2nd Treatise §97-98) Although he offered several historical examples of just such initial agreements to form a society, Locke reasonably maintained that this is beside the point. All people who voluntarily chooses to live within a society have implicitly or tacitly entered into its formative agreement, and thereby consented to submit themselves and their property to its governance. (2nd Treatise §119)

The structure or form of the government so established is a matter of relatively less importance, on Locke's view. (2nd Treatise §132) What matters is that legislative power—the ability to provide for social order and the common good by setting standing laws over the acquisition, preservation, and transfer of property—is provided for in ways to which everyone consents. (2nd Treatise §134-8) Because the laws are established and applied equally to all, Locke argued, this is not merely an exercize in the arbitrary use of power, but an effort to secure the rights of all more securely than would be possible under the independence and equality of the state of nature.

Since standing laws continue in force long after they have been established, Locke pointed out that the legislative body responsible for deciding what the laws should be need only meet occasionally, but the executive branch of government, responsible for ensuring that the laws are actually obeyed, must be continuous in its operation within the society. (2nd Treatise §144) In similar fashion, he supposed that the federative power responsible for representing this particular commonwealth in the world at large, needs a lengthy tenure. Locke's presumption is that the legislative function of government will be vested in a representative assembly, which naturally retains the supreme power over the commonwealth as a whole: whenever it assembles, the majority of its members speak jointly for everyone in the society. The executive and federative functions, then, are performed by other persons (magistrates and ministers) whose power to enforce and negotiate is wholly derived from the legislative. (2nd Treatise §153) But since the legislature is not perpetually in session, occasions will sometimes arise for which the standing laws have made no direct provision, and then the executive will have to exercize its prerogative to deal with the situation immediately, relying upon its own counsel in the absence of legislative direction. (2nd Treatise §160) It is the potential abuse of this prerogative, Locke supposed, that most often threatens the stability and order of a commonwealth.


Whether any specific use of executive prerogative amounts to an abuse of power, is a question that transcends the social contract itself, and can only be judged by a higher appeal, to the divinely ordained law of nature. (2nd Treatise §168) Remember that according to Locke all legitimate political power derives solely from the consent of the governed to entrust their "lives, liberties, and possessions" to the oversight of the community as a whole, as expressed in the majority of its legislative body. (2nd Treatise §171) The commonwealth as a whole, then, is dissolved (and a new one formed) whenever there is a fundamental change in the membership of the legislature. (2nd Treatise §220)

The most likely cause of such a revolution, Locke supposed, would be abuse of power by the government itself: when the society unduly interferes with the property interests of the citizens, they are bound to protect themselves by withdrawing their consent. (2nd Treatise §222) When great mistakes are made in the governance of a commonwealth, only rebellion holds any promise of the restoration of fundamental rights. (2nd Treatise §225 ) Who is to be the judge of whether or not this has actually occurred? Only the people can decide, Locke maintained, since the very existence of the civil order depends upon their consent. (2nd Treatise §240) On Locke's view, then, the possibility of revolution is a permanent feature of any properly-formed civil society. This provided a post facto defense of the Glorious Revolution in England and was a significant element in attempts to justify later popular revolts in America and France.


Hobbes <------------|------------> Locke

the spectrum of politics our founding and the principles outlined by the constitution was based on.

Two Treatises of Government

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Lotsa talk these days about wanting to bust up the cabals of the world.. but hardly any interest at all in the original method of successful cabal busting.

... seems kinda odd

Hobbes <------------|------------> Locke

the spectrum of politics our founding and the principles outlined by the constitution was based on.

Two Treatises of Government

America's Founding Protestant Philosophy

The public discussion of religion and religious freedom is generally dominated by two increasingly polarized viewpoints. The first view, largely promoted by President Obama and Democrats, values a religion-free, basically secular public square, with a certain amount of lip service paid to freedom for religious persons and groups, but a general denial of that freedom when it comes into conflict with other societal values, such as notions of equality, homosexual rights, or other public values held in high importance.

The second outlook, held by most of the Republican candidates for president in the past election, has a high regard for America’s religious heritage, believes there is an important role for religious values in politics, and views the separation of church and state as a socialist construct that is a threat to both religious freedom and the cultivation of virtues needed for a functioning democracy.

The trouble is that both sides largely overlook the actual Protestant founding heritage and philosophy upon which America’s church/state arrangement was based. The current church/state views of both the Republicans and Democrats were also represented at the founding, although they did not carry the influence they carry today. To understand today’s arguments, it can be very useful to go back and look at a description of these three competing points of view at the time America was being colonized.

Each of the three positions can be helpfully understood by examining the differing approaches each view takes to the relationships between individual, church, state, and God. To understand our possible futures, it will be helpful to revisit the past—specifically, the end of the seventeenth century when the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, the French legal act that had accorded French Protestants some level of toleration from the Catholic majority, sent legal thinkers to their libraries to prepare defenses of religious toleration. At that time these positions were ably expressed by three of the most brilliant legal and theological minds of that time.

The three were Samuel Pufendorf, a Lutheran natural rights lawyer and counselor to the king of Sweden; John Locke, political philosopher whose acquaintance we have already well made; and Pierre Bayle, an influential French Huguenot theologian and philosopher. In their writings can be found the basic outlines of the Puritan, semitheocratic model that is fast becoming the favorite of some in the Republican Party; the separationist model that reflects America’s founding Protestant heritage; and the secular, liberal separationist model, so appealing to many of today’s Democratic leaders.

Pufendorf and Medieval Privileges

Born in 1632 in Saxony, Pufendorf was best known for his works on international law, especially The Law of Nature and Nations.1 Published in 1672, this work was widely influential on the continent, in Scotland, and in the newly formed American colonies.2 When the Edict of Nantes was revoked, Pufendorf took the opportunity to write what has been described as an “appendix,” which applied his natural law theory to issues of church and state.3 Entitled Of the Nature and Qualification of Religion in Reference to Civil Society (“Religion and Civil Society”), Pufendorf’s work was published in 1687. It set out a principled basis for what was ultimately a pragmatic, anemic toleration. It represented the magisterial Protestant continuation of the medieval view of church and state.

Pufendorf dedicated the book to the elector of Brandenburg-Prussia and used it to recommend himself for a post in the elector’s Berlin court, which he indeed received.4 The intended audience perhaps helped shape the work. He sets out a high view of the state and its power and a rather limited and weak basis for religious toleration. The work begins with apparently strong principles of separation between ecclesiastical and civil spheres, as well as a commitment to individual rights. But the last third of the book returns spiritual powers and oversight to the “Christian” ruler that is denied to secular rulers in the first portions of the book. To simplify his thinking in a useful way, we can diagram it. The diagram contains four basic elements: God/Truth, the church, the state, and the individual. Pufendorf’s arrangement of these elements would look like this:

Here, God and the accessibility of truth are recognized. A distinction between church and state is also accepted, but that distinction allows for a great deal of cooperation, especially when the ruler is a Christian. The importance of the individual is minimized, because of his or her need to go through the organs of church and state to obtain truth, whether spiritual or civil. It represents the world of the divine right of kings and popes, where no individual rights exist, but only privileges extended by the rulers. It is one in which church and state are distinct entities, but play a role in cooperating to civilly enforce the majority religious beliefs and practices of society. Under this system the church in theory has a superior position in society, as kings and ruler are subject to the superior spiritual authority of church. Bishops and popes at times provided legitimacy to the claims of leaders to civil authority, at times crowning them, as Pope Leo III did for Charlemagne. This relationship is shown by the capital C and lowercase s.

Pufendorf criticized the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, but not because the Huguenots had some sort of natural right claim to religious liberty. Rather, he believed that the crown, once having extended the toleration, should keep its word and not withdraw it. It was a question of honoring agreements and contracts, and the social stability protected by that practice. Pufendorf had no principled or moral argument for why the edict should have been entered into in the first place. That was a policy calculation that brought political peace against an aggressive and armed minority. In Pufendorf’s model, religious liberty became a question of policy, a privilege to be extended or denied at the inclination of the ruler. His philosophical fruit fell not far from the medieval tree.

Locke and Protestant Rights

John Locke’s church/state principles were most clearly outlined in his Letter on Toleration published in 1689. His views show the shape of the new world that Luther helped create in proposing that each person should access God through prayer and Bible study. The priesthood of all believers inverted the bottom half of Pufendorf’s diagram. The belief vaulted the individual to a position above the church and the state, with direct access to God and truth. Locke’s model of these four elements would look like this:

This model accepted, like the medieval model, that God exists and that certain truths can be ascertained about both the world and spiritual things. But the new, Protestant view placed the individual above church and state. Each person now had the duty and right to seek this truth from God, through both the Bible (especially about spiritual things) and through nature (especially political matters and civil morality). The church and the state existed to support and protect the rights of the individual, one as a member of the spiritual world, the other as a citizen of the temporal world. There was a separation between these two powers, since their jurisdiction is limited to their separate spheres of concern, whether spiritual or civil. It is a separation of equality and mutual respect, with each entity respecting the sovereignty of the other in its own sphere. Hence, both are represented by the capital symbols C and S.

The individual’s rights against the state, in turn, derived from the duties that he or she owed to God. This is essentially the political expression of the Protestant model of the priesthood of all believers. It serves as a robust foundation for individual rights, hence the individual is shown by a capital I. This is the model that we have traced through the early-modern West and seen to be an important part of the impulse to disestablishment in colonial America.

Bayle and Skeptical Rights

The third writer during this period was Pierre Bayle. While ostensibly a Calvinist theologian, Bayle was actually a strongly skeptical thinker who based his view of toleration on broad epistemological skepticism. Bayle was accused by fellow Calvinist theologians of supporting atheism, and was deprived of his professorship at his Protestant university as a result.5 Rather than an heir of Calvin and ancestor of the New England Puritans, Bayle was more an heir of Pyrrhonius and ancestor to Hume, Voltaire, Rousseau, and eventually Franklin and Jefferson.6

Bayle largely shared Pufendorf’s view on the supremacy of the state over the individual. He rejected Locke’s notion of a reciprocal contract between ruler and people, denied the right of rebellion, and upheld a strong duty of obedience to the ruler.7 But unlike Pufendorf, Bayle held a skeptical view of the world. Especially in the area of speculative truths, including religion, he affirmed a strong difference from mathematical or empirical truths. For the former, he believed one could only attain a “reputed” truth, rather than actual truth.8 This led Bayle to defend the notion of individual conscience.

Other thinkers of the day often spoke of the rights of conscience, but it was generally understood that they were not talking about erroneous conscience or acts against one’s conscience. Bayle was one of the first to propose that rights of conscience should extend to consciences that were believed to be in error—the “erroneous conscience.”9 Even if one could know that someone else was in error, argued Bayle, how could one know that the other person was convinced of that error?10 This question was a central point of contention in the debate between Roger Williams and John Cotton over the issue of toleration and persecution.

Bayle’s strong defense of conscience, then, was based on a weak view of truth, or at least human ability to know truth. This led him to view individual judgment and conscience as important. Thus, he held a strong view of the duty of the state to tolerate religious differences. To put Bayle’s view into our diagram looks like this:

The lowercase t’s represent the individualistic conception of truth, where no universal view of truth exists, but everyone conceives his or her own truth. Church and state are still separate, but it is not a separation of mutual equality and sovereign spheres. Rather, it is a separation based on a suspicion of the truth claims made by religious people. The tolerance in this scheme is dependent on a commitment to skepticism—from the logic that if truth cannot be known, then no one can or should enforce it. The real threats to this system are those who claim knowledge of absolute truths.

Churches and people who believe in special revelation were such a threat. Therefore, religious people and their beliefs are to be kept far away from politics and the public square generally. Separation of church and state, rather than being based on a view of separate sovereignties, becomes founded on hostility to the truth claims of religious people and their views of special revelation. Religious people and their ideas are kept not only out of government, but on the fringes of the public square generally. The attitude under this view of the state towards the church was symbolically expressed by Napoleon when, in contrast to Charlemagne, he crowned himself emperor in the presence of the pope. The marginalization of the church and religion in this system is represented by a lowercase c.

Rights in this system are not quite as secure as under the Lockean view. Individual autonomy is a somewhat fragile thing when it is based merely on skepticism, rather than on individual duties to, and rights before, God. The solitary autonomy of the individual becomes fairly quickly outweighed by the interest of the group once accommodation of the individual becomes anything more than a slight inconvenience. This is seen very clearly in the skeptical/atheistic communist systems, in which respect for the individual is very quickly submerged to the common good. A similar thing happens in a democracy, we have seen, when terrorism threatens national security. Hence, the i for individual is lowercase.

Under this model there is no real reason religious claims to truth should obtain greater protection than claims to convictions in other areas. Why should religious claims have special protection beyond that received by a wide range of special interest claims, such as environmentalists or animal rights supporters or advocates of unions and labor? People feel strongly about all these issues. If it is the individual conviction only that provides the basis for rights, as this model suggests, then all these convictions should be treated equally. But ultimately, if all convictions are equally protected, none can be meaningfully protected, or democracy will ultimately become gridlocked amid a cacophony of clashing rights claims.

Three Views in American History

My discussion of the third view has moved beyond what Bayle himself would have suggested into how at least parts of modern liberalism has developed this view. All three of these views, the Pufendorfian, the Lockean, and the Baylean models, have been influential at various times in American history. A side-by-side comparison of these models, a representative advocate, the historical periods they represent, and their time of greatest influence in America, is represented in the diagram below.

The American Puritans developed a Pufendorfian-like church/state arrangement in early New England, with a civil magistrate involved in enforcing ecclesiastical rules and discipline. Thus, the earliest American colonies were founded on the theory of the medieval model on the left, with the exception of Rhode Island. Some later ones, especially New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and North Carolina, were founded basically on the Protestant theory in the center column, which also guided the formation of the national constitution. Despite Pufendorf’s enormous influence in both Scotland and the American colonies, the founders of the American republic explicitly rejected his form of church/state arrangement.11 At the time of the Revolution and the formation of the Constitution, Pufendorf’s model of toleration was limited to two or three New England states, and within a few years vanished from even there.

It was Locke’s formulation, mediated by Madison, Witherspoon, and other key American thinkers, of dissenting Protestantism that carried the day in the founding of the American republic. Their views of the separate roles of the two powers were the ideological victors on the topic of tolerance and religious freedom in the early Republic. It is this shift from a medieval, paternalistic, hierarchical model to an individualistic, egalitarian, rights-based outlook that Gordon Wood so ably documents in his justly famed The Radicalism of the American Revolution.12 Wood broadly and convincingly documents the change from hierarchy, patriarchy, aristocracy, and patronage to democracy, equality, republicanism and the rule of law in colonial America. This chart can perhaps shed light on one of the puzzles in Wood’s book. In his subtitle he asserts that the book shows “how a revolution transformed a monarchical society into a democratic one unlike any other that had ever existed.” While he is right about the uniqueness of American society, it seems apparent from the story in his book that the Revolution did not cause the shift from monarchical to republican ethos. Rather, the Revolution was a symptom of a shift that had already occurred in American culture and society.

Wood does an excellent job of describing that shift from monarchical to republican outlook, but offers, in my view, less than convincing arguments for the reasons or causes of the shift. He focuses on the Enlightenment, arguing that “for the revolutionary generation America became the Enlightenment fulfilled.”13 This raises the problem, earlier discussed, of trying to explain a movement with tremendous popular appeal by appeal to an elite affinity and state of mind. Wood is unwilling to give religious thought much, if any, credit for the paradigm shift to a republican outlook, instead crediting Enlightenment and rationalistic sources. Indeed, he views religion as a conservative force that largely resisted that shift.14

But it seems that Wood is looking at only one version of religion in telling this story, that of magisterial Protestantism. This is most obviously displayed when he describes the belief in “liberty of conscience and separation of church and state” as an “Enlightenment belief” that was resisted by “many religious groups.”15 Indeed, there were religious groups that opposed religious liberty and the separation of church and state. But the dominant religious groups in early Republican America had taken on a dissenting Protestant perspective, which Wood seems to miss almost completely. Wood’s larger story becomes much more explicable when religion, and religious belief are given their due weight in shifting popular views along from a medieval to a protestant outlook on church, society, and the individual.

The religious support for American independence as well as religious liberty was well understood by those closer to the Revolution, such as Edmund Burke, the British parliamentarian. Burke famously explained the independent character of the American colonists by fact that “the people are Protestants, and of that kind which is the most adverse to all implicit submission of mind and opinion. . . . All Protestantism, even the most cold and passive, is a sort of dissent. But the religion most prevalent in our northern colonies is a refinement on the principle of resistance: it is the dissidence of dissent, and the Protestantism of the Protestant religion.”16 Burke, a strong critic of the Enlightenment-driven ideology of the French Revolution, saw very different, and much more religious and Protestant principles at work in America.

But by the late nineteenth century, the rise of uncertainty in theology, science, and philosophy undermined the American Protestant outlook, and laid the groundwork for a toleration based on skepticism. John Stuart Mill’s view of skeptical individualism increasingly became the prism through which Locke was understood. As a consequence, the twentieth century saw a wholesale move, at least in the elite centers of thought, to toleration based on epistemological uncertainty and moral relativism.

After the Civil War, the rise of Darwinism, and the growth of philosophical uncertainty, many American elite institutions, including colleges and universities, the professions, and the media began to move toward the much more skeptical view represented by Bayle. This shift did not happen overnight, and much has been written on the involved process of secularization in American history.17 The Protestant umbrella broadened to include an even more generic and diffuse sense of American spiritual identity.

The influence of German higher idealism, with its attendant historicism and philosophy of relativism, in the mid-to-late nineteenth and early twentieth century called into question the natural law foundations of the country. This philosophy also undercut the Protestant model of church and society that was based on these views of natural law and natural rights. New approaches to the law based on social and pragmatic concerns accompanied the gradual acceptance of legal positivism. These ideas gained ground in the early twentieth century, and especially influenced legal thought in the second half of the twentieth century. 18

These new ideas made progress to different degrees in differing parts of society. They made greater inroads earlier in “elite” institutions, such as colleges and universities, and in the press and media. Old paradigms continued to hold sway at more popular levels. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s could be described as the last gasp of Protestant-style natural rights/public morality arguments at the popular level, which combined with a more modern, liberal rights perspective among its leadership, the media, and the courts.

But the cycle of ideas has continued to roll, and now a vocal segment of the American public, especially after the events of September 11, is vigorously rejecting the skepticism and relativism that have come to be associated with our current system of rights. Rather than returning to a pre-Mill, Lockean view, however, there are many who appear ready to embrace a model more like that of Pufendorf.19 In this post-September 11 world, significant segments of American society are simultaneously rejecting moral relativism as well as seeking for the security provided by a stronger government.

This rejection of the modern paradigm moves society from the right side of the tolerance diagram generally leftward. It does not require a conscious repudiation of the importance of the individual to move over the Locke column into the Pufendorf column. The difference between Locke and Pufendorf was not over their ostensible commitment to the individual and freedom to worship. Rather, it was that a strong view of the supremacy of the state generally negated Pufendorf’s theoretically positive view of the individual.

But the point of all this for overseas observers is that a “secular” version of government that has a healthy and robust freedom of religion can exist in a highly religious community. France, with its dereligioned public square, is not the only, or most attractive, model of a “secular” government that exists. The traditional American system offers a philosophical framework that is sympathetic toward religion and claims about a Supreme Being, while offering respect and accommodation to all religious claims that respect the well-being of the state and other individuals.

In this system, while the state should not promote your religious view, you and your fellow believers should be free to do so, even within the public square, as long as you respect the rights and freedoms of others to do the same. In this sense, a fair and balanced state secularism can actually lead to a greater and more robust religiosity. And these are the points that are often overlooked in our political debates today. We are squaring off as if our founding were a contest between the New England Puritan theocrats and the French secular, skeptical philosophes. Either of these pathways can just as easily lead to a statist philosophy and a State oversight of religious matters that is equally troubling. This makes it vital that we not forget the dissenting Protestant middle way of the middle colonies of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and New York, that served as the actual model for our founding.



having been tossing Locke into conversations for years now...  sadly, I've found almost no interest in him or his philosophy's influence on our founding principles. It seems most have never heard of him and those who have aren't into reviving/discussing Lockean rationales. -- I've highlighted the portion of this article which discusses that Lockean rationales and a predominantly Protestant population were highly compatible. Which probably has something to do with why I had Lockean rationales embedded in my thinking before I heard of him. But - when's the last time you heard anybody say they were Protestant??

The (Natural) Laws Of Government

Warren Michelsen

See the author's comments at the end.

The First Law Government expands. Government will continue expanding, unless acted upon by an external force.

First corollary: Government will spend all the revenue given to it, and then some.

Second corollary: There is nothing that government thinks itself incapable of doing competently.

Third corollary: There is nothing that government believes it is not empowered and authorized to do. It sees no practical limit to its meddling.

Fourth corollary: You can't have government without politics. You can't have politics without pork. You can't have politics without influence buyers and peddlers.

Fifth corollary: Government will violate all of your rights, if you permit it.

The Second Law The more high-minded the title of a piece of legislation sounds, the less likely it is that the legislation will actually accomplish anything worthwhile.

First corollary: Be especially wary of any bill with "equal," "fair" or any derivative thereof in its title.

Second corollary: if the legislation has broad, bipartisan support, it's even worse than you thought.

The Third Law When the government starts talking about reform, you can be sure things are about to get worse.

First corollary: Government created the problem in the first place and now it's trying to clean up its mess.

The Fourth Law Bureaucrats and so-called Public Servants are just as concerned about their job security as you are about yours. Rare is the bureaucrat who ever worked himself out of a job.

First corollary: Every government degrades to the point where perpetuating its assorted bureaucracies becomes more important than serving the needs of, or protecting the rights of citizens.

Second corollary: Each government bureaucracy seeks to expand its purview. ("Mission Creep")

The Fifth Law Government will be motivated by expediency rather than principle.

First corollary: Lots of lip service will be paid to high-minded principles, even as government violates your rights.

Second corollary: Promises made by government are good, at best, only until the next election. You were promised that the law would only go this far, and at first, that's what it did. Within a few years, it was expanded until it encroached into areas you'd been promised it would never touch.

Third corollary: A politician's first priority is to be reelected. He will best serve that constituency which makes reelection more likely.

The Sixth Law Government can't help. Government has one legitimate function — to ensure the equal protection of the laws for all citizens. Once government ventures beyond this single duty, it can only do (overall) harm through side-effects, lost opportunities and unintended consequences.

First corollary: Most of the time, government gets it exactly backwards. Legislation designed to help the poor is as likely to hurt them as to help. While any given law may benefit the targeted individuals in exactly the manner intended, the unintended consequences will result in overall harm to those beneficiaries as well as society in general.

Second corollary: When the inevitable results of their harmful policies manifest themselves, government will blame the free market, bankers, Wall Street, foreigners — anything but their own disastrous policies.

Third Corollary: Once their previous policies have failed, government will respond with yet more interference in the area it has previously disrupted.

The Seventh Law Politicians value perception over reality. They don't care if a policy is actually destructive as long as public opinion holds that it's beneficial. Perception is reality to politicians. Perceptions get them elected.
The Eighth Law A typical government solution to any problem involves imposing more restrictions. Rare is the law which increases your freedom and / or options (or costs the taxpayers less).

First corollary: When government starts talking about doing more for you, they're talking about taking more of your money.

Second corollary: Your time has no value to government functionaries. You will be required to fill out forms, keep records, stand in lines and waste your time in countless ways to prove that you are in compliance with the demands made upon you.

The Ninth Law Every government program creates opportunities for abuse.

First corollary: For every needy, deserving person some program will help, there are many more just trying to figure out how to milk the program for all it's worth.

Second corollary: The bigger the budget, the more abusers it will attract.

The Tenth Law Government is men with guns. All laws have to be enforced. At some point, enforcement involves men with guns. When opining, "There ought to be a law," ask yourself, "Is this important enough to send men with guns to enforce?"

I designate the foregoing as "laws" because, like the "Law of Gravity" or the "Law of Supply and Demand," these laws describe how the world works. They are natural laws. Just as Newton observed gravity at work to learn its nature, so too can we learn the nature of government by watching what it does. These laws are the result of decades of careful observation. They were empirically derived.

These laws are immutable truisms. There are people who believe that government doesn't have to behave as described and wouldn't, if only we can get the "right people" in charge. Baloney. Gravity acts like gravity and government acts like government. To raise something up in defiance of gravity requires application of force. Likewise, to prevent government acting in accordance with its nature, we, the people, must be the "external force" which acts upon government to constrain it. See the first law.

You may not "believe in" these laws but that's OK. You don't have to. You don't have to believe in gravity either, but it will still land you on your keister when you lose your balance.

The Laws of Government and this web site are © 1990-2011 by Warren Michelsen

1792 penny  U.S. currency

.. nice motto - eh? 

... just had to post that, with how many times I've said/posted 'ultimately authority is yours' and mine to give, not others' to take' in mind  ;' /

Hobbes vs. Locke

( about 16 minutes )

.... essentially exactly what current political events are all about - Progressives vs. limited government

How many federal laws are there in the US? - Quora


No one knows how many laws there are in the United States. Apparently, no one can count that high. They’ve been accumulating, of course, for more than 200 years.


infinite laws = infinite government.    ....each new law is a growth in government, yet most who still holler 'constitution' are very comfortable with demanding yet even more laws and calling politicians lawmakers.      .... silly humans

Levin gets it.. even if sometimes he distracts himself.

... Politics ARGH !!  ;' /

here's a random thought generated from reading the media hyping Opra for 2020...

if it happens at least it'll be from outside uniparty's establishment apparatus, and not Camellia Harris who seems a likely party culprit from with the party.  Opra would do to her what Trump did to R party *(JEB!)* by coming from outside the political realm bubble, and Ds would be ecstatic about it with Opra not only checking the victim box next to 'female' but also checks the 'non-white' box.

what a bizarre realm politics is, not one I want ruling over every single aspect of life.




Political Cartoons by Tom StiglichPolitical Cartoons by AF Branco

Political Cartoons by AF Branco


Joe Biden On Violence Against Women:   We Have To Keep ‘Punching At It, And Punching At It, And Punching At It’

 The audience laughed as he said this.

Former Vice President Joe Biden said that America needs to be “punching” back to combat violence against women during Wednesday’s Democratic debate.

Biden was asked if he would tackle specific issues regarding the #MeToo movement at the beginning of his presidency, if he were to be elected. The former vice president previously sponsored the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which aimed to protect victims of domestic violence.

The presidential candidate responded to the question about assaulting women by using the phrase “punching” repeatedly, apparently not thinking about the implications of using such a word.

“No man has a right to raise a hand to a woman in anger other than in self-defense, and that rarely ever occurs,” Biden said. “So we have to just change the culture, period, and keep punching at it and punching at it and punching at it. No, I really mean it.”

A few people laughed in the audience as he said this.

Biden added that it is important to pass the Violence Against Women Act, which has passed in the House and held up in the Senate. The former Vice President also suggested that America has to “fundamentally change the culture” of how women are treated, noting that it is “everyone’s responsibility.”

“It’s a gigantic issue, and we have to make it clear from the top, from the president on down that we will not tolerate it,” Biden said. “We will not tolerate this culture.”

Tucker's big takeaways from the Trump impeachment saga

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