On the Edge of Anarchy

On the Edge of Anarchy: Locke, Consent, and the Limits of Society

A. John Simmons
Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 306
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  • Book Info
    On the Edge of Anarchy
    Book Description:

    This book completes A. John Simmons's exploration and development of Lockean moral and political philosophy, a project begun in The Lockean Theory of Rights (Princeton paperback edition, 1994). Here Simmons discusses the Lockean view of the nature of, grounds for, and limits on political relations between persons.

    Originally published in 1995.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6354-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
    (pp. 3-10)

    This is a study in Lockean moral and political philosophy. I hope that it will be read in conjunction with my earlier work in this area,The Lockean Theory of Rights(Princeton University Press, 1992). But the arguments of the present study in no way depend on those of that earlier work, however much they might be illuminated by them. As inThe Lockean Theory of Rights, I try here to present, analyze, and to a certain extent defend both John Locke’s own theory in hisTwo Treatises of Government(and elsewhere) and the best version of a Lockean theory....

  6. Part 1: Nonconsensual Relations
    • [Part 1: Introduction]
      (pp. 11-12)

      Throughout theTwo Treatises of Governmentand his other major works, Locke strives to characterize and clarify the political by contrasting it with other familiar social or personal-interactive categories. Politicalpower(right, authority), for instance, is contrasted with other types of rightful control that persons may exercise—most prominently, paternal (parental) and despotical power. Politicalsocietiesare contrasted with other kinds of human societies, such as the “natural society” of “mankind,” or voluntary, religious societies (churches). And what I have called the politicalrelationship(which defines the bond among those who are members of the same politicalsociety) is also...

      (pp. 13-39)

      The state of nature is in many ways the central concept at work in Locke’sTreatises.¹ It is the concept with which Locke chooses to introduce theSecond Treatise(II, 4). And it is only against and by means of the state of nature that he offers us accounts of political obligation and authority, the justification of civil government, the limits on political power, and the occasions for justified resistance. The state of nature defines for Locke the boundaries of the political. Understanding the state of nature is thus essential for understanding Locke’s conception of the nature, content, and limits...

      (pp. 40-56)

      Locke never presents his general views about the morality of violence in any clear, systematic fashion; and we will not be able to see the whole of his position until we return to this question in chapter 6. But Locke does discuss prominently the nature and consequences of one sort of appeal to violence: that which initiates a state of war between persons. The constant danger of the state of nature degenerating into a state of war (and the uncertainty of enjoyment of property that this causes) is the chief reason Locke mentions for preferring a limited government (civil society)...

  7. Part 2: Consent and Government
    • [Part 2: Introduction]
      (pp. 57-58)

      Part 1 has explored the contrasts drawn by Locke between the political relationship and two important nonconsensual relations—the state of nature and the state of war. Many of Locke’s arguments on those subjects, we have seen, can play useful roles in any voluntarist political philosophy. Those arguments are employed to show that membership in civil society cannot be a product of force (or prescription of rights), of birth (either because of family status or geographical location), or of moral wrongdoing (and forfeiture of rights). Only free consent can remove persons from their natural condition.

      In part 2, I turn...

      (pp. 59-79)

      Artificial political bodies (civil societies) and governments cannot for Locke (or Lockeans) possess rights naturally; only persons have that capacity. The question then arises: how may political communities and governments obtain rights from (and over) free persons who possess them in their natural condition? Locke’s famous answer defines the essence of the political relationship for the voluntarist.¹ It identifies only one possible process by which such political rights (“power”) can be secured. Only fully voluntary alienation by the rightholder—consent (contract, trust)—can give another person or body political power over the rightholder:² “Men being . . . by nature,...

      (pp. 80-98)

      There is, Locke tells us, “a common distinction of an express and a tacit consent, which will concern our present case” (II, 119). Locke is less clear on the substance of this distinction, however, than he is on the political applications and consequences of tacit consent:

      I say that every man that hath any possession or enjoyment of any part of the dominions of any government, doth thereby give his tacit consent, and is as far forth obliged to obedience to the laws of that government, during such enjoyment, as anyone under it; whether this his possession be of land...

  8. Part 3: The Limits of Society
    • [Part 3: Introduction]
      (pp. 99-100)

      The consent that grounds the political relationship and which makes civil society must be personal and limited to have the moral force utilized by (and to preserve the intuitive appeal of) Lockean consent theory. In part 2 we saw the basic structure of Locke’s own theory of political consent and acknowledged that it requires revision in several areas. For instance, while we can allow that either express or tacit varieties of consent can be sufficient to ground political obligations, Locke’s own employment of the express-tacit distinction is in certain important ways flawed. And we saw as well that the consent...

      (pp. 101-146)

      That all persons possess certain natural (moral, human) rights that are inalienable is a thesis needing no real introduction. It is still used today, as it was in the great “rights manifestoes” of the eighteenth century, to proclaim the moral inviolability of persons in the face of oppressive government.¹ But it is also a thesis that has been as often questioned as it has been dramatically employed, even by those within the liberal camp who are broadly sympathetic to natural rights theories.² Far less often questioned has been John Locke’s status as the philosophical father of the tradition in moral...

      (pp. 147-192)

      It has been said that “theTwo Treatisesis a work principally designed to assert a right of resistance to unjust authority, a right, in the last resort, of revolution.”¹ While such a claim may perhaps not give Locke’s other ambitions in theTreatisestheir due, it is impossible to deny that theSecond Treatiseis, in several clear senses, a revolutionary work. First, of course, Locke’s own practical and rhetorical purposes in composing the work were directly connected to the encouragement and justification of active, armed resistance to an established government. Second, the influence of the work on later...

  9. Part 4: Consent and the Edge of Anarchy
    • [Part 4: Introduction]
      (pp. 193-196)

      We have now explored the three basic elements of the Lockean conception of the political relationship: its accounts of our natural moral condition and nonpolitical relationships (in part 1), of the consensual transaction necessary to the creation of legitimate political society (what I have called the ground of the political relationship) (in part 2), and of the moral limits on this transaction and on the society it creates (in part 3). In each case I carefully examined and analyzed Locke’s writings, in an effort to present a clear, coherent, and philosophically sensitive picture of his views. I also criticized, developed,...

      (pp. 197-217)

      I commented earlier in this study (3.3) on the source of the appeal (and of the plausibility) of Lockean consent theory. We saw then as well, however, the wide range of opposed conceptions of political obligation and authority. And not all of those opponents were collectivist or communitarian (or otherwise anti-individualist) in basic orientation. Indeed, there is a prominent tradition of individualist opposition to Lockean voluntarism in Anglo-American philosophy that can be traced back at least to David Hume’s essay, “Of the Original Contract.” Hume’s critique of consent theory was not in any way gentle or qualified. He wrote that...

      (pp. 218-270)

      Thinking now about notions of consent sufficiently strong to ground obligations and transfer rights (as the consent theorist must), where might we look to find widespread acts of express or tacit political consent in a free society? We are interested now in “the consent of the governed” only in the sense in which this refers to that consent that creates the political relationship, makes persons members (citizens) of the political society, and grounds their political obligations and the rights of their societies or governments. But can we find enough consent, even in a free society, to justify such a society’s...

    (pp. 271-284)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 285-293)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 294-295)