Two Treatises of Government

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Two Treatises of Government is a seminal work of political philosophy written by John Locke and published, anonymously, in 1689. The first of Locke's treatises is a critique of Sir Robert Filmer's Patriarcha, which defends the divine ordination of hereditary monarchy. The second treatise (the more famous of the two) presents a relatively comprehensive theory regarding the progress of society and the nature of government.

Locke argues that people, being naturally "free, equal, and independent" in the state of nature, willingly consent to give up some of their natural liberty in order to enter society. Government is instituted when a group of people agree to enter into a compact with one another, giving up this liberty and submitting themselves to the will of the majority. This construction represents a common paradigm for social contract theory.

"The great and chief end," Locke writes, "of men uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property"(2nd Treatise of Government, Chapter IX, Section 124). Though people must give up some of their rights to create a social compact,the security of one's property more than makes up for that abdication. Furthermore, Locke is sure to emphasize that government is ultimately directed to the public good of the people at large, not for the economic benefit of a few individuals or, as Adam Smith and Karl Marx both assert, for the protection of one class from another.