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Locke’s Tracts and the anarchy of the religious Conscience (Copy)

Locke’s Tracts and the anarchy of the religious Conscience

Paul Bou-Habib, University of Essex, UK


This article reconstructs the main arguments in John Locke’s first political writings, the highly rhetorical, and often obscure, Two Tracts on Government (1660–1662). The Tracts support the government’s right to impose religious ceremonies on its people, an astonishing fact given Locke’s famous defense of toleration in his later works. The reconstruction of the Tracts developed here allows us to see that rather than a pessimistic view of the prospects for peace under religious diversity, what mainly animates the young Locke is a desire to defend the rule of law against an anarchical conception of religious freedom. The article also argues that the evolution of Locke’s thinking on religious freedom was in large part governed by Locke’s attempt to interpret religious freedom in a way that avoids its having anarchical implications.


Locke, religious freedom, anarchy, Two Tracts on Government


In 1656, when Locke was still a young man, he wrote a letter from London to his father in which he recounted ‘the most remarkable thing I have met with since I came hither’. Locke had witnessed a Quaker seeking redress in the law courts in Westminster Hall for having had his hat struck off his head, some months earlier, when he had been brought in to give testimony in court. On that earlier occasion, the man had refused to remove his hat in court, as was the custom of many

Quakers who believed that all persons are equal under Christ. Locke observed to his father how, in protest against his earlier treatment, the man now no longer wore his hat. Locke continued: ‘The rest of his brethren may do well to imitate him, the keeping of the head too hot being dangerous for mad folks’1.

Locke’s attitude toward the Quakers may well reflect the prejudices of an unworldly young man when confronted with people from a different religious background to his own. But it might also reflect anxiety about the anarchy that is threatened by religious groups who defer to their own religious consciences without, as Locke might have thought, the restraint of reason. Locke might have seen the Quakers as not only mad, but dangerously mad. This article proposes that it is this anxiety about the anarchy of the religious conscience that animates Locke’s first political writings, composed four years after his aforementioned letter to his father, entitled Two Tracts on Government (1660–1662). Locke wrote the Tracts in response to The Great Question Concerning Things Indifferent (1660), a pamphlet by one of his student colleagues at Oxford, Edward Bagshaw2.

Bagshaw maintains in his pamphlet that the government has no right to impose religious worship on people. The imposition of religious worship at issue consisted of the government’s enforcing the form that particular religious ceremonies should take within the church, the garments that should be worn by the clergy and other circumstantial features of religious worship. Although Locke would famously come to reject the government’s right to impose religious worship in his later works, in the Tracts, he defends that right3.

In proposing this reading of the Tracts, the article aims to make three distinct contributions to our understanding of Locke’s political thought. The first is to extract clear arguments from what is, in many places, a highly rhetorical, fragmentary and obscure text. The approach of this article is thus different from, though complementary to, a more historical approach to the interpretation of a political text, where the aim is to reconstruct the intentions of its author through careful contextual elucidation of the text’s meaning. The emphasis in this article is to fill the gaps in Locke’s own presentation of his arguments by supplying the missing premises in a way that enables us to see the precise nature of those arguments.

Secondly, the article affirms a more categorical attribution of one of two closely related arguments one might interpret Locke as making in the Tracts. One might read the Tracts as reflecting a distinctively politique position, one that defends the government’s right to impose religious uniformity because it assumes that religious uniformity is necessary for public order. While this interpretation of the Tracts is sometimes suggested in works by Robert Kraynak, Kirstie McClure and David Wootton, these rich accounts of Locke’s developing views on religious toleration do also suggest the contrasting interpretation of the Tracts proposed in this article4.

According to this latter interpretation, Locke is mainly preoccupied by what he believes Bagshaw implies when he rejects the government’s right to impose religious worship, namely that the conscience of the religious dissenter stands above the authority of the sovereign. Locke wants to defend the government’s right to impose, in other words, not because he favors  imposition as such, but because he denies that the religious conscience of individual dissenters could have authority to limit the authority of the sovereign. The second aim of this article is to encourage the secondary literature to push this latter argument, which is focused on the need to preserve sovereign authority, to the forefront of Locke’s concerns in the Tracts. Finally, in proposing that we shift the emphasis in how we interpret Locke’s first writings on religious freedom, this article also supports a particular view of the overall trajectory of Locke’s thinking on the subject. If Locke’s early work is Hobbesian in character, emphasizing the need for sovereign authority, then a key turning point in his route to the famously anti-Hobbesian political thought of his later works must have been the following: he must, in his later works, have developed a different conception of religious freedom from Bagshaw’s, one that is not anarchical but that allows a religiously diverse society to be regulated by the rule of law. The article concludes with a brief proposal about the nature of Locke’s alternative conception of religious freedom.

The great question


To properly understand Locke’s argument in favor of the government’s right to impose religious worship, we must begin by clarifying the question addressed by his and Bagshaw’s texts. The question Locke places as a heading to his Tracts is identical to the one Bagshaw raises in the pamphlet to which Locke responds:

Whether the civil magistrate may lawfully impose and determine the use of indifferent things in reference to religious worship. Indifferent things are those actions that God has left to human discretion. Whether the magistrate may lawfully impose and determine such actions is a question about whether he may require, prohibit or otherwise regulate them without breaching his political mandate5.

The question at issue between Locke and Bagshaw, then, is whether the government acts consistently with its mandate when it requires, prohibits or otherwise regulates actions in religious worship that God has not already regulated in some way. For the sake of  exposition, let us call this the question of whether the government has a right to impose. Locke’s defense of the view that the government has the right to impose comes in two parts. First, he holds that public order requires that individuals transfer all of their liberty within the sphere of indifferent action to the authority of the sovereign. Since indifferent actions in religious worship are no less indifferent for being performed in religious worship, these fall under the sovereign’s authority as much as do indifferent actions performed outside of religious worship. Hence the government may lawfully, that is, it has the authority to, regulate indifferent actions in religious worship.

The second part of Locke’s defense is a series of rebuttals of various arguments for the contrary view put forward by Bagshaw. All of Bagshaw’s arguments aim to show that, while individuals may not have a right to be free from the government’s regulation of indifferent actions in the civil sphere, they do have a right to be free of such regulation within the religious sphere. Locke rejects this attempt at drawing a line between civil and religious indifferent action.

We can distinguish two possible readings of Locke’s affirmative answer to the question he poses in the Tracts. Both readings agree that the ultimate foundation of Locke’s argument is that individuals have a duty to maintain public order. As he writes, ‘God wished there to be order, society and government among men’6, and we can assume that Locke believes God’s wishes are duties for all individuals to fulfill.

Where the two readings differ, is over the intermediate idea that connects this foundational duty to maintain public order with the conclusion that individuals have no right against religious imposition. According to one reading, the reason Locke believes that the duty to maintain public order entails that the sovereign has a right to impose is that he believes public order requires that individuals practice a uniform mode of religious worship. On this reading, the Tracts rely heavily on a sociological thesis about the social consequences of religious diversity, specifically, that religious diversity necessarily produces social conflict.

According to a second reading, Locke believes public order justifies the sovereign’s right to impose because public order requires sovereign authority, and sovereign authority is not possible if individuals have a right against religious imposition, at least as Bagshaw understands that right. A full statement of the second reading is provided later, once Bagshaw’s understanding of the right against religious imposition has been made clear. For now, we should note that what is essential to the second reading of the Tracts is that it attributes to Locke an insistence on rejecting a particular conception of religious freedom in the name of preserving sovereign authority.

These two readings thus discern different routes from the foundational duty to preserve public order to the sovereign’s right of imposition, the first via the need for religious uniformity, the second via the need for sovereign authority. Those two routes are plainly distinct: it is one thing for the Tracts to argue that individuals ought to establish religious uniformity, and quite another for them to argue that individuals ought to establish sovereign authority. The next two sections discuss the plausibility of each reading of the Tracts.

The argument from uniformity

There is a tendency in the secondary literature to present’s Locke’s concern in the Tracts as focused on the need for religious uniformity. The interpretative idea is that Locke believes that religious diversity in public life must be prevented since it is bound to spark off violent confrontations between different religious groups. I shall refer to this as the argument from uniformity as summarized in the following schema:

  1. God commands that there be public order;
  2. Public order requires religious uniformity;
  3. Therefore, the sovereign must have a right to impose.

That Locke is propounding this argument from uniformity is a view that is put forward sometimes more, sometimes less explicitly in the secondary literature on the Tracts. Robert Kraynak, for example, defends the thesis that Locke ‘takes a definite practical position in favor of absolutist imposition’. By ‘absolutist imposition’, Kraynak means the policy whereby the state ‘imposes an arbitrary uniformity on warring sectarians for the sake of peace’7.

David Wootton, who rejects other parts of Kraynak’s analysis of the Tracts, concurs with him on this point: ‘One had to disappoint either those who wanted religious freedom and diversity, or those who wanted religious uniformity’, and for Locke, Wootton continues, ‘a sensible magistrate would opt for uniformity’8.

Kirstie McClure points out that there is a difference between religious imposition as an exercise of ‘rightful civil power’ and as ‘one policy option among others’. She then argues that Locke considered imposition ‘prudent as a matter of policy’9.

Although the argument from uniformity is attributed to Locke in a good deal of the secondary literature, the difficulty facing this interpretation is that Locke does not make any explicit statements in the Tracts in favor of the second step in the above schema, which distinguishes the argument form uniformity from the argument from authority, namely, that public order requires religious uniformity.  Furthermore, the evidence that has been adduced in favor of his endorsing that second step is inconclusive.

One set of statements that might suggest such an endorsement on Locke’s part all point out, in various ways, that there ought to exist in society a supreme authority over indifferent action, an authority, that is, that decides which of the actions God has left to human discretion ought to be regulated and how they ought to be regulated.

Robert Kraynak finds statements of this sort supportive of the reading that Locke endorses an argument from uniformity. He cites the following passage, for example:

‘the disadvantages of government’, Locke says, ‘[are] far less than are to be found in its absence, as no peace, no security, no enjoyments, enmity with all men and safe possession of nothing’. By ‘absolutism’ Kraynak means the doctrine where by the government ‘imposes an arbitrary uniformity on warring sectarians’.

In the passage just quoted, Locke does indeed seem to be endorsing the view that there ought to be in society a sovereign authority – but that he endorses this view does not imply that he endorses the further view that the sovereign ought to impose religious uniformity.

A second set of suggestive statements in the Tracts say that we ought not to recognize a ‘liberty of conscience’ or ‘right to toleration’ since these privileges are likely to have dangerous social consequences. Locke writes, for instance, that a liberty to perform one’s own actions in religious worship will prove to be a ‘liberty for contention, censure and persecution and will turn us loose to the tyranny of a religious rage’10.

One’s immediate reaction to such statements is puzzlement: it is difficult to see why Locke should think that religious liberty will inevitably lead to religious tyranny. Why exactly does Locke think such consequences would transpire if the government were to grant individuals a freedom to worship as they please? According to Kraynak, Locke’s reason for this view is that sectarian leaders appeal to liberty of conscience in order to incite their followers to attack religious rivals and to reform the state religion. Even if we assume that Kraynak is right about this, these statements by Locke would still not conclusively support the reading that Locke endorses the argument from uniformity. If Locke were worried that a liberty of conscience would prove to be a liberty of sectarian warfare, this need not imply that he endorses religious uniformity as an alternative to the liberty of conscience. It might instead imply that he endorses sovereign authority as the alternative.

Finally, Locke makes statements to the effect that whichever way the magistrate decides – whether he imposes or tolerates – he is bound to offend someone. He writes that the magistrate ‘will find it impossible not to…burden a great part, some being as conscientiously earnest for conformity as others for liberty’11. According to McClure, this is a point Locke makes out a spirit of despair. She explains that, for Locke, ‘the neutrality of law was quite impossible’12.

This explanation may be misleading, however, to the extent that it suggests that Locke opts for imposition because he deems it to be, in principle, as justifiable as toleration, and in the present circumstances, more prudent. There is an alternative way one could interpret Locke’s statement. His point might instead be the following: since the magistrate is always bound to offend someone’s conscience, we should not judge the legitimacy of the magistrate’s laws in terms of whether they offend people’s consciences, for, in that case, no law would ever be legitimate. In other words, the fact Locke might be lamenting is not that there is no possibility for neutral law, but that people insist upon determining the legitimacy of laws in terms of whether these agree with their consciences.

In summary, there is a lack of direct evidence in favor of the interpretation that Locke supports the argument from uniformity. Given the absence of conclusive evidence in its favor, one might wonder why there has been a tendency in the secondary literature to attribute the argument from uniformity to the Tracts. It may be the case that it has been too readily assumed that there is no other way of accounting for the suggestive statements we have seen Locke make. The following section questions that assumption.

The argument from authority

An alternative reading of the Tracts, and one that can be seen to be suggested by the statements from Locke just quoted, is a reading according to which Locke is making an argument from authority. This argument holds that public order requires that there be a sovereign authority that determines the mode of religious worship in society. The argument from authority adopts the same foundational premise and conclusion as the argument from uniformity. However, it connects that premise and conclusion with a different intermediate idea:

  1. God commands that there be public order;

2a. Public order requires sovereign authority;

  1. Therefore, there is no right against religious imposition.

A ‘sovereign authority’ is an authority whose laws no other person or institution can overturn as illegitimate, and that are, in that sense, final. The bearer of sovereign authority can be one person or an assembly of persons, and is in either case termed the ‘sovereign’.

Now, Locke is explicit that public order requires that there be sovereign authority. He writes: “it is clear that no union could occur among men, that no common way of life would be possible, no law, nor any constitution by which men could, as it were unite themselves into a singly body unless each one first divests himself of that native liberty…and transfers it to some other…in whom a supreme power must necessarily reside13.

As summarized above, the argument from authority is not entirely clear. The question that needs answering is why Locke believes that public order requires that there be sovereign authority. We need to understand, in other words, what it is that justifies the second key step in the argument for authority. Locke does not explicitly tell us this, evidently believing that the answer to this question should be obvious (the above quotation begins with ‘it is clear that’). If we wish to unfold the argument from authority, we thus need to reconstruct the assumption Locke takes for granted from other materials in the Tracts.

The most plausible suggestion is that Locke follows the line adopted by Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes famously maintains that sovereign authority is necessary for public order because without the presence in society of a final arbiter over the limits of human action, people will endlessly fight with each other over this matter.

That the Tracts adopt a view of this sort is suggested by Locke’s many comments about the tendency of disputes over religious worship to turn violent. We can see Locke imagining, in other words, that people will always be prepared to fight over the issue of how God is to be properly worshipped, and that public order therefore depends upon individuals surrendering their authority to decide upon the proper mode of religious worship to the sovereign. In summary, then, we might unfold Locke’s argument from authority as follows:

2a. Public order requires sovereign authority, because

(I) People disagree about the limits to action and are prepared to fight over this matter.

(II) To avoid war, they must therefore transfer their individual authority to decide the limits of their action to one person or persons, whose judgment on this matter will be final.

A question now arises as to what evidence we have for endorsing the interpretation that Locke holds to this argument from authority, rather than to the argument from uniformity. Just as was the case with the argument from uniformity, there is no single passage in the Tracts that can be deemed to favor conclusively the interpretation that Locke is only concerned to make the argument from authority. All of the passages from Locke we considered in the previous section, when examining the evidence for the argument from uniformity, while compatible with attributing to him the argument from authority, do not settle the issue in favor of our doing so.

For example, when Locke warns of the nasty consequences of recognizing a liberty of conscience, he may well be saying that he believes that the magistrate, as sovereign, and not the individual’s conscience, ought to be final judge of the laws we should have. But, on the other hand, it is also possible that Locke might be maintaining that it is unwise to allow people to practice different forms of religious worship in circumstances where their doing so is bound to spark off civil unrest. If we wish to find conclusive evidence as to the nature of Locke’s argument in the Tracts, we must consider the second part of his case in favor of the government’s right to impose religious worship, namely, the series of rebuttals he makes to Bagshaw’s various arguments.

The Locke–Bagshaw exchange

Bagshaw’s case against the government’s right to impose rests upon the claim that God commands individuals to give a sincere worship. By ‘sincere worship’, Bagshaw means not only the possession of sincere beliefs about God, but also the performance of only those outward actions one judges to be necessary for worship. He believes that if individuals have a duty of sincere worship, so understood, then it must be true that the government cannot have the right to impose worship upon them. Bagshaw’s main claim has a worrying implication, however, which Bagshaw himself overlooks. If individuals have a duty of sincere religious action, then they may not transfer their individual authority to decide the limits of their action to the sovereign. Bagshaw’s claim, then, has the implication that there can be no sovereign authority.

That this implication is what concerns Locke becomes apparent when we consider some of his disputes with Bagshaw. Consider first Bagshaw’s interpretation of a particular passage from scripture that supposedly supports the prohibition of the imposition of religious worship. The passage, which is from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, commands Christians to, ‘stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ had made you free and be not again entangled with the yoke of bondage’ (Galatians 5:1).

Bagshaw says that Paul’s reason for rejecting the imposition of ceremonies is also a reason for our rejecting the imposition of Christian ceremonies, namely, that individuals must enjoy a ‘Christian liberty’ to perform those ceremonies which they themselves believe to be necessary. It is thus a mistake, Bagshaw insists, to think that since ‘the yoke of bondage’ Paul here speaks of refers specifically to Jewish ceremonies, that he is urging freedom only from Jewish, and not Christian ceremonies. Paul is urging a freedom from all ceremonies.

Locke levels a subtle objection to Bagshaw’s  interpretation of Paul’s words. The ‘Christian liberty’ that Paul insists upon is, according to Locke, merely a ‘liberty of judgment’ and not, as Bagshaw thinks, a ‘liberty of action’. Contrary to what Bagshaw says, then, Paul’s words should not be taken to prohibit the imposition of all ceremonies, but only of those ceremonies that are imposed for the sake of making people judge in a certain way. When the government imposes ceremonies merely in order to get people to act in a certain way, it is not commanding people to endorse these ceremonies as necessary in themselves, and each person’s liberty to judge that question thus remains intact. In short, Locke believes that Bagshaw infers far too much religious liberty from Paul’s words.

A second dispute with Bagshaw that reflects Locke’s worries about Bagshaw’s insistence upon a duty of sincere religious action, concerns the ‘Golden Rule’, which commands that one ‘not do to others what one would not wish them to do to oneself’. Employing the Golden Rule, Bagshaw asks: ‘Who would have his conscience imposed upon?’. No one would, he answers, and therefore no one should impose on the consciences of others.

We must notice what Bagshaw is assuming as he makes this argument. In order for his appeal to the Golden Rule to succeed as an argument against the imposition of religious ceremonies, he must be assuming that to impose a ceremony on someone is to impose on that person’s conscience – that is, that in order for a person’s conscience to be free, that person must be able to outwardly worship in a way he inwardly endorses.  Only then will Bagshaw be correct to conclude that our desire not to have our conscience imposed upon commits us, via the Golden Rule, to refrain from imposing ceremonies on others. In short, Bagshaw must be assuming that a free conscience requires a liberty of sincere religious action14.

Locke replies to Bagshaw’s appeal to the Golden Rule with the following remark: ‘If private men’s judgments were the moulds where laws were to be cast’tis a question whether we should have any at all’15.

At first sight, it may seem unclear how Locke’s reply amounts to a refutation of Bagshaw’s Golden Rule argument, let alone how it is relevant. Why does Locke believe that Bagshaw’s appeal to the liberty of conscience necessarily commits Bagshaw to endorsing a limitless liberty to act on one’s own private judgment?

It may seem more natural to interpret Bagshaw’s point to be that individuals ought to enjoy a freedom from interference within a fixed space of religious conduct. Once we remember, however, that Bagshaw assumes that a free conscience implies a liberty of sincere religious action then Locke’s answer becomes clear. For once the liberty of conscience is interpreted in that way it effectively amounts to an extra-legal power, or, in other words, a personal prerogative to limit the law according to one’s own conscience. If laws could indeed be limited in this way, Locke would be correct to wonder ‘whether we should have any at all’.

This point is repeated throughout the Tracts. Locke’s favorite illustration of it, which he uses more than once, is that of the Quaker. The Tracts thus return to the very issue that he had mentioned in the letter to his father some four years earlier, the Quaker’s refusal to remove his hat in front social superiors: if the [act of] determining any indifferent outward action contrary to a man’s persuasion…be imposing on conscience and so unlawful, I know not how a Quaker should be compelled by hat or leg to pay a due respect to the magistrate16.

Only by endorsing the view that Locke embraces the argument from authority in the Tracts, can we make sense of this otherwise puzzling passage. Agreeing with Locke that Quakers should not be guaranteed a  freedom to pursue just any religiously motivated conduct, one might initially be puzzled as to why Locke also refuses to allow Quakers the freedom to pursue religiously motivated conduct within the sphere of their religious worship. Matters become clear, however, once we understand that Locke is attempting to show in this passage what the implication is of assuming, as Bagshaw does, that the liberty of conscience includes liberty of sincere religious action. The implication would be that any legal restriction upon actions that the Quaker deems to be religious in nature is ipso facto an infringement on his liberty of conscience and that the Quaker would thus effectively be entitled to set the boundaries between then civil and the religious sphere.

To insist upon the liberty of conscience, so understood, would in that case make it impossible for the government to lay a legal obligation upon an individual to act in ways prohibited by that individual’s conscience, and ultimately, then, to undermine the government’s sovereign authority. This point is reflected in Locke’s ‘if-then’ reasoning in the passage above.

If we define the liberty of conscience as Bagshaw defines it, then it will be impossible to legally compel the Quaker to pay, as Locke says, a ‘due respect to the magistrate’. Indeed, it will be impossible to legally compel him to do anything with which he does not in conscience agree.

Locke’s exchange with Bagshaw, then, is fundamentally concerned with the consequences for public order of including sincere action under the duty of sincere worship. Once sincere action is so included, religious liberty becomes an extra-legal power. If the subject must enjoy a ‘liberty of conscience’, in the sense that he must be free to act in accordance with his religious beliefs, then, no one sets limits to his rights but himself. In that case, religious liberty, as an extra-legal power, undermines sovereign authority, which requires that only one person or assembly of persons, and not every person, should set the limits to human action. And in the absence of sovereign authority, public order is impossible.

Two key implications

One significant implication of the fact that the Tracts make an argument from authority is that this places Locke’s early thinking on religious freedom in a far more flattering and interesting light than the one in which we would see it were we to attribute to it the argument from uniformity. This becomes evident if we consider two different reasons for why an individual ought not to insist upon retaining a right to religious freedom – each corresponding to the two different readings of the Tracts. The first reason is that retaining this right would provoke others to act violently.

One might suppose, for example, that members of a powerful religion are likely to act violently if an individual dissenter openly expresses his dissent from their religion. The second reason an individual ought not to insist upon retaining a right to religious freedom is that this right undermines the possibility of a common legal framework for regulating his social interaction with others.

Now, that there is a difference between these two reasons is relevant for understanding Locke’s concerns in the Tracts. If we attribute the first reason to Locke, then Locke is in effect asking religious dissenters to accept that they have a duty to forego their right to worship according to their own consciences in order to avoid more powerful groups disturbing the peace. This would appear to be an unjust concession on Locke’s part to the prejudices of the powerful at the expense of the rights of the powerless.

On the other hand, if we interpret Locke to be providing the second reason, then his conclusion in the Tracts appears more just. In effect, Locke would be asking dissenters to accept that they  bear a duty that everyone else bears, namely, to forego rights that stand in the way of the establishment of a common legal framework with which to regulate their social life.

Apart from presenting Locke’s thinking on religious freedom in a more flattering light, a second implication of the reading defended here is that it opens up a new perspective on the trajectory of Locke’s thinking on religious freedom after the Tracts. The new perspective is best introduced by way of contrast. Consider, first, what the trajectory of Locke’s thinking would look like if we assume Locke endorses the argument from uniformity in the Tracts.  If indeed it is the case that Locke is concerned to reject a right to religious freedom because it stands in the way of religious uniformity, then the question becomes why Locke would come to embrace a right to practice deviant worship just five years later, in a short piece entitled An Essay on Toleration (1667)17. Two answers have been given to this question. First, it has been proposed that Locke must have undergone a ‘radical break’ by the time of the An Essay on Toleration, a break that can be explained only by appeal to biographical evidence.

For example, it is suggested that a trip to Holland in 1665 helped Locke see the possibility of peace in a context of religious diversity, or it is suggested that Locke’s employment in the service of the liberal Earl of Shaftesbury in 1667 put pressure on him to alter his early views18. The problem with such biographical evidence, however, is that it is necessarily rather speculative in character and it may seem insufficient to explain a break as radical as one in which an author moves, in just a few years, from favoring a right of religious imposition to defending a right to toleration19.

In light of this problem, a second possibility has been defended, according to which An Essay on Toleration actually continues to reflect the underlying goals of the Tracts. Locke, it is claimed, has come to defend a right of toleration in the Essay for the same reason that he (supposedly) defended a policy of enforced religious uniformity in the Tracts.

Underlying both the earlier and later view is Locke’s commitment to peace at all costs: he defends the right to toleration in An Essay on Toleration, in other words, only because he now believes it is toleration, rather than imposition, that is most conducive to civil peace20.

The problem with this second account of the Locke’s development is that it implies that his eventual endorsement of a right to religious freedom is a rather shallow endorsement. For if indeed Locke is prepared to endorse this right only when its deviant exercise is unlikely to spark off civil unrest, or only when such an endorsement is in other ways conducive to peace, then he does not have the kind of concern that one would normally associate with someone who takes rights seriously, namely a concern to protect the interests of the individual rights-bearer against more powerful groups in society.

This assumption about Locke’s fundamental views on religious freedom is questionable because it cannot be reconciled with Locke’s language in his later writings, which reveals a deep concern on his part about the interests of the individual religious dissenter. In A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), for example, Locke includes a passage that bears a striking resemblance to Bagshaw’s original arguments for religious freedom.

To impose [outward worship]…upon any people, contrary to their own judgment, is, in effect to command them to offend God; which, considering that the end of all religion is to please him and, that liberty is essentially necessary to that end, appears to be absurd beyond expression21.

People have a duty to God to perform that worship which they, in their own judgment, believe to be the proper one, and liberty, Locke says, ‘is essentially necessary to that end’. Locke thus ends up grounding the right to religious freedom in the interests of every individual to perform a sincere worship.

In light of the fact that Locke takes the right to religious freedom seriously in his later work, and indeed comes to ground it in the very same concern with sincere religious worship that animated Bagshaw’s pamphlet, we have good reason for exploring alternative accounts of his developing views on religious freedom.

Let us consider the picture that emerges once we  attribute the argument form authority to the Tracts. If we assume that Locke’s first thoughts on this question revolved around the argument from authority, then, while his later writings on religious freedom might still be governed by a concern on his part to balance public order with the interests of religious dissenters, these writings would not necessarily reflect a tendency on Locke’s part to grant or withhold the right to religious freedom on the contingent basis of whether doing so would spark off sectarian violence.

Rather, by attributing the argument from authority to Locke – and so by viewing his initial posture as one in which he is troubled by a conception of religious freedom that is anarchical – his subsequent maneuvering can be presented as a search for an alternative conception of this right that would allow religious diversity without implying anarchy.

Religious freedom without anarchy

Locke may have come to embrace the right to religious freedom a few years after the Tracts, in the Essay, because he found, by that time, a way in which to include sincere religious action under that right without its becoming an anarchical right.

We have already noted how Locke’s main objection to Bagshaw is that Bagshaw’s inclusion of sincere action under the umbrella of the right to religious freedom renders that right anarchical – that is, it implies that the scope of this right will be authoritatively settled by the rights-bearer alone. While Locke objects to this particular conception of religious freedom, it seems evident, however, that he is already sympathetic in the Tracts to at least some conception of religious freedom.

If we revisit the passage in which he worries about Quakers refusing to remove their hats, this point is reflected in its opening statement:

grant all agree that conscience is tenderly to be dealt with, and not to be imposed on, but if the determining any indifferent outward action contrary to a man’s persuasion … be imposing on conscience and so unlawful, I know not how a Quaker should be compelled by hat or leg to pay due respect to the magistrate.

If religious freedom cannot include sincere action, Locke goes on to conclude, then we are forced to interpret religious freedom as a liberty of judgment alone. It seems plausible to see Locke’s opening statement in the above passage as reflecting a sense of regret on his part about this result.

By the time of his Essay, a few years later, Locke has found a way in which to include religious action under the right to religious freedom, without this right’s becoming an anarchical right. This turning point in Locke’s thinking after the Tracts, and before An Essay on Toleration, occurs in his 1663–1664 Essays on the Law of Nature in which he reconstitutes his political thought in natural law. In appealing to natural law as the bounds to human action, Locke is able to improve upon his argument in the Tracts in two different ways.

First, he is able to hold that no person can sincerely believe that his religion should include actions that transgress natural law, since natural law is something all persons can apprehend by means of their natural reason alone23.

Locke is thus able to insist in An Essay on Toleration that religious freedom includes the liberty of action in worship, as well as the liberty of judgment. An Essay on Toleration puts this point rather emphatically: ‘purely speculative opinions and divine worship’ – a category that includes action as well as judgment –deserves ‘an absolute and universal right to toleration’24.

Locke is able to include actions within the right to perform sincere religious worship because he assumes that sincere religious action is necessarily compliant with natural law.

There is a second way in which the appeal to natural law enables Locke to improve upon his argument in the Tracts: it enables him to set bounds to the exercise of political authority. If political power exists in order to help individuals fulfill the duties they have in natural law, then its authority is always conditional upon its being effective to this end. Political authority may not, in that case, take the form of sovereignty: it may not be an unconditional authority.

We see this line of argument most forcefully presented in Locke’s famous Letter. In a passage where Locke discusses a case in which the magistrate imposes a law ‘concerning things that lie not within the verge of the magistrate’s authority’, he asks, rhetorically, ‘what if the magistrate believe such a law as this to be for the public good?’.

He answers:

As the private judgment of any particular person, if erroneous, does not exempt him from the obligation of law, so the private judgment, as I may call it, of the magistrate, does not give him any new right of imposing laws upon his subjects25.

The reply suggests that by the time of the Letter,  sovereignty has fallen out of the picture of Locke’s political thought. Locke now believes that the legitimacy of all action – actions commanded by the dissenting conscience as well as by the magistrate – must be measured solely against the bounds and directives of natural law.

No person gains a right to impose by the authority of his own private judgment alone; no person, in other words, is sovereign. The trajectory of Locke’s thinking on religious freedom is one in which he searches for, and eventually finds, in the appeal to natural law, a settlement of the contending claims of religious freedom and political authority that is more appealing to him, philosophically and morally, than the settlement he had been able to conceive of in the Tracts.

Having reconstituted his political philosophy in natural law, Locke is able to conclude that the claims to ‘religious freedom’ and to ‘political authority’, properly understood, are always in harmony. Political authority, which exists in order to prevent actions that transgress natural law, never needs to regulate an action that is protected by the right to religious freedom, because this right never includes an action that transgresses natural law26.


Where Locke ends up in the Letter, the place at which he insists that no person gains a right to act on the authority of his private judgment alone, brings us back, some thirty earlier, to the young Locke in Westminster Hall. It may seem that in the Letter Locke ends up catching himself in the tail, as it were: his later work appears sympathetic to the idea he had repudiated as a young man.

If Locke believes in his later work that no person is sovereign, if he believes that every individual stands as an equal to others in retaining an ultimate authority to enforce natural law, then, in a fundamental sense, it seems that he believes there are no political superiors to whom Quakers ought to remove their hats.

But, in fact, Locke has not caught himself in the tail. As a young man, Locke was unsympathetic with Quakers, not because he was against political equality, but because he was against the anarchy of the religious conscience. This is a constant in his thinking on religious freedom throughout this life. Locke never ceased in his hostility toward individuals who believed that their authority to act ultimately derived from a part of their soul that was inaccessible to others.

In 1700, he would thus express the view about religious ‘enthusiasts’ that may have led to his feeling bemused and disturbed by the Quakers he observed in court in 1656: whatsoever odd action they find in themselves a strong inclination to do, that impulse is concluded to be a call or direction from heaven, and must be obeyed…This I take to be properly enthusiasm, which, though founded neither on reason nor divine revelation, but rising from the conceits of a warmed or over-weening brain, works yet, where it once gets footing, more powerfully on the persuasions and actions of men…and freed from all restraint of reason, and check of reflection, it is heightened into a divine authority, in concurrence with our own temper and inclination27.

One sees not bigotry in such a passage, but weariness. The view on the basis of which Quakers refused to remove their hats may have been the egalitarian one that all are equal under Christ. But their insistence that this view gains its authority from their own conscience was, for Locke, ultimately anarchical.


  1. John Locke, ‘Locke to Locke Sen., Westminster, 25 October 1656’ in M. Goldie (ed) (2002) Correspondence of John Locke, p. 5. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  2. I shall refer to these early texts by Locke as the Tracts and use the editions reprinted in M. Goldie (ed) (1997) Locke: Political Essays, pp. 3–78. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press. I shall refer to Bagshaw’s pamphlet as The Great Question. This pamphlet is available at Early English Books Online. (25 July 2010).
  3. As Locke later insists in A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689): ‘the magistrate has no power to enforce by law, either in his own church, or much less in another, the use of any rites or ceremonies whatsoever in the worship of God’, reprinted in D. Wootton (ed) (1993) Political Writings of John Locke, p. 411. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.
  4. See Robert Kraynak (1980) ‘John Locke: From Absolutism to Toleration’, American Political Science Review 74: 53–69; Kirstie McClure (1990) ‘Difference, Diversity, and the Limits of Toleration’, Political Theory 18: 361–91 and David Wootton, ‘Introduction’ in D. Wootton (ed) (1993) Political Writings of John Locke, pp. 7–122. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.
  5. There is no significant disagreement over terminology between Locke and Bagshaw. Bagshaw writes that indifferent things are ‘those outward circumstances of our actions which the law of God has left free and arbitrary, giving us only general precepts for the use of them either way’. In Locke (n. 2), p. 62, Locke defines ‘indifferent things’ as ‘all things which are morally neither good nor evil’. Since Locke’s convention is to use ‘moral law’ and ‘divine law’ interchangeably, his definition of indifferent things chimes with Bagshaw’s.
  6. Locke (n. 2), p. 71.
  7. Kraynak (n. 4), p. 56.
  8. Wootton (n. 4), p. 36.
  9. McClure (n. 4), p. 368.
  10. Locke (n. 2), p. 7.
  11. Locke (n. 2), p. 24.
  12. McClure (n. 4) p. 374.
  13. Locke (n. 2), p. 70.
  14. The terms ‘liberty of conscience’ and ‘religious liberty’ are used interchangeably in this paragraph. This usage is justified in the rendering of Bagshaw’s (and indeed Locke’s) views, since the two authors viewed the pronouncements of conscience as a person’s internal religious pronouncements, i.e. as pronouncements regarding God’s will.
  15. Locke (n. 2). p. 21.
  16. As Mark Goldie, editor of Locke’s Political Essays, explains, ‘making a leg’ is a formal bow, which, along with removing one’s hat, was an act Quakers refused to undertake on religious grounds. See Locke (n. 2), p. 22.
  17. This text shall be referred to as the Essay.
  18. For a good account of the biographical evidence, see John Marshall (1994) John Locke: Resistance, Religion, and Responsibility. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
  19. For the view that there is a radical break between the early and later Locke see Maurice Cranston (1957) John Locke: A Biography. London: Longmans, and Philip Abrams, ‘Introduction’ in P. Abrams (ed) (1967) Two Tracts on Government, pp. 1–114. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
  20. For the view that A Letter Concerning Toleration shares the same underlying goal with Locke’s Tracts, namely that of managing religion for the sake of civil peace, see Kraynak (n. 4).
  21. Locke (n. 3), p. 411.
  22. Locke (n. 2), p. 22, italics added.
  23. For a similar line of interpretation see Ian Harris (1994) The Mind of John Locke. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
  24. See John Locke ‘An Essay on Toleration’, reprinted in M. Goldie (ed) (1997) Locke: Political Essays, pp. 134–59. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
  25. Locke (n. 3), p. 424.
  26. The claim I defend here, that natural law is for Locke the guide and limit to both political authority and religious freedom may show how the disagreement between Tim Stanton and John William Tate in a recent debate on the character of Locke’s mature political philosophy may be less stark than it appears to be. Stanton and Tate disagree about whether Locke removed God from the center of his political philosophy. In one sense of that contention, Stanton is right: God is always at the center of Locke’s political philosophy, namely in the sense that God’s wishes for mankind always ground and limit political authority when these wishes are identified by our natural reason as natural law. In another sense of that contention, however, Tate is right: Locke did indeed wish to remove God’s wishes from political philosophy as these wishes might allegedly be identified by means other than natural reason. See John William Tate (2012) ‘Locke, God, and Civil Society: Reply to Stanton’, Political Theory 40: 222–8 and Tim Stanton (2012) ‘Reply to Tate’, Political Theory 40: 229–36.
  27. John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, P. Nidditch (ed). Oxford: Oxford University Press. This passage is from the 1700 edition. The first edition was published in 1689.

Corresponding author:

Paul Bou-Habib, Department of Government, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester CO4 3



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John Locke, Two Tracts on Government, Tract I, Section 69, Absatz 69,

John Locke: Two Tracts on Government

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government,

Tract I, Section 69, Absatz 69,

But to my author’s inconvenience I shall oppose another I think greater, I’m sure more to be provided against because more pressing and oftener occurring. Grant the people once free and unlimited in the exercise of their religion and where will they stop, where will they themselves bound it, and will it not be religion to destroy all that are not of their profession?

And will they not think they do God good service to take vengeance on those that they have voted his enemies? Shall not this be the land of promise, and those that join not with them be the Canaanites to be rooted out? Must not Christ reign and they prepare for his coming by cutting off the wicked? Shall we not be all taught of God and the ministry cast off as needless?

They that have got the right use of Scripture and the knack of applying it with advantage, who can bring God’s word in defense of those practices which his soul abhors and do already tell us we are returning to Egypt, would, were they permitted, as easily find us Egyptians and think it their right to despoil us.

Though I can believe that our author would not make this large use of his liberty; yet if he thinks others would not so far improve his principles, let him look some years back he will find that a liberty for render consciences was the first inlet to all those confusions and unheard of and destructive opinions that overspread this nation.

The same hearts are still in men as liable to zealous mistakes and religious furies, there wants but leave for crafty men to inspirit and fire them with such doctrines.

I cannot deny but that the sincere and tender-hearted Christians should be gently dealt with and much might be indulged them, but who shall be able to distinguish them, and if a toleration be allowed as their right who shall hinder others who shall be ready enough to lay hold on the same plea?

Doch zusätzlich zu meines Autors Unannehmbarkeit werde ich eine weitere und wie ich denke größere anführen, von der ich überzeugt bin, ihr muss entschiedener begegnet werden, da sie dringlicher ist und auch deutlich öfter auftritt. Gesetzt den Fall der Bevölkerung wäre erst einmal beliebig freie und unbeschränkte Religionsausübung gestattet, ja wo würden sie dann selbst einhalten, an welche Grenze würde sie sich selbst binden, ja wäre das dann nicht umgehend eine Religionsausübung mit dem Recht, alle anderen zu vernichten, die ihr Bekenntnis nicht teilen?

Würden sie nicht denken, sie dienten Gott, indem sie Rache an allen nähmen, die sie als dessen Feinde betrachten? Wäre dann nicht unser Land das Versprochene Land und diejenigen, die sich ihnen nicht beigesellen wären die Kanaaniter, die es auszurotten gälte? Ginge es nicht um ihre Vorbereitung des Reichs Christi und sie müssten für sein Kommen das Böse mit Stumpf und Stiel ausreißen? Wären wir nicht alle durch Gott alleinzu belehren und die Geistlichkeit als nutzlos zu entsorgen sein?

Gerade die, die den korrekten Gebrauch der Heiligen Schrift zu haben behaupten und die Tricks beherrschen, sie vorteilhaft auszulegen, jene, die das Wort Gottes zur Rechtfertigung all der Machenschaften zu verwenden wissen, die dessen Seele zutiefst verabscheut, und die uns gerade weismachen wollen, wir kehrten in die Knechtschaft nach Ägypten zurück, würden, sofern man sie gewähren ließe, uns als die Ägypter bezeichnen und es für ihr Recht halten, uns auszuplündern.

Ich will gern glauben, dass unser Autor keinen derart großzügigen Gebrauch von seiner Freiheit zu machen beabsichtigt. Wenn er jedoch tatsächlich glaubt, dass andere wohl kaum seine Prinzipen soweit entfalten würden, dann lasst ihn einige Jahre zurückblicken und er wird feststellen, dass es ausgerechnet eine Freiheit des offenen Gewissens war, die die Initialzündung zu all dem Chaos, den bis dahin nie gehörten und zerstörerischen Meinungen gab, die diese Nation überrannten.

Keine anderen Herzen schlagen heute in der Menschen Brust, noch genauso anfällig für eifernde Täuschung und religiöse Raserei. Es bedarf nur ein paar übrig gebliebener starker Männer, um sie zu inspirieren und sie mit derlei Lehren anzuheizen.

Natürlich kann ich nicht bestreiten, dass alle ernsthaften und zartbesaiteten Christen respektvoll und höflich zu behandeln sind und man in vielem mit ihnen nachsichtig sein sollte, aber wer wäre in der Lage, sie zu unterscheiden und falls ihnen eine solche Toleranz als Recht zugestanden wird, wer könnte andere daran hindern, die mehr als nur darauf vorbereitet sind, auf der gleichen Forderung zu bestehen?

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John Locke, Two Tracts on Government, Tract I, Section 52, Absatz 52,

John Locke: Two Tracts on Government

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government,

Tract I, Section 51, Absatz 51,

“The first shall be that of our Savior Christ who was of a most sweet and complying disposition, yet when his Christian liberty came once to be invaded he laid aside gentleness, and proved a stiff and peremptory assertor of it. To omit many passage of which his story is full, I shall mention but one and that was his refusing to wash his hands before meat. What Christ did here I know not how it could be said to be in defense of his Christian liberty.

Indeed he came to promulgate the great law of liberty to believers, to redeem men from the slavery of sin and Satan and subjection to the ceremonial law, but he himself was made under the law, lived under it, and fulfilled it, and therefore it appears to me rather a vindication of his national Jewish liberty which was very much encroached on by the traditions of the Pharisees, who though they sat in Moses‘ chair yet were beyond the bounds he had set them.

God had delivered to the Jews an entire and complete platform of worship, prescribed and limited, too, all the circumstances and ceremonies of it, and so strictly tied them to that rule he had given that Moses himself was not permitted to deviate in the least from it, Look that thou make them after te pattern that was showed thee in the mount.

It could not then but be a horrid impiety and presumption for the Pharisees not only to step into Moses chair but also to ascend into Mount Sinai, and dare to mingle their wisdom with God’s and take upon them to correct or perfect that frame which the great architect of heaven and earth had erected for his sanctuary.

This usurpation might well draw sharp rebukes from the meekest and most complying temper. Christ bore with the infirmities of the weak but not with the open rebellion of the haughty and obstinate; these were those who truly bound burdens on men’s consciences by stamping a divine impression on their own counterfeit inventions and traditions and enjoined them under the penalties of God’s displeasure and the curses of the law.

But I think it will be no very good consequence that because Christ opposed the usurpation of the Pharisees, therefore a Christian may dispute the dominion of his magistrate that because the traditions of the Elders (which were such too as made the commandment of God of none effect), were unlawful in a religion tied to a certain and set form which was to receive neither alteration nor addition, you shall not add unto the word that I command you neither shall you diminish aught from it, wherein God had left nothing arbitrary or indifferent, therefore all impositions are unlawful in a religion wherein almost all the outward actions are left undetermined and free; that because it was a part of the Jewish liberty not to be fettered with pharisaical traditions, therefore it is part of the Christian liberty not to submit to legal injunctions, and therefore it is no wonder that Christ should not prefer [arguments from decency] before those from duty, not wash his hands when he could not do it without contracting guilt, nor pay obedience to that law which God had condemned and provided against by a repeated prohibition such traditions as they delivered to the people not as their own injunctions but as part of the law of God, being properly additions to it and so of forbidden traditions, did not thereby destroy either the indifference of the action or the magistrate’s power of enjoining it, and had Caesar commanded washing of hands at any time of the day I have no reason to think that Christ would have denied him this any more than tribute.

Zunächst sollte über unseren Heiland, der einen reinen und fügsamen Charakter besaß, gesagt sein, dass er dennoch seine Freundlichkeit zur Seite legte, sobald seine christliche Freiheit bedroht wurde und er sich als ihr harter und gebieterischer Streiter erwies. Um den vielen Passagen, von denen seine Legende strotzt, Ehre zu erweisen, sollte ich nur eine anführen: Als er sich weigerte seine Hände vor dem Essen zu waschen. Allerdings habe ich keine Ahnung, wie das, was er hier tat, als Verteidigung seiner christlichen Freiheit bezeichnet werden könnte.

Tatsächlich erschien er, um das große Gesetz der Freiheit für die Gläubigen zu verkünden, um Menschen aus der Sklaverei der Sünde zu retten, vor dem Teufel und vor der Unterjochung durch das Zeremonialrecht. Er selbst aber war unter diesem Recht geboren, lebte damit und erfüllte es. Eben deswegen kommt es mir eher wie eine Verteidigung seiner nationalen jüdischen Freiheit vor, die durch die Traditionen der Pharisäer ziemlich weitgehend vereinnahmt worden war, welche trotz, dass sie in Moses Stuhl saßen, dennoch außerhalb der Schranken waren, die es gesetzt hatte.

Gott hatte den Juden einen vollumfänglichen und kompletten Satz an kultischen Handlungen zu seiner Huldigung bereitgestellt, vorgeschrieben und auch begrenzt, inklusive aller dazugehörigen äußeren Umstände und Zeremonien, und sie derart fest an diese von ihm selbst erlassene Regel gebunden, dass es nicht einmal Moses erlaubt war, davon auch nur ein Jota abzuweichen: Sorge dafür dass Du sie nach dem Muster ausführst, das Dir auf dem Berg gegeben wurde!

Folglich konnte es nichts als eine schreckliche Pietätlosigkeit und Anmaßung durch die Pharisäer sein, nicht nur Moses Stelle einzunehmen, sondern auch auf den Berg Sinai zu steigen und es zu wagen, ihre Weisheit mit der Gottes zu verquicken und es zu unterfangen, den Ordnungsrahmen, den der große Architekt von Himmel und Erde für sein Heiligtum errichtet hatte, korrigieren oder perfektionieren zu wollen.

Diese Usurpation darf gut und gern scharfen Tadel selbst von den sanftmütigsten und fügsamsten Gemütern nach sich ziehen. Christus wurde mit den Nachteilen der Schwachen, nicht aber mit dem Geist offener Rebellion der Hochmütigen und Verbohrten geboren. Jene waren es, die dem Gewissen der Menschen in Wahrheit Bürden auferlegt haben, indem sie ihren eigenen gezinkten Erfindungen und getürkten Traditionen den Stempel der Göttlichkeit aufprägten und diese unter die Bestrafung durch Gottes Missfallen und die Vergeltung des Gesetzes mogelten.

Dennoch denke ich, es hätte wohl keine sehr positiven Konsequenzen, aus dem Umstand des Widerstands gegen die Usurpation der Pharisäer durch Christus abzuleiten, dass deswegen ein Christ die Herrschaft seiner Obrigkeit bestreiten dürfe. Nur weil die Traditionen der Ahnen (die ebenfalls so beschaffen waren, dass sie die Wirkung der Anordnungen Gottes auf Null setzten) unrechtmäßig gegenüber einer Religion waren, die fest an bestimmte und stehende Formen gebunden war, die keinerlei Veränderung oder Aufblähung duldete: ‚Du darfst meinem Wort, welches ich Dir verfügt habe, nichts hinzufügen und ebenso wenig darfst Du irgendetwas davon verringern.‘ Weil Gott nichts Willkür oder Unbestimmtheit überlassen hat, deshalb seien alle Verfügungen im Falle einer Religion, die nahezu alle äußerlichen unbestimmt und frei verfügbar gelassen hat? Weil es Teil der jüdischen Freiheit war, nicht durch die pharisäischen Traditionen gefesselt zu werden, deshalb sei es Teil der christlichen Freiheit, keinen legalen Verfügungen untergeordnet zu werden?

Und eben deswegen ist es kein Wunder, dass Christus die Pflicht der Schicklichkeit vorzog und seine Hände nicht gewaschen hat, wenn er das nicht tun konnte, ohne sich Schuld einzuhandeln. Indem er dem Gesetz, das Gott längst verurteilt hatte, keinen Gehorsam erwies, sorgte er durch sein wiederholtes Verbot dafür, dass derartige Traditionen, soweit sie der Bevölkerung aufgedrängt wurden, ohne deren eigene Verfügungen zu sein, sondern statt dessen als Teil von Gottes Gesetz deklariert wurden, als tatsächliche Aufblähungen zu diesem und als verbotene Traditionen erkennbar wurden. Doch dadurch zerstörte er weder die Unbestimmtheit von Handlungen noch die Macht der Obrigkeit, deren Bestimmung an sich zu ziehen. Hätte Cäsar persönlich befohlen, die Hände zu irgendeiner Zeit des Tages zu waschen, habe ich keinen Grund zu der Annahme, Jesus Christus hätte ihm das weitergehend verweigert als Tribut zu zahlen.

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John Locke, Two Tracts on Government, Tract I, Section 10, Absatz 10

John Locke: Two Tracts on Government

John Locke, Two Tracts on Government,

Tract I, Section 10, Absatz 10,

‚Tis therefore in defense of the authority of these laws that against many reasons I am drawn to appear in public, the preservation whereof as the only security I can yet find of this nation’s settlement I think myself concerned in, till I can find other reasons than I have yet met with to show their non-obligation as long as unrepealed, and dispense with my obedience. After this I hope I need not assure thee that neither vanity nor any pique against the author put the pen into my hand, the concealment we both lie under having sufficiently provided against that suspicion. l dare say could his opinion have ever won upon me, it would have been in that handsome dress and many ornaments his pen hath bestowed upon it with all the advantages it was capable of. But I cannot relinquish the contrary persuasion whilst truth (at least in my apprehension) so strongly declares for it, and I believe he cannot take it ill that whilst he pleads so earnestly for liberty in actions I should be unwilling to have my understanding, the noblest part, imposed on, and will nor be so forgetful of his own principles as to deny me the liberty of dissenting and if he will permit himself to peruse these answers with the same desire of satisfaction where with he professes himself to have proposed his doubts, and I assure him I read them, it may be hoped he will be persuaded if not to alter his judgment yet at least not to think them blind who cannot see in his spectacles or cannot find themselves by his arguments freed from that obedience to the civil magistrate in all things indifferent, which obedience God in his infinite wisdom hath made necessary and therefore not left free.

Da mich nun die Verteidigung der Autorität gerade von diesem bestehenden Recht und Gesetz entgegen einiger Vernunft in die Öffentlichkeit treibt, in deren Aufrechterhaltung ich derzeit die einzige Sicherheit für die Stabilität dieser Nation entdecken kann, werde ich mich weiter darauf berufen, als bis ich endlich vernünftigere Gründe wahrnehme als die, die mir bislang bekannt gemacht wurden und die deren Ungültigkeit zeigen sollen: Solange sie nicht aufgehoben werden und ich von meinem Gehorsam entbunden wurde. Nunmehr so hoffe ich, ist es nicht notwendig Euch zu versichern, dass mich weder Eitelkeit noch Groll auf den Verfasser zur Feder greifen ließen, wo doch unsere beiderseitige Anonymität ausreichend deutlich gegen derartigen Verdacht spricht. Vielmehr möchte ich erwähnen, falls mich etwas von seiner Meinung hätte überzeugen können, so wäre dies nicht zuletzt dem schönen Maßanzug und dem schmucken, blumenreichen Stil geschuldet, den seine Feder seiner Mühe hat zu Teil werden lassen. Allerdings kann ich unmöglich meine gegenteilige Überzeugung verwerfen, solange die Wahrheit (zumindest gemäß meiner Erkenntnis) so unvermindert deutlich für sie spricht. Indessen glaube ich, er kann es mir unmöglich übelnehmen, solange er so ernsthaft für diese Art Handlungsfreiheit plädiert, wenn ich mich als unwillig erweise, meinem Verstand, meiner nobelsten Fähigkeit, dies aufzwingen zu lassen. Ebenso möge er nicht so selbstvergessen gegenüber seinen eigenen Prinzipien sein, mir die Freiheit abweichenden Denkens zu verweigern, sondern möge er sich selbst erlauben, meine Antworten mit dem gleichen Verlangen nach Befriedigung zu verarbeiten, mit dem er seine Zweifel vorgetragen zu haben verkündet. So will ich ihm versichern: Ich werde sie lesen. Es bleibt zu hoffen, er werde dann, wenn schon nicht davon überzeugt, sein Urteil zu ändern, zumindest nicht jene als verblendet zu betrachten, die seinen Blickwinkel nicht einnehmen und die sich durch seine Argumente ebenfalls nicht von jeglichem Gehorsam gegenüber der bürgerlichen Regierung befreit fühlen, soweit es sich um Dinge nachrangiger Bedeutung geht. Eben diesen Gehorsam hat Gott in seiner unendlichen Weisheit als unabweisbar geschaffen und diesen Punkt nicht offen gelassen.

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TToG II § 239

John Locke: Two Treatises of Government

§ 239. In these cases Barclay, the great champion of absolute monarchy, is forced to allow, that a King may be resisted and ceases to be a King. That is in short not to multiply cases in whatsoever he has no authority, there he is no King, and may be resisted: For wheresoever the authority ceases, the King ceases too and becomes like other men who have no authority.

And these two cases he instances in differ little from those above mentioned, to be destructive to governments, only that he has omitted the principle from which his doctrine flows; and that is, the breach of trust, in not preserving the form of government agreed on and in not intending the end of government itself, which is the public good and preservation of property39.

When a King has dethroned himself and put himself in a state of war with his people, what shall hinder them from prosecuting him who is no King, as they would any other man, who has put himself into a state of war with them; Barclay, and those of his opinion, would do well to tell us. This farther I desire may be taken notice of out of Barclay, that he says: The mischief that is designed them, the people may prevent before it be done:

Whereby he allows resistance when tyranny is but in design. Such designs as these (says he) when any King harbors in his thoughts and seriously promotes, he immediately gives up all care and thought of the commonwealth; so that, according to him, the neglect of the public good is to be taken as an evidence of such design, or at least for a sufficient cause of resistance.

And the reason of all he gives in these words, because he betrayed or forced his people whose liberty he ought carefully to have preserved. What he adds into the power and dominion of a foreign nation signifies nothing, the fault and forfeiture lying in the loss of their liberty, which he ought to have preserved and not in any distinction of the persons to whose dominion they were subjected. The people’s right is equally invaded and their liberty lost, whether they are made slaves to any of their own, or a foreign nation; and in this lies the injury and against this only they have the right of defense. And there are instances to be found in all countries, which show, that it is not the change of nations in the persons of their governors, but the change of government, that gives the offence.

Bilson76, a bishop of our church and a great stickler for the power and prerogative of Princes, does, if I mistake not in his treatise of Christian subjection acknowledge, that Princes may forfeit their power and their title to the obedience of their subjects; and if there needed authority in a case where reason is so plain, I could send my reader to Bracton77, Fortescue78 and the author of the Mirror and others, writers that cannot be suspected to be ignorant of our government or enemies to it.

But I thought Hooker alone might be enough to satisfy those men, who relying on him for their ecclesiastical polity, are by a strange fate carried to deny those principles upon which he builds it.

Whether they are herein made the tools of cunninger workmen, to pull down their own fabric, they were best look. This I am sure, their civil policy is so new, so dangerous and so destructive to both rulers and people, that as former ages never could bear the broaching of it; so it may be hoped, those to come, redeemed from the impositions of these Egyptian under-task-masters, will abhor the memory of such servile flatterers, who, whilst it seemed to serve their turn, resolved all government into absolute tyranny, and would have all men born to, what their mean souls fitted them for: Slavery.

§ 239. In diesen Fällen ist Barclay, der Großmeister absoluter Monarchie, genötigt zuzugeben: Einem König darf Widerstand geleistet werden und er hört auf König zu sein. Das heißt in Kürze, um die Fälle nicht zu vermehren: Wo und wann auch immer er keinerlei Autorität hat, ist er kein König und man darf sich ihm widersetzen.

Wo die Autorität aufhört, hört auch der König auf und wird anderen Menschen gleich, die keine Autorität haben. Die beiden Fälle, die er als Beispiel anführt, unterscheiden sich in ihrer Verderblichkeit für die Regierung nur wenig von den oben erwähnten. Nur hat er das Prinzip übersehen, aus dem seine Lehre entspringt. Darin besteht der Vertrauensbruch. Die vereinbarte Form der Regierung nicht zu bewahren, und nicht nach dem Ziel der Regierung selbst zu streben, der im Erhalt des öffentlichen Wohls und des Eigentums39 besteht.

Wenn ein König sich selbst entthront und sich in einen Kriegszustand mit seiner Bevölkerung gesetzt hat, was soll diese daran hindern, denjenigen zu verfolgen, der kein König ist, wie es jeden anderen verfolgen würde, der sich in einen Kriegszustand mit ihm gesetzt hat?

Barclay und diejenigen, welche seiner Meinung sind, täten gut daran uns das zu verraten. Weiter wünschte ich, von dem, was Barclay sagt, werde das folgende klar beachtet: Dem Unheil, das man gegen die Bevölkerung im Schilde führt, darf vorgebeugt werden, bevor es geschieht. Dadurch billigt er den Widerstand bereits wenn Tyrannei erst noch ein Vorsatz ist. Mit Absichten wie dieser, sagt er, gibt ein König, wenn er sie in seine Gedanken aufnimmt und ernsthaft betreibt, sofort alle Sorge und alles Denken an den Staat auf.

Damit ist nach Barclay die Vernachlässigung des öffentlichen Wohls als Beweis eines solchen Vorhabens oder mindestens als ein hinreichender Anlass des Widerstands anzusehen. Den Grund für alles liefert er mit folgenden Worten:

Weil er sein Volk, dessen Freiheit er sorgfältig hätte bewahren müssen, verraten oder ausgeliefert hat…

Was er hinzufügt: Unter Macht und Herrschaft einer fremden Nation, ist ohne Bedeutung. Das Verbrechen und die Verwirkung liegen in dem Verlust der Freiheit, die er hätte bewahren sollen und nicht im Unterschied der Personen deren Herrschaft sie unterworfen wurden.

Das Recht des Volkes wird auf gleiche Weise angegriffen und seine Freiheit geht ebenso verloren, ob es zu Sklaven eines aus seiner Mitte oder einer fremden Nation gemacht wird. Darin liegt das Unrecht und gegen dieses allein hat es das Recht der Verteidigung. In allen Ländern sind Beispiele zu finden, die zeigen: Bei den Nationen ist es nicht der Wechsel bei der Person ihrer Regenten, was den Anstoß erregt, sondern der Wechsel der Regierung.

Bilson76, ein Bischof unserer Kirche und großer Eiferer für Macht und Prärogative – Vorbehaltsrecht – der Fürsten, bekennt, wenn ich mich nicht irre, in seiner Abhandlung über Christliche Untertänigkeit: Fürsten können Macht und Anspruch auf den Gehorsam ihrer Untertanen verwirken.

Wenn es weiterer Autorität bedarf in einem Fall, in dem die Vernunft so klar ist, könnte ich meine Leser auf Bracton77, Fortescue78, den Autor des „Mirror“ u. a. verweisen. Schriftsteller, die nicht in Verdacht geraten können unsere Regierung nicht anzuerkennen oder ihr feindlich zu sein. Ich glaubte Hooker würde ausreichen, diejenigen zu überzeugen, die sich mit Kirchenpolitik auf ihn stützen und durch ein merkwürdiges Schicksal dahin gebracht werden, die Prinzipien zu verneinen, auf die sie aufbauen. Ob sie dabei Werkzeugen gerissener Handwerker gemacht worden sind, ihren eigenen Bau niederzureißen, dass sollen sie selber herausfinden.

Dessen bin ich sicher: Ihre staatliche Politik ist so neu, so gefährlich und so verderblich für beide, Herrscher und Volk. So wie frühere Zeitalter niemals deren Aufkommen ertragen konnten, darf gehofft werden, die kommenden, erlöst von den Betrügereien dieser ägyptischen Unter-Arbeitsvögte, werden das Andenken an diese kriecherischen Schleimer verabscheuen.

Jene die, solange es ihren Zwecken zu dienen schien, alle Regierung auf absolute Tyrannei zurückführten und alle Menschen dazu geboren sehen wollten, worauf ihre wertlosen Seelen sie selbst vorbereiteten:

Auf Sklaverei!

39Property in Lockes wider definition: liberty, life, estate,… what we need to discuss of…

39Eigentum nach Lockes Definition, im Sinne des Staatszwecks: Freiheit, Leben und Vermögen (liberty, life and estate): Property by John Lockes own definition…for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name, property. II §123; §87; §127; §131; §134; §138; §139; §170; §171; §174; §199; §200; §201; §221; §222; §226; §227; §228; § 229; §231; §239;


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TToG II § 235

John Locke: Two Treatises of Government

§ 235. It is true he has annexed two limitations to it, to no purpose:

First: He says, it must be with reverence. Secondly, it must be without retribution or punishment; and the reason he gives is, because an inferior cannot punish a superior.

First: How to resist force without striking again, or how to strike with reverence, will need some skill to make intelligible. He that shall oppose an assault only with a shield to receive the blows, or in any more respectful posture, without a sword in his hand, to abate the confidence and force of the assailant, will quickly be at an end of his resistance, and will find such a defense serve only to draw on himself the worse usage. This is as ridiculous a way of resisting, as Juvenal74 thought it of fighting:

Ubi tu pulsas, ego vapulo tantum.
Where you hit as much I am hit upon.

And the success of the combat will be unavoidably
the same he there describes it:

Libertas pauperis haec est:
Pulsatus rogat, pugnis concisus adorat, ut liceat paucis cum dentibus inde reverti:

Liberty of the poor is this:
Beaten he enquires, fights ended he pleas, to let him go home with some teeth left.

This will always be the event of such an imaginary resistance where men may not strike again. He therefore who may resist must be allowed to strike. And then let our author or anybody else, join a knock on the head, or a cut on the face, with as much reverence and respect as he thinks fit. He that can reconcile blows and reverence may, for ought I know, desire for his pains, a civil, respectful cudgeling wherever he can meet with it.

Secondly: As to his second, an inferior cannot punish a superior; that is true, generally speaking, whilst he is his superior. But to resist force with force, being the state of war that levels the parties, cancels all former relation of reverence, respect, and superiority: And then the odds that remains, is, that he, who opposes the unjust aggressor, has this superiority over him, that he has a right, when he prevails to punish the offender, both for the breach of the peace, and all the evils that followed upon it. Barclay therefore, in another place, more coherently to himself, denies it to be lawful to resist a King in any case. But he there assigns two cases, whereby a King may un-king himself. His words are:

Quid ergo, nulline casus incidere possunt quibus populo sese erigere atque in regem impotentius dominantem arma capere et invadere jure suo suaque authoritate liceat? Nulli certe quamdiu rex manet. Semper enim ex divinis id obstat, Regem honorificato; et qui potestati resistit, Dei ordinationi resistit: non alias igitur in eum populo potestas est quam si id committat propter quod ipso jure rex esse desinat. Tunc enim se ipse principatu exuit atque in privatis constituit liber: Hoc modo populus et superior efficitur, reverso ad eum sc. jure ilio quod alte regem inauguratum in interregno habuit. At sunt paucorum generum commissa ejusmodi
quae hunc effectum pariunt. At ego cum plurima animo perlustrem, duo tantum invenio, duos, inquam, casus quibus rex ipso facto ex rege non regem se facit et omni honore et dignitate regali atque in subditos potestate destituit; quorum etiam meminit Winzerus75.

Horum unus est, Si regnum disperdat, quemadmodum de Nerone fertur, quod is nempe senatum populumque Romanum, atque adeo urbem ipsam ferro flammaque vastare, ac novas sibi sedes quaerere, decrevisset. Et de Caligula, quod palam denunciarit se neque civem neque principem senatui amplius fore, inque animo habuerit interempto utriusque ordinis electissimo quoque Alexandriam commigrare, ac ut populum uno ictu interimeret, unam ei cervicem optavit. Talia cum rex aliquis meditatur et molitur serio, omnem regnandi curem et animum illico abjicit, ac proinde imperium in subditos amittit, ut dominus servi pro derelicto habiti dominium.

§ 235. Tatsächlich hat er zwei Einschränkungen damit verbunden. Allerdings zwecklos.

Er sagt erstens: Es müsse mit Ehrerbietung geschehen,

Zweitens: Ohne Wiedergutmachung oder Strafe.

Der Grund den er anführt: Ein Niederer kann keinen Höheren bestrafen.

Erstens: Wie physischer Gewalt Widerstand geleistet werden kann, ohne zurückzuschlagen, oder wie mit Ehrerbietung geschlagen werden kann? Es bedarf einiger Kunstgriffe, das verständlich zu machen. Wer sich einem Angriff widersetzt mit nichts als einem Schild, die Schläge aufzufangen oder in einer noch achtungsvolleren Haltung ohne ein Schwert in der Hand, um Zuversicht und nackte Gewalt des Angreifers zunichte zu machen, wird mit seinem Widerstand ziemlich bald am Ende sein und feststellen: Eine derartige Verteidigung bringt nur eine umso schlechtere Behandlung ein. Es handelt sich um eine ebenso lächerliche Art des Widerstandes wie Juvenal74 es vom Kämpfen selbst dachte:

Ubi tu pulsas, ego vapulo tantum.
Sobald Du schlägst bekomme ich so genauso viele Schläge.

Der Erfolg des Kampfes wird zwangsläufig derselbe sein, wie er ihn hier beschreibt:

Libertas pauperis haec est: Pulsatus rogat et pugnis concisus, adorat, ut liceat paucis cum dentibus inde reverti.

Die Freiheit des Armen besteht darin: Geprügelt bittet er und nach beendetem Kampf fleht er, man möge ihm die Rückkehr mit wenigstens ein paar Zähnen gewähren.

Der Ausgang imaginären Widerstands wird stets so aussehen, wenn Menschen nicht zurückschlagen dürfen. Wer sich widersetzen darf, dem muss auch gestattet sein, zu schlagen. Gewähren wir unserem Autor oder sonst jemandem den Genuss eines Schlags auf den Kopf oder eines Hiebs ins Gesicht mit genau so viel Ehrerbietung und Achtung verbunden wie er es für angemessen hält. Wer es fertigbringt, Schläge und Ehrerbietung miteinander zu versöhnen, dürfte, soviel ich weiß, für seine Mühe eine höfliche, achtungsvolle Tracht Prügel verdienen.

Überall, wo er sie zu finden vermag.

Zweitens, was den anderen Punkt betrifft, ein Niederer dürfe keinen Höheren Strafen: Das ist allgemein gesprochen durchaus richtig, eben weil der Zweite dem Ersten übergeordnet ist. Da aber Gewalt mit Gewalt zu widerstehen den Kriegszustand bedeutet, der alle Parteien gleichstellt, hebt er auch alle früheren Beziehungen von Ehrerbietung, Achtung und höherem Rang auf. Der Unterschied, der dann noch bleibt, besteht in nichts als: Wer sich einem unrechtmäßig Angreifenden entgegenstellt, erhält im Fall des Sieges Überlegenheit über ihn, ein Recht den Übeltäter für den Bruch des Friedens und alle sich daraus ergebenden Missstände zu bestrafen. An anderer Stelle verneint deshalb Barclay, in besserer Übereinstimmung mit sich selbst, es wäre erlaubt dem König in irgendeinem Fall rechtmäßig Widerstand zu leisten. Aber er bezeichnet dort zwei Fälle, in denen ein König sich selbst seiner königlichen Würde berauben kann. Er sagt:

Quid ergo, nulline casus indidere possunt quibus populo sese erigere atque in regem impotentius dominantem arma capere et invadere jure suo suaque authoritate liceat? Nulli certe quamdiu rex manet. Semper enim ex divinis id obstat, Regem honorificato; et qui potestati resistit, Dei ordinationi resistit: non alias igitur in eum populo potestas est quam si id committat propter quod ipso jure rex esse desinat. Tunc enim se ipse principatu exuit atque in privatis constituit liber: Hoc modo populus et superior efficitur, reverso ad eum sc. jure ilio quod alte regem inauguratum in interregno habuit. At sunt paucorum generum commissa ejusmodi
quae hunc effectum pariunt. At ego cum plurima animo perlustrem, duo tantum invenio, duos, inquam, casus quibus rex ipso facto ex rege non regem se facit et omni honore et dignitate regali atque in subditos potestate destituit; quorum etiam meminit Winzerus75.

Horum unus est, Si regnum disperdat, quemadmodum de Nerone fertur, quod is nempe senatum populumque Romanum, atque adeo urbem ipsam ferro flammaque vastare, ac novas sibi sedes quaerere, decrevisset. Et de Caligula, quod palam denunciarit se neque civem neque principem senatui amplius fore, inque animo habuerit interempto utriusque ordinis electissimo quoque Alexandriam commigrare, ac ut populum uno ictu interimeret, unam ei cervicem optavit. Talia cum rex aliquis meditatur et molitur serio, omnem regnandi curem et animum illico abjicit, ac proinde imperium in subditos amittit, ut dominus servi pro derelicto habiti dominium.


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TToG II § 182

John Locke: Two Treatises of Government

§ 182. But because the miscarriages of the father are no faults of the children, and they may be rational and peaceable, notwithstanding the brutishness and injustice of the father; the father, by his miscarriages and violence, can forfeit but his own life, but involves not his children in his guilt or destruction. His goods, which nature, that willeth the preservation of all mankind as much as is possible, hath made to belong to the children to keep them from perishing, do still continue to belong to his children:

For supposing them not to have joined in the war, either through infancy, absence, or choice, they have done nothing to forfeit them: Nor has the conqueror any right to take them away, by the bare title of having subdued him that by force attempted his destruction; though perhaps he may have some right to them, to repair the damages he has sustained by the war, and the defense of his own right; which how far it reaches to the possessions of the conquered, we shall see by and by. So that he that by conquest has a right over a man’s person to destroy him if he pleases, has not thereby a right over his estate to possess and enjoy it:

For it is the brutal force the aggressor has used, that gives his adversary a right to take away his life, and destroy him if he pleases, as a noxious creature; but it is damage sustained that alone gives him title to another man’s goods:

For though I may kill a thief that sets on me in the highway, yet I may not (which seems less) take away his money, and let him go: This would be robbery on my side. His force, and the state of war he puts himself in, made him forfeit his life, but gave me no title to his goods. The right then of conquest extends only to the lives of those who joined in the war, not to their estates, but only in order to make reparation for the damages received, and the charges of the war, and that too with reservation of the right of the innocent wife and children.

§ 182. Da aber Fehlverhalten eines Vaters nicht Schuld der Kinder ist, können diese verständig und friedlich sein, der Rohheit und Ungerechtigkeit des Vaters zum Trotz. Ein Vater kann durch seine Fehlverhalten und Gewalttaten nur sein eigenes Leben verwirken, verstrickt aber seine Kinder nicht in seine Schuld oder Vernichtung. Sein Besitz, den die Natur, da sie ja soweit wie möglich den Erhalt der ganzen Menschheit will, zum Besitz der Kinder bestimmt hat um sie vor Untergang zu bewahren, gehört weiter den Kindern. Nehmen wir an sie hätten am Krieg wegen ihrer Unmündigkeit, Abwesenheit oder aus freier Wahl, nicht teilgenommen, dann haben sie nichts getan um den Besitz zu verwirken.

Ein Eroberer hat kein Recht, ihn wegzunehmen, auch nicht wegen dem blanken Titel aus der Überwältigung dessen, der mit Gewalt seinen Untergang herbeizuführen versuchte. Vielleicht kann er ein gewisses Recht darauf haben, um den Schaden auszugleichen, den er durch Krieg und Verteidigung seines eigenen Rechts erlitten hat. Wie weit sich das auf den Besitz des Besiegten erstreckt, werden wir gleich sehen.

Wer durch Eroberung ein Recht über die Person eines Menschen erwirbt, diese nach Gefallen zu töten, erwirbt dadurch noch kein Recht, sein Vermögen in Besitz zu nehmen und zu nutzen. Es ist die rohe Gewalt, die der Angreifer gebraucht hat, was seinem Gegner ein Recht gibt, sein Leben zu nehmen und ihn, wenn er will, wie ein schädliches Geschöpf zu töten. Dagegen gewährt allein erlittener Schaden Anspruch auf den Besitz eines anderen Menschen.

Selbst wenn ich einen Räuber, der mich auf offener Landstraße überfällt, töten darf, so darf ich ihm keineswegs, auch wenn das geringfügiger scheint, sein Geld wegnehmen und ihn laufen lassen. Das wäre ein Raub meinerseits. Seine Gewalt und der Kriegszustand, in den er sich brachte, ließen ihn das Leben verwirken, aber gewähren mir keinen Anspruch auf seinen Besitz.

Das Recht der Eroberung erstreckt sich also nur auf das Leben derer, welche am Krieg teilnahmen, nicht aber auf ihren Besitz. Letzteres nur so weit, um für erlittenen Schaden Entschädigung zu erhalten und das ebenfalls nur unter Vorbehalt der Rechte der unschuldigen Frau und Kinder.

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TToG II § 109

John Locke: Two Treatises of Government

§ 109. And thus in Israel itself, the chief business of their judges, and first Kings, seems to have been to be captains in war, and leaders of their armies; which (besides what is signified by going out and in before the people, which was to march forth to war, and home
again in the heads of their forces) appears plainly in the story of Jephtha. The Ammonites making war upon Israel, the Gileadites in fear send to Jephtha, a bastard of their family whom they had cast off, and article with him, if he will assist them against the Ammonites, to make him their ruler; which they do in these words:

And the people made him head and captain over them, Judges XI.11, which was, as it seems, all one as to be judge. And he judged Israel, Judges XII.7, that is, was their captain general six years. So when Jotham upbraids the Shechemites with the obligation they had to Gideon, who had been their judge and ruler, he tells them:

He fought for you, and adventured his life far, and delivered you out of the hands of Midian, Judg.IX.17.

Nothing mentioned of him, but what he did as a general: And indeed that is all is found in his history, or in any of the rest of the judges. And Abimelech particularly is called King, thought at most he was but their general. And when, being weary of the ill conduct of Samuels sons, the children of Israel desired a King, like all the nations to judge them, and to go out before them, and to fight their battles, Sam.VIII.20.

God granting their desire, says to Samuel: I will send thee a man, and thou shall anoint him to be captain over my people Israel, that he may save my people out of the hands of the Philistines, IX.16.

As if the only business of a King had been to lead out their armies, and light in their defense; and accordingly at his inauguration pouring a vial of oil upon him, declares to Saul, that the Lord had anointed him to be captain over his inheritance, X.1. And therefore those, who after Saul’s being solemnly chosen and saluted King by the tribes at Mispah, were unwilling to have him their King, made no other objection but this: How shall this man save us? V.27.

As if they should have said, this man is unfit to be our King, not having skill and conduct enough in war, to be able to defend us. And when God resolved to transfer the government to David, it is in these words:

But note thy Kingdom shall not continue: The Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, XIII.14, as if the whole kingly authority were nothing else but to be their general: And therefore the tribes who had stuck to Saul’s family, and opposed David’s reign, when they came to Hebron with terms of submission to him, they tell him, amongst other arguments they had to submit to him as to their King, that he was in effect their King in Saul’s time, and therefore they had no reason but to receive him as their King now. Also (say they) in time past, when Saul was King over us, thou wast he that leddest out and broughtest in Israel, and the Lord said unto thee, Thou shall feed my people Israel, and thou shalt be a captain over Israel.

§ 109. So scheint auch in Israel selbst die wichtigste Aufgabe der Richter und der ersten Könige darin bestanden zu haben, Hauptleute im Krieg und Anführer der Heere zu sein, was, selbst abgesehen von dem, was durch die Worte vor den Leuten aus- und einziehen bezeichnet wird und so viel heißt wie an der Spitze des Heeres in den Krieg und wieder nach Hause ziehen, deutlich aus der Geschichte Jephtas hervorgeht.

Als die Ammoniter mit Israel im Krieg lagen, sandten die Gileaditer aus Furcht Boten zu Jephta, einem Bastard ihrer Familie den sie verstoßen hatten, und handelten mit ihm aus, ihn zu ihrem Hauptmann zu machen, wenn er ihnen gegen die Ammoniter beistünde. Sie tun dies in folgenden Worten: Und das Volk setzte ihn zum Hauptmann und Anführer über sich, Rich. XI.11, was, wie es scheint, dasselbe wie Richter war.

Und er richtete Israel sechs Jahre, Rich. XII.7, war also ihr oberster Heerführer.

Ebenso als Jotham den Sichemiten die Verpflichtung vorwarf, die sie Gideon gegenüber hatten, der ihr Richter und Hauptmann gewesen war, sagt er ihnen: Mein Vater hat für euch gekämpft, wagte sein Leben aus das Äußerste, um euch aus der Midianiter Hand zu erretten, Rich.IX.17.

Es gib keinen Bericht über ihn, abgesehen von den Taten als Heerführer, und das ist tatsächlich alles, was in seiner Geschichte und derjenigen aller übrigen Richter zu finden ist.

Abimelech wird ausnahmsweise König genannt, obwohl er höchstens ihr General war.

Als die Kinder Israels das schlechte Benehmen der Söhne Samuels satt hatten und einen König begehrten, so wie alle anderen Nationen, um bei ihnen zu richten und er vor ihnen her ausziehe, wenn sie ihre Kriege führten, I.Sam.VIII.20, entspricht Gott ihrer Forderung und spricht zu Samuel: Ich will einen Mann zu dir senden; den sollst Du zum Hauptmann salben für mein Volk Israel, damit er mein Volk aus der Philister Hand befreit, I.Sam.IX.16.

Als ob die einzige Aufgabe eines Königs gewesen wäre, ihre Heere hinauszuführen und zu ihrer Verteidigung zu kämpfen. Entsprechend nahm Samuel einen Becher Öl, goss es auf Sauls Haupt und sprach: Siehst Du, der Herr hat sich zum Hauptmann für seine Erbschaft gesalbt, I.Sam.X.1.

Deshalb erhoben auch diejenigen, welche ihn nicht als König haben wollten, nachdem Saul durch die Stämme in Mispah feierlich gewählt und als König begrüßt worden war, keinen anderen Einwand als diesen: Was sollte uns dieser helfen! I.Sam.X.27.

Als hätten sie gesagt: Dieser Mann eignet sich nicht, unser König zu sein, weil er als Anführer im Krieg nicht tüchtig genug ist, uns zu verteidigen.

Als Gott beschloss die Regentschaft David zu gewähren, geschieht es in folgenden Worten (zu Saul): Dein Königtum wird nicht bestehen. Der Herr hat dem Volk einen Mann nach seinem Herzen gesucht: Dem hat der Herr gewährt, Hauptmann über sein Volk zu sein. I.Sam.XII.14.

Als hätte die gesamte königliche Autorität nur darin bestanden, ein General zu sein. Als deshalb die Stämme, die Sauls Sippe die Treue gehalten und sich der Regentschaft Davids widersetzt hatten, wegen der Bedingungen der Unterordnung nach Hebron kamen, nannten sie ihm neben anderen Gründen, sie hätten sich ihm als König unterzuordnen, da er in der Tat ihr König zu Sauls Zeit war und sie deshalb keinen Grund hätten, ihn jetzt nicht als ihren König anzuerkennen: Früher, als Saul König war, warst Du der, der auszog und Israel heimholte. Und Gott wies in an: Du sollst mein Volk Israel versorgen und Du sollst sein Hauptmann sein.

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TToG II § 107

John Locke: Two Treatises of Government

§ 107. First then, in the beginning of things, the father’s government of the childhood of those sprung from him, having accustomed them to the rule of one man, and taught them that where it was exercised with care and skill, with affection and love to those under it, it was sufficient to procure and preserve to men all the political happiness they sought for in society. It was no wonder that they should pitch upon, and naturally run into that form of government, which from their infancy they had been all accustomed to; and which, by experience, they had found both easy and safe.

To which, if we add, that monarchy being simple, and most obvious to men, whom neither experience had instructed in forms of government, nor the ambition or insolence of empire had taught to beware of the encroachments of prerogative, or the inconveniencies of absolute power, which monarchy in succession was apt to lay claim to, and bring upon them; it was not at all strange, that they should not much trouble themselves to think of methods of restraining any exorbitances of those to whom they had given the authority over them, and of balancing the power of government, by placing several parts of it in different hands. They had neither felt the oppression of tyrannical dominion, nor did the fashion of the age, nor their possessions, or way of living, (which afforded little matter for covetousness or ambition) give them any reason to apprehend or provide against it;

and therefore it is no wonder they put themselves into such a frame of government, as was not only, as I said, most obvious and simple, but also best suited to their present state and condition; which stood more in need of defense against foreign invasions and injuries, than of multiplicity of laws. The equality of a simple poor way of living, confining their desires within the narrow bounds of each man’s small property, made few controversies, and so no need of many laws to decide them, or variety of officers to superintend the process, or look after the execution of justice, where there were but few trespasses, and few offenders.

Since then those, who liked one another so well as to join into society, cannot but be supposed to have some acquaintance and friendship together, and some trust one in another; they could not but have greater apprehensions of others, than of one another:

And therefore their first care and thought cannot but be supposed to be, how to secure themselves against foreign force. It was natural for them to put themselves under a frame of government which might best serve to that end, and chose the wisest and bravest man to conduct them in their wars, and lead them out against their enemies, and in this chiefly be their ruler.

§ 107. Zuerst, am Anfang der Thematik, hatte der Vater durch die Anleitung seiner Nachkommen während derer Kindheit diese an die Regentschaft eines einzigen Mannes gewöhnt und ihnen dabei vermittelt, diese Herrschaft reiche aus, wenn sie mit Sorgfalt und Geschick, mit Hingabe und Liebe gegen die unter ihr stehenden gehandhabt wurde, den Menschen all das politische Glück zu verschaffen und zu erhalten, das sie in einer Gesellschaft suchten. Kein Wunder, dass sie naturgemäß auf die Regierungsform setzten und die annahmen, die sie alle von Kindheit an gewöhnt waren und aus Erfahrung als einfach und sicher kennengelernt hatten. Wir dürfen in Rechnung stellen: Monarchie war die einfachste und natürlichste Form für Menschen, die weder durch Erfahrung über die Formen der Regierung belehrt worden waren.

Sie hatten den Ehrgeiz und die Dreistigkeit einer Gewaltherrschaft nie erfahren, wussten kaum auf der Hut zu sein vor Eingriffen einer Prärogative oder Abträglichkeiten absoluter Macht, wie sie eine Monarchie nachfolgend leicht für sich in Anspruch nehmen und über sie bringen konnte.

Er war alles andere als befremdlich, wenn sie sich nicht viel darum kümmerten, nie an Mittel dachten, etwaige Übergriffe derjenigen in Schranken zu halten, welchen sie die Autorität über sich eingeräumt hatten und der Regierungsmacht ein Gegengewicht entgegenzustellen, indem sie einige ihrer Teile in unterschiedliche Hände legten.

Sie hatten weder den Druck tyrannischer Herrschaft erlebt, noch gaben die Mode ihrer Zeit, ihr Besitz oder ihr Lebensstil, (was für Begehrlichkeit oder Ehrgeiz wenig Anlass bot), ihnen Grund sich davor zu fürchten oder sich gegen sie zu schützen.

Es ist also kein Wunder, wenn sie sich unter eine Regierungsform stellten, die, wie gesagt, nicht allein die natürlichste und einfachste war, sondern auch ihrer damaligen Lage und den Verhältnissen am besten entsprach, welche weit mehr des Schutzes gegen fremde Angriffe und Schädigungen bedurften als der Mannigfaltigkeit der Gesetze.

Die Gleichwertigkeit einer einfachen, bescheidenen Lebensweise, welche die Bedürfnisse auf die engen Grenzen eines kleinen Besitzes eines jeden reduzierte, ließ kaum Streit aufkommen und so waren weder viele Gesetze, darüber zu entscheiden noch zahlreiche Beamte nötig, um die Gerichtsverfahren zu überwachen oder für den Vollzug von Rechtmäßigkeit Sorge zu tragen, weil es nur wenige Übertretungen und wenige Verbrecher gab.

Man sollte bei Leuten, die sich gegenseitig gerade genug schätzen, um sich zu einer Gesellschaft zu vereinigen, keinesfalls unterstellen, sie seien gute Bekannte oder Freunde und besaßen gegenseitiges Vertrauen. Sie durften gegen Fremde keine größeren Bedenken tragen als gegen einander. Ihre erste Sorge und ihren wichtigsten Gedanken als allein auf den Schutz gegen fremde Mächte gerichtet zu sehen, wäre trotzdem nichts anderes als eine Unterstellung.

Es war lediglich natürlich, sich unter einen politischen Rahmen zu stellen, der diesem Ziel am besten zu entsprechen schien und den klügsten und tapfersten Mann zu erwählen, sie bei ihren Kriegen gegen ihre Feinde zu führen. Und genau dafür war er hauptsächlich ihr Herrscher.

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TToG II § 74

John Locke: Two Treatises of Government

§ 74. To conclude then, though the fathers power of commanding extends no farther than the minority of his children, and to a degree only fit for the discipline and government of that age; and though that honor and respect, and all that which the Latins called piety, which they indispensably owe to their parents all their life time, and in all estates, with all that support and defense is due to them, gives the father no power of governing, i. e. making laws and enacting penalties on his children; though by all this he has no dominion over the property or actions of his son:

Yet it is obvious to conceive how easy it was, in the first ages of the world, and in places still, where the thinness of people gives families leave to separate into unpossessed quarters, and they have room to remove or plant themselves in yet vacant habitations, for the father of the family to become the Prince of it;* he had been a ruler from the beginning of the infancy of his children: And since without some government it would be hard for them to live together, it was likeliest it should, by the express or tacit consent of the children when they were grown up, be in the father, where it seemed without any change barely to continue;

when indeed nothing more was required to it, than the permitting the father to exercise alone, in his family that executive power of the law of nature, which every free man naturally hath, and by that permission resigning up to him a monarchical power, whilst they remained in it. But that this was not by any paternal right, but only by the consent of his children, is evident from hence, that nobody doubts, but if a stranger, whom chance or business had brought to his family, had there killed any of his children, or committed any other fact, he might condemn and put him to death, or otherwise have punished him, as well as any of his children;

which it was impossible he should do by virtue of any paternal authority over one who was not his child, but by virtue of that executive power of the law of nature, which, as a man, he had a right to: And he alone could punish him in his family, where the respect of his children had laid by the exercise of such a power, to give way to the dignity and authority they were willing should remain in him, above the rest of his family.

§ 74. Um also zu schließen: Die Macht des Vaters für Anordnungen reicht nicht weiter als die Minderjährigkeit seiner Kinder und nur bis zu einem für Disziplin und Anleitung jenes Alters angemessenen Grad. Selbst Ehrerweisung und Achtung, und alles, was der Römer unter Pietät verstand, was Kinder ein Leben lang und in allen Lagen unabweisbar ihren Eltern schulden, zu all der Hilfe und dem Schutz, der ihnen gebührt, gewähren einem Vater keine Macht zu herrschen, sprich Gesetze zu erlassen und Strafen über die Kinder zu verhängen. Trotz all dem hat er keine Herrschaft über den Besitz oder die Handlungsweise seines Sohns.

Freilich kann man sich vorstellen wie einfach es für einen Vater zu Anfang der Welt war ein Fürst der Seinen zu werden40. Wie es heute in Gegenden ist, in denen geringe Bevölkerungsdichte Familien gestattet, sich in herrenlose Gebiete abzusondern, wo sie Raum haben um fortzuziehen und sich an noch unbesetzten Wohnstätten niederzulassen. Vom Beginn der Kindheit seiner Sprösslinge an war er deren Leiter gewesen. Als sie erwachsen waren, wäre es ohne jede Regierung schwer für sie gewesen zusammenzuleben. Es lag schlicht am nächsten, diese mit ausdrücklicher oder stillschweigender Zustimmung der Kinder dem Vater zu überlassen. Bei ihm schien sie ohne jedwede Änderung lediglich fortzudauern, und in der Tat war nichts weiter erforderlich, als dem Vater zu gestatten, in seiner Familie jene vollziehende Macht des Naturrechts auszuüben, die jeder freie Mensch von Natur besitzt und ihm mit dieser Erlaubnis monarchische Macht zu übertragen, solange sie in der Familie verblieben.

Dies aber geschah nicht durch irgendein väterliches Recht, sondern nur durch Übereinkunft der Kinder. Man erkennt dies an dem niemals angezweifelten Recht, einen Fremden, den Zufall oder Geschäft in die Familie geführt und der dort eines der Kinder getötet oder sonst etwas verbrochen hatte, verurteilen, gleichfalls töten, oder auf andere Weise, wie eines seiner Kinder strafen zu dürfen. Das hätte er Kraft einer väterlichen Autorität unmöglich an jemand tun können, der nicht sein Kind war, sondern nur kraft der vollziehenden Gewalt des Naturrechts, zu der er als Mensch berechtigt ist. Dabei konnte er diesen allein seine Familie betreffend strafen, wo die Achtung der Kinder auf die Ausübung dieser Gewalt verzichtet hatte, um der Würde und Autorität Platz zu machen, die sie in ihm über die übrige Familie gewahrt zu sehen wollten.

40It is no improbable opinion therefore, which the arch philosopher (Aristotle) was of, that the chief person in every household was always, as it were, a King: So when numbers of households joined themselves in civil societies together, Kings were the first kind of governors amongst them, which is also, as it seemed, the reason why the name of fathers continued still in them, who, of fathers, were made rulers; as also the ancient custom of governors to do as Melchisedech, and being Kings, to exercise the office of Priests, which fathers did at the first, grew perhaps by the same occasion. How be it, this is not the only kind of regiment that has been received in the world. The inconveniences of one kind have caused sundry others to be devised; so that in a word, all public regiment, of what kind sever, seemed evidently to have risen from the deliberate advice, consultation and composition between men, judging it convenient and behoveful; there being no impossibility in nature considered by itself, but that man might have lived without any public regiment. Hookers Eccl.P.lib.I.Sect.10.

40Es ist keine unvorstellbare Ansicht, die der Erz-Philosoph (Aristoteles) vertrat: Jeder Haushaltsvorstand war sozusagen König. Sobald sich mehrere Haushalte (Sippen/Clans) zu bürgerlichen Gesellschaften vereinigten, waren Könige der erste Typ Regierender unter ihnen. Scheinbar ist das der Grund, weshalb der Name Vater bei jenen weiterverwendet wurde, die von Vätern zu Herrschern erhoben wurden. Die antike Gewohnheit der Regenten es wie Melchisedech, Gen.I.18, zu halten, und als Könige das Priesteramt auszuüben, wie es anfangs die Vätern taten, mag vielleicht bei selbiger Gelegenheit entstanden sein. Wie dem auch sei, es handelt sich nicht um die einzige Art von Regierung, die in der Welt entstanden ist. Die Mängel der einen Art waren Anlass genug, um sich verschiedene andere Auszudenken. Mit einem Wort: Jede Form öffentliche Regierung ist augenscheinlich aus wohldurchdachter Überlegung und Beratung der Menschen hervorgegangen. Je nachdem ob sie als angemessen und hilfreich eingeschätzt wurden. Es ist nicht unmöglich anzunehmen, im Naturzustand an sich betrachtet, könnten die Menschen auch ohne jegliche öffentliche Regierung gelebt haben. Hooker, Eccl.Pol.lib.I.sect.10.

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