Reason and history in Locke's second treatise

Philosophy 79 (2):247-279 (2004)
The idea of an original contract is, ironically, inherently narrative in form; although tautological in essence, it nevertheless portrays events occurring in sequence. In response to Filmer's provocations that the idea of an original contract lacks historical veracity, Locke tries and repeatedly fails to establish a direct historical substantiation of his position in the early chapters of the Second Treatise. The most important of these various miscalculations concern the role of consent in his account of the origins of government, the tension between logical and historical evidence in describing the development of prerogative in the English monarchy, and the inescapable conclusion that conquest and not consent was the likely origin of most states. In these places, the Locke's deductive argument is forced to slow, hesitate, and change direction. The general concept of individual transgression, as it emerges from Locke's depiction of the state of nature, war, and slevery, later transforms itself into the basis of governmental injustice and tyranny. These, in turn, work to generate a sort of secondary and “political” state of nature in which now “historical” people, by means of concrete acts of resistance and revolution, enact the hypotheses of the consensual theory in their own actual time and place.
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