Page images


FROM the time of the differences between James I. and his Parliament in 1610, to the Revolution of 1688, our history and literature contain records of energetic difference about the limit of authority. There was a problem to be solved that touched the interests and stirred passions of men, until some fought, while others reasoned, and all human forces were spent on labour to get the problein solved. It seemed for a while that the right answer was the Commonwealth. But a Commonwealth sustained by the genius of one man was monarchy. After Cromwell's death, it became clear that the answer to the problem had not yet been found. Stuarts were tried again, and Charles II. and James II. served the country most effectually by betrayal of the trusts confided to them. Their shortcomings ensured us against risk of another Civil War. Liberty seemed to be dying, but in the worst signs of the disease there was Nature at work on her own way of cure.

With the Revolution came John Locke as its interpreter. John Locke had been born in August, 1632, and was a year younger than John Dryden, who was born in August, 1631. After passing from Westminster School to Christ Church, Oxford, where he studied at first natural science, and made medicine his profession, Locke was brought by accident into friendly relation with Lord. Ashley, afterwards that Earl of Shaftesbury whom Charles II. sought to strike down, and against whom Dryden wrote “Absalom and Achitophel.” In Shaftesbury, Locke found a friend. In January, 1683, Shaftesbury, withdrawn for safety to Holland, died at Amsterdam. In the autumn of that year Locke took refuge abroad, and found congenial friends also at Amsterdam. From his exile in Holland he returned in February, 1689, in the same ship that brought the Princess Mary. His Latin Epistola de Tolerantia, on behalf of Religious Liberty, had been written in 1685, and it was published at Gouda, by his friends abroad, in the spring of 1689. In September, an English translation, made by William Popple, of this “ Letter concerning Toleration," was published in London. Locke was then printing his most famous work, the Essay concerning Human Understanding," of which the aim was to define the bounds of human knowledge, dissuade from vain speculation, and persuade men to economize their force of thought. At the beginning of the year 1690, Locke's “ Essay concerning Human Understanding” was first published at the “George,” in Fleet Street, near St. Dunstan's Church. He had been at work on it for sixteen years, and for the copyright he was paid thirty pounds.

About the same time Locke published the “Two Treatises of Government,” which are now in the reader's hands. They had been licensed for printing on the 23rd of August, 1689.

This argument for Civil Liberty was but a few months old when attacks upon his arguments for Religious Liberty in the “ Letter concerning Toleration,” compelled Locke to defend his position. He did this in a “ Second Letter on Toleration,” which was published in June, 1690, followed afterwards by a “ Third Letter con. cerning Toleration, in June, 1692.

In the next year, 1693, Locke sought to deepen the foundations of another of the great supports of civilized society, by publishing his “ Thoughts concerning Education.” Still seeking to add strength to the foundations of his country's power and well-being, his next work was in aid of religious faith ; a book on “ The Reasonableness of Christianity,” published in the summer of 1695, nine years before his death. Thus he had dealt in a few years immediately following the Revolution of 1688-9 with all that is most vital in the constitution of a State.

Here we are concerned especially with Locke's part in the argument upon the limit of authority. Richard Hooker, arguing in 1593 for the Church as established by Elizabeth against those who objected to a Church Polity with laws and usages of human institution, proposed in the first book of his “ Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity” to consider what is the foundation of law. His purpose was to prove that laws are the product of man's reason, means adapted to an end; maintained by the majority so long as they attain their end, and subject to change with change of circumstance, by the same action of human reason in readjusting means for the more certain attainment of the end desired. Hooker's

pur. pose was to show that the Puritans were wrong when they desired to found upon Revelation, and draw wholly from the Bible those arrangements for Church government which had been adopted by the use of Reason-which also is God's gift—to the conditions which it seemed to the majority most necessary to observe at that time for due maintenance of the Church in England. With the Church wholly in his mind, Hooker hardly thought of the possible applications of his argument to Civil Polity; but if he had thought much of them he would not have avoided saying what he thought was true.

But the pure-minded Hooker was the great defender of the Church Establishment; his name, therefore, in the days of conflict, of which Locke's “Two Treatises” were a product, was as that of a great captain of their own in the ears of men who battled, often as honestly but seldom as reasonably, for the maintenance of old forms of authority in Church and State. Yet the foundation of Hooker's argument was the foundation also of Locke's; and Locke had especial satisfaction when, in his “Two Treatises of Civil Government,” he quoted Hooker as the “judicious Hooker.” That adjective, “ the judicious," was made current by Locke's use of it in this book, and thus turned what had seemed to his adversaries

their best gun against themselves. Revelation, Hooker had taught, is concerned only with matter of faith, for all else God has given to man Reason as his guide. Men equal by Nature seek communion and fellowship with others, to supply the defects that are in them when living singly and solely by themselves. This was the cause of men's uniting themselves at the first in politic societies ; which societies could not be without government, nor government without a distinct law of its own, serving to direct even Nature depraved to a right end. All men desire to lead in this world a happy life. That life is led most happily wherein all virtue is exercised without impediment or let. To take away mutual grievances and wrongs there was no way but by an agreement among men, ordaining some kind of government public, and by yielding themselves subject thereunto. Strifes and troubles would be endless, except they gave their common consent all to be ordered by some whom they should agree upon; without which consent there was no reason that one man should take upon him to be lord or judge over another. So that, in a word, all public rule, of what kind soever, seemeth evidently to have risen from deliberate advice, consultation, and composition between men, judging it convenient and behoveful. These views of Hooker on the social compact are chiefly given in his own words. He goes on to show that if they began by resting central authority in the will of a ruler, “they saw that to live by one man's will became the cause of all man's misery.

By the natural law whereunto God hath made all subject, the lawful power of making laws to command whole politic societies of men belongeth so properly unto the same entire societies, that for any prince or potentate of what kind soever upon earth, to exercise the same of himself, and not either by express commission immediately and personally received from God, or else by authority derived at the first from their consent upon whose persons they impose the laws, it is no better than mere tyranny.” Laws, said Hooker, are available by consent; utterly without our consent, we could be at no man's commandment living.

In the reign of Charles I. the chief English philosopher was Thomas Hobbes, who was born at Malmesbury in 1588, became at Oxford a distinguished scholar, and was tutor to Lord Cavendish, afterwards Earl of Devonshire. He lived to be a very old man, and was at home at Chatsworth with three generations of the family. The pressing questions of the day directed the course of Hobbes's philosophy into considerations of the limit of authority. He spent his best energies in the endeavour to set forth a system of political philosophy. Like Hooker, he founded government upon a social compact among men by nature equal, each of whom gave up to the central power some part of his private right, in order that each might be protected by the strength of all. But Hobbes diverged widely from Hooker at the next stage of the argument. Hooker had said that if the government so established should fail to fulfil its purpose, those who established it might undo and re-shape it. Hobbes said that the authority when once established became absolute. There was no power to take back what was given. Absolute government was the form thus established ; and this form was best. Especially in his “ Leviathan," first published under the Commonwealth, in 1651, Hobbes set forth his view of “the Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil.” The State was a great body politic, as Leviathan was a great body natural, and the body politic, like the body natural, could be well ruled only when all members were subject to the control of a single head. In the Church as in the State, according to Hobbes, there should be one directing will, and that the King's. It was for the King to say what doctrines are fit for peace and to be taught the subject.

Sir Robert Filmer was among Royalists of the time of Charles I., who held that Hobbes had conceded too much when he based his theory of absolute sovereignty upon a social compact among men equal by nature. There never was a time, said Filmer, when men were equal. When there were only two in the world, one was the master. When children were born, Adam was master over them. Authority was founded by God Himself in Fatherhood. Out of Fatherhood came Royalty, the Patriarch was King. Sir Robert Filmer wrote several political pieces that were published in the reign of Charles I. One of them boldly asserted that Parliament was an evil ; they all maintained extreme views of the irresponsibility of kings. Filmer sought for his views the authority of Aristotle, in his “ Observations upon Aristotle's Politics." But Aristotle based his teaching on the various conditions of the little States of Greece-accepted actual conditions that are not repeated in the modern States of Europe-built his arguments upon acceptance of a form of citizenship that included slave labour as a means of giving leisure for the cultivation of free citizens. Filmer died in 1653, leaving treatises unprinted, of which two were published by his son when the contest about the limit of authority became keener as the combatants drew nearer to the crisis of the Revolution. The more important of these was the “Patriarcha,” first published in 1680. It was an attempt at the full statement of his argument. Much of the hottest battle of opinion was along its lines. Therefore, when Locke endeavoured, immediately after the Revolution, to show what were the foundations of Civil Government, he began by sweeping off the fallacies, with which they had been overlaid. He disposed, in his first essay, of the speculation of Sir Robert Filmer, and showed what are not the foundations of Civil Authority, and, in his second essay, he then endeavoured to show what they are. For the better understanding and enjoyment of Locke's “ Two Treatises of Civil Government, they are here preceded by the “Patriarcha.”

H. M, January, 1884.







“ Libertas .... populi, quem regna coercent

Libertate perit . ..."-LUCAN, Lib. iii.

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »