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Two Treatises of Government and a Letter Concerning Toleration

Two Treatises of Government and a Letter Concerning Toleration

by John Locke, Ian Shapiro (Editor), John Dunn, Ian Shapiro, Ruth Weissbourd Grant

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Among the most influential writings in the history of Western political thought, John Locke's Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration remain vital to political debates today, more than three centuries after they were written. The complete texts appear in this volume, accompanied by interpretive essays by three prominent Locke scholars. In the


Among the most influential writings in the history of Western political thought, John Locke's Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration remain vital to political debates today, more than three centuries after they were written. The complete texts appear in this volume, accompanied by interpretive essays by three prominent Locke scholars. In the Two Treatises Locke provides a theory of natural law and natural rights which he uses to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate civil governments, and to argue for the legitimacy of revolution against tyrannical governments. A Letter Concerning Toleration calls for an end to the oppression of people who hold a wide variety of unorthodox religious beliefs. With these and other writings, Locke's impact on the political theory and philosophy of the early Enlightenment was monumental, and he stood as a central figure invoked by the leaders of the American Revolution. Ian Shapiro's introduction places Locke's political writings in historical and biographical context. John Dunn explores the intellectual context in which Locke wrote the Two Treatises and A Letter Concerning Toleration, as well as the major interpretive controversies about their meaning. Ruth W. Grant offers a comprehensive discussion of Locke's views on women and the family, and Shapiro contributes an essay on the democratic elements of Locke's political theory. Taken together, the texts and essays in this volume offer invaluable insights into the history of ideas and the enduring influence of Locke's political thought.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The new standard edition of Locke for students of political theory. Dunn, Grant, and Shapiro combine authoritative historical scholarship and contemporary political theory to give us Locke for our time."—Elisabeth H. Ellis, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Texas A&M University

"In criticisms of ‘liberalism’ over the past two decades, the political philosophy of John Locke has been denigrated as hopelessly old-fashioned, and even downright conservative. John Dunn, Ruth Grant, and especially, Ian Shapiro present Locke to us afresh. They recover precisely the progressively innovative, and even radically democratic quality of Lockean political thought."—John P. McCormick, University of Chicago

"An elegant edition of three of Locke’s works that have been too infrequently published together. The accompanying essays, with their additional secondary source references, and delightful index, make it all the more useful for both teaching and research."—Judith A. Swenson, Boston University

Product Details

Yale University Press
Publication date:
Rethinking the Western Tradition Series
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

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Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration


Yale University Press

Copyright © 2003 Yale University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-300-10017-5

Chapter One

§ 1. Slavery is so vile and miserable an estate of man, and so directly opposite to the generous temper and courage of our nation, that it is hardly to be conceived that an Englishman, much less a gentleman, should plead for it. And truly I should have taken sir Robert Filmer's Patriarcha, as any other treatise, which would persuade all men that they are slaves, and ought to be so, for such another exercise of wit as was his who writ the encomium of Nero; rather than for a serious discourse, meant in earnest: had not the gravity of the title and epistle, the picture in the front of the book, and the applause that followed it, required me to believe that the author and publisher were both in earnest. I therefore took it into my hands with all the expectation, and read it through with all the attention due to a treatise that made such a noise at its coming abroad; and cannot but confess myself mightily surprised that in a book, which was to provide chains for all mankind, I should find nothing but a rope of sand; useful perhaps to such whose skill and business it is to raise a dust, and would blind the people, the better to mislead them; but in truth not of any force to draw those into bondage who have their eyes open, and so much sense about them, as to consider that chains are but an ill wearing, how much care soever hath been taken to file and polish them.

§ 2. If any one think I take too much liberty in speaking so freely of a man who is the great champion of absolute power, and the idol of those who worship it; I beseech him to make this small allowance for once, to one who, even after the reading of sir Robert's book, cannot but think himself, as the laws allow him, a free man: and I know no fault it is to do so, unless any one, better skilled in the fate of it than I, should have it revealed to him that this treatise, which has lain dormant so long, was, when it appeared in the world, to carry, by strength of its arguments, all liberty out of it; and that, from thenceforth, our author's short model was to be the pattern in the mount, and the perfect standard of politics for the future. His system lies in a little compass; it is no more but this,

"That all government is absolute monarchy." And the ground he builds on is this, "That no man is born free."

§ 3. In this last age a generation of men has sprung up amongst us, that would flatter princes with an opinion, that they have a divine right to absolute power, let the laws by which they are constituted and are to govern, and the conditions under which they enter upon their authority, be what they will; and their engagements to observe them ever so well ratified by solemn oaths and promises. To make way for this doctrine, they have denied mankind a right to natural freedom; whereby they have not only, as much as in them lies, exposed all subjects to the utmost misery of tyranny and oppression, but have also unsettled the titles and shaken the thrones of princes: (for they too, by these men's system, except only one, are all born slaves, and by divine right are subjects to Adam's right heir); as if they had designed to make war upon all government, and subvert the very foundations of human society, to serve their present turn.

§ 4. However we must believe them upon their own bare words, when they tell us, "We are all born slaves, and we must continue so;" there is no remedy for it; life and thraldom we entered into together, and can never be quit of the one till we part with the other. Scripture or reason, I am sure, do not any where say so, notwithstanding the noise of divine right, as if divine authority hath subjected us to the unlimited will of another. An admirable state of mankind, and that which they have not had wit enough to find out till this latter age ! For however sir Robert Filmer seems to condemn the novelty of the contrary opinion, Patr. p. 3, yet I believe it will be hard for him to find any other age, or country of the world, but this, which has asserted monarchy to be jure divino. And he confesses, Patr. p. 4, that "Heyward, Blackwood, Barclay, and others, that have bravely vindicated the right of kings in most points, never thought of this; but, with one consent, admitted the natural liberty and equality of mankind."

§ 5. By whom this doctrine came at first to be broached, and brought in fashion amongst us, and what sad effects it gave rise to, I leave to historians to relate, or to the memory of those who were contemporaries with Sibthorp and Manwaring to recollect. My business at present is only to consider what sir Robert Filmer, who is allowed to have carried this argument farthest, and is supposed to have brought it to perfection, has said in it: for from him every one, who would be as fashionable as French was at court, has learned and runs away with this short system of politics, viz. "Men are not born free, and therefore could never have the liberty to choose either governors, or forms of government." Princes have their power absolute, and by divine right; for slaves could never have a right to compact or consent. Adam was an absolute monarch, and so are all princes ever since.


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Meet the Author

Ian Shapiro is William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor and chair, Department of Political Science, Yale University. John Dunn is professor of social and political science at Cambridge University. Ruth Grant is professor of political science at Duke University.

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