Two Treatises of Government (Texts in the History of Political Thought)

ISBN: 052135448X
ISBN 13: 9780521354486
By: John Locke Peter Laslett

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About this book

This is a new revised version of Dr. Laslett's standard edition of Two Treatises. First published in 1960, and based on an analysis of the whole body of Locke's publications, writings, and papers. The Introduction and text have been revised to incorporate references to recent scholarship since the second edition and the bibliography has been updated.

Reader's Thoughts

Jeff Gabriel

I wasn't expecting the exposition of Genesis to form the first book, but perhaps nobody expects the Genesis Exposition? While this wasn't particularly interesting from a historical or educational point of view it was a great example of rational argument. Locke destroys his opponent by taking him back to his own quotes and source material and turning it against him by superior logic and exposition of the text. It doesn't even matter if he takes the text as a religious document; only that he is able to read it more clearly. Where his opponent isn't clear on meaning, Locke meticulously takes each possible meaning in turn and tears each apart. This is as thorough an ass-whipping I can recall. The downside of it is just how thorough it is.The second book is of far greater interest and general application. The solid form of many of our current political system and societal norms are provided; not as novel revelations from the author but as an explanation of several existing forms of society based on natural law. Many provocative ideas and reminders concerning how and why we form governments and what it means for a government to be of and for its people.

Steven Rhodes

pretty safe to say that one could just skip the first treatise; just read Laslett's excellent introduction. locke is given far too much credit in u.s. history classes, but his definition of property (II, ¶ 25-51) is priceless. also interesting is how much power locke gives the legislative; looking at u.s. politics, all i could do was shake my head wistfully as i read II, ¶ 134-168).

Enrique Santos

This was one of those books that had to be read if you were ever going to participate in Lincoln-Douglas debate. So many cases hinged upon being familiar with this work.I enjoyed reading it at the time, but I really need to re-read it sometime soon. It's been too long. It's hard to review a work of philosophy itself without being refreshed on it and having a copy off-hand.

Thomas Umstattd

I've been wanting to read John Locke for a while to see why he had such an influence on the American Founding Fathers. I found this book fascinating. It turns out that patriarchy is the foundation for monarchy. In the first treatise Locke demolishes a lot of the arguments for patriarchy with arguments from the Bible itself and from simple logic. I can see why some conservatives are hesitant to let their children read Locke. His arguments shoot out dictatorial parental powers in the crossfire of attacking monarchy. On the downside the book is dry and long. Thomas Jefferson says more in three sentences than Locke says in a whole chapter. Of course Jefferson just held truths to be "self evident" that Locke went to great pains to prove from logic, nature and scripture which explains why this is so much longer.

David Beeson

A short but extraordinarily important book, Locke’s Two Treatises of Government are a must-read for anyone keen to understand the roots of what we think of today as our Western democracies.
In fact, it’s even shorter than it looks, if that understanding is our main goal: the whole first part is a demolition of arguments in favour of the divine right of Kings by Sir Robert Filmer, a leading political writer of the generation before Locke’s, now sunk into probably well-deserved oblivion. That makes it a little tedious to work through, unless you’re interested in understanding the nature of polemic at the time and the extraordinary role that close argument from Scripture played in it: the Bible was seen as a major source of authority on political matters (an authority on authority, in fact).The second part is far more engaging, and a modern reader could certainly skip straight to it. This is where Locke outlines his own view of the nature of government and how it should run. His is a contract model, in which man in the state of nature compacts with others to set up a government over them all, the price in sacrificed freedom being well worth the benefit in greater safety and opportunities. This leads him to a model of power based on the consent of the governed and even, most radical of all, to principles which would allow the citizen to withdraw that consent and resist government if it becomes tyrannical and oppressive (though not to threaten the person of the Prince: Locke is moderate in everything, even in action permissible in extremis...)This is fascinating material in itself, but it’s even more valuable for how it prefigures so many of the concepts that inspire the way of life to which we at least aspire, even though we perhaps don’t fully achieve it. For instance, he tells us:The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions: for being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into this world by his order, and about his business, they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s pleasure: and being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorise us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are made for ours.Reason governs nature, which may sound like an atheistic position, except that for Locke all nature is the creation of God and that creation has consequences for the character of man and of the relations among men (and women, I’d like to add, though Locke was certainly enough a man of his time to be no feminist).This thinking immediately recalls the words of the US Declaration of Independence:We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.Those words were written by Thomas Jefferson, who in his own words claimed to have a “trinity of the three greatest men the world had ever produced”, composed of Sir Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton and John Locke.In a passage that is a personal favourite of mine, Locke goes on a page or two later to consider the case where one man may have power over another, because the latter has committed a crime. He is clear, however, that men can have:... no absolute or arbitrary power, to use a criminal, when he has got him in his hands, according to the passionate heats, or boundless extravagancy of his own will; but only to retribute to him, so far as calm reason and conscience dictate, what is proportionate to his transgression, which is so much as may serve for reparation and restraint.Again, there is an echo of another fundamental American text here, in this instance the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution:Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.Why is this passage a favourite of mine? Because I believe that we are far too inclined to pursue punishments, and increasingly cruel ones at that, to avenge ourselves on offenders; it would be to all our benefit to reassert Locke’s principle, that decisions on punishment need to be taken with calm reason and conscience, and their aim should be to obtain reparation and restraint (which would include deterrence), not vengeance.This second Treatise contains many such examples, of wisdom, moderation, tolerance, and many of the golden threads that most of us believe should govern the societies in which we live. That makes the book well worth reading over 300 years later, or if, like me, you’re disinclined to sit and read it, well worth listening to in the version excellently read by James Langton.


The fifteen years since my first attempt at this book have, in some ways, been a preparation for my current reading of it. Locke waxes poetical in the treatises, in a way that he does not in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding. At first, this lead me to the false perception that the treatises were elegant writing about democracy, rather than the thoroughly-worked out analysis of democracy's true nature that they, the Treatises, are. We all make mistakes when we're young and that perception was one of mine.One of Locke's most important contributions -- and one that usually takes a back seat to the political importance the Treatises took on after 1776 -- is his distinction between parental authority [which he claims exists in the state of nature:] and political authority. Not only does this distinction allow him to engage with family law -- always a challenge to any political idealist from Plato on down -- it also allows him to avoid Hobbes's unsustainable notion [later picked up by Hegel and Herbert Hoover:] of a prehistory in which humans existed on a completely individualistic level. When you eliminate the impossible whatever remains, however improbable, must be true. And this innovation of Locke's strongly, though perhaps not decisively, advances his claim to replace Hobbes as the greatest of the social-contract philosophers.

Steven P.R.

This book is a fascinating exploration of the nature of government and our rights. The first treatise makes a case against the divine right of kings. The second goes into the origins of government (the state of nature), the aim of government, and of our rights. What I particularly like is John Locke's prose, which is eloquent and simple. This is an amazing book to read if you're interested in political philosophy.

حسين العُمري

الدولة إنما نشأت لحماية حقوق طبيعية كانت قائمة وتنازل الفرد عن جزء من حقوقه إنما ليضمن لنفسه ما تبقى من حقوق وحريات أساسية ،، وليس في وسع الأفراد منح الحاكم سلطة غير محدودة لأنهم لا يملكون هذه السلطة وبالتالي لايمكن أن تكون سلطة الحاكم مطلقة إذ هي محدودة بطبيعتها وإذا حاول الإستزادة من سلطته أو أساء استخدامها كان من حق الشعب أن يخلعه ، لذلك كان هدف الكتاب الدفاع عن النظام الدستوري فهناك فرق بين الحكومة والدولة ،، الحريات والحقوق أساس في كل هذا ،، الجميع حكومة وبرلمان مسئولون أمام الشعب


The heinous liberalism.The whole world needing an impartial judge to protect private property, John Locke won't say that the state of nature is men against men, in fact, the state of nature is pacific, there is no war of all against all but mutual assitance, but is it the corruption of the natural law, the one that puts men into war. So he will talk about state in terms of parliamentary monarchy, with devision of power, not to assure equality as god give all comun goods to men, but to assure appropiation, so John locke won't really talks about barbarism, we actually installs bases of what we will discover as capitalism, and the real war of leaving nature of men, and arriving at liberalism as men's money.


Treatise I isn't as useful today as it was in the monarchical times in which Locke lived. He invests this entire treatise in picking apart Sir Robert Filmore's "Patriarcha", a defense of hereditary monarchies. As Western political theory has long since written off the idea of hereditary monarchies as just forms of government, this treatise isn't in any way groundbreaking or innovative the way it was upon first issue.However, anyone interested in the foundations of current western political theory will find Treatise II to be well worth the trudge through Treatise I. Treatise II is filled with the building blocks for liberalism and a constitutional republic that we now take for granted. It's interesting to read the ideas Locke proposed for government when they were just that - ideas. Now we have household names like "separation of powers" and "checks and balances" for some of the concepts Locke was uncovering, but to see them logically constructed rather than distilled down to those household names is quite illuminating.


yes . . . ive read it, and you should too . . . this dude was thomas jefferson's BFF!!!!


The edition itself is OK, featuring informative introduction, annotations and rich appendices consists of suggested readings, bibliography and index.As for the contents of the main body of the book, by John Locke, though I know that I am not in a position to criticise such a classic endorsed by countless academicians, I regret to confess that I could not enjoy reading these Treatises for following reasons:1) Though I understand the main purpose for the author to have written it, the First Treatise is too long for establishing a refutation. In addition, in my opinion, the way he uses quotes from the Bible is less convincing nor skilful than Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan.2) The Second Treatise is less organised in its structure and is unfriendly to the readers for mingling general political thoughts and ideas from Locke the thinker and blurred examples and ideas taken from Locke the politician in his real life.3) Too much weigh on the notion of 'property' makes difficult for modern readers to agree with the author, especially in times where the so-called 99% are made to suffer from problems caused by greedy bankers and those who can afford to care about their own properties, which used to guarantee them the franchise and dominion of the politics exclusively, up to the early twentieth century.


John Locke is probably better known for developing the idea of individual freedom into one of self-property - in other words, he ascribed to the list of fundamental, natural rights of every human that of property, and therefore extended the role of the government from the defense of the individuals to the defense of those individuals and their property, which he regarded as fundamentally part of those individuals. The revolutionary character of bourgeois capitalism can often appear a remote, even odd characteristic, in a world where property is more often presented to us, both by it's proponents and by it's critics, as both the natural state of things and the dominant statu quo; Locke's theory of property makes a compelling case for the radicalism of such a concept, expectably, on the political level, but also in a sense, on a theological level: The first of the two treatises, often regarded as a painful read for anyone not specifically interested in early modern history, is indeed excruciating at times, addressing the arguments of a Robert Filmer now completely forgotten, as are his theses -at the time predominant- on the theological character of absolute kingship. Someone with an interest in political theology will none the less be able to salvage from this jungle of biblical quotations and genealogical discussions, at least two things: the religious function, nowadays largely disregarded by a secular republican tradition, of contractual political theory, and the everlasting meeting point of political theology and political philosophy, the "fall", or transition of the state of nature to civilization. The second treatise is the one that has duly received much attention over the past centuries as a defining text of modern politics, and offer to compliment the compelling debunking of absolute monarchy the author proceeded with in the first treatise, with a tentative proposition as to what should replace it. If the same sharp and spirited rhetoric (which makes for the solace of the reader in the previous book) comes to show, here and there, in this one, that is not where our mind is drawn: the concepts developed by the author are compelling, in particular his famous theory of labour as the transition from primitive communism to property, of which complete understanding (and that of the related theological views of Locke) requires -and justifies in my eyes- the reading of the first treatise.Locke is a compelling read, a good writer as well as an original thinker and his text makes it clear how property brought about the collapse of an incredibly enduring political model. It has acquired such a central place in history that little defense should be needed to justify it's reading but I should just add to this that the reading of the first treatise might well be worth for someone interested in gaining a more original insight in the ideological foundations of liberalism.


The introduction and notes definitely get in the way of Locke's work, though they add to the understanding of the advanced student. They focus primarily on when the passages were written or edited and to whom or what Locke was referring. Once you get past them, it is a solid read. I find the Second Treatise far more interesting and useful than the first. Overall it was less than I had hoped, but still useful and thought-provoking in some areas.

Jennifer Smoliga

Eh… I am not really a Locke lover so maybe that is why I didn't like the book. I feel his views are so far from what I know that it is hard to even relate. They don't make sense to me.

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