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LWSO 201 02 (2013)


Brian Kim, 10131104

12 Oct 13

1) Using examples from The Second Treatise of Government, explain some of the
reasons that John Locke is regarded as the father of Classical Liberalism.

Following the diminishing absolutism, classical liberalism is the first political
ideology that branches out to be the foundation or the cause of all emanating ideologies
and systems after it. Although it was built from various intellectual sources to fill in the
gaps, it is John Locke who gave it politically concrete structure. He carries this out in his
work Second Treatise of Government (1690) wherein Locke reflects on various concepts
including natural liberty, nature of humans, and the relationship between the state and the
individual. In his text we recognize the very essence of classical liberalism.
To introduce classical liberalism is to introduce the rethought that John Locke
articulates regarding individualism and personal liberty. Objecting to absolutism which is
bound to betray individual rights, Locke alludes to natural liberty as to be free from any
superior power on earth (Second Treatise, 22). Moreover, he claims every individual is
born equally with freedom along with rights that should not be abusively offended by an
absolute power of authority or government. Additionally it is wrong for an individual or a
group to subordinate others because they gain power to destroy or manipulate the
subjects property. Hence, Locke expresses natural liberty as being free from absolute
government. Throughout the text, Locke points to individualism to defend natural liberty
and to support every individuals right to life, liberty, and property. It is only after
centuries of absolutism that such revolutionary ideal is upheld and sanctified, thus
designating Locke as the philosophical revolutionary who encapsulated this spirit of
social reformation into classical liberalism. Even so, Locke does not repudiate all
authority and government as though he simply advocates anarchism.
Within the text, Locke consistently refers to his theory that humans were naturally
born into an anarchic state (as God purposed), in which they resided prior to the
formation of government. He calls it the state of nature [that] has a nature of law to
govern it (Second Treatise, 6). Under this universal law all men are equally subjected
and know that no one ought to harm another (Second Treatise, 6). However, Locke
goes on to explain the need to form a civil society of common power. The necessity is
due to the fact that the law of nature is the only law above those in the state of nature; but
they were without the authority to enforce compliance to that law. Therefore, to avoid or
control possible downturn into the state of war wherein men threaten and use force
against others and their properties, social contract is pledged between individuals to form
a governing community.
Two of the major themes identified in classical liberalism and Lockes Treatise
are social contract and protection of property. To illustrate, Locke writes that
preservation of property [is] the end of government, and that for which men enter into
society (Second Treatise, 138). One can identify here an agreement among people who
wish to create a community that utilizes law, authority, and power to preserve and protect
the citizens properties. This notion of contract implies these: the necessity of peoples
common consent for a civil society to exist; and the necessity of civil society to act
merely as a device for protecting and enforcing individual rights for the people. Locke
adds by highlighting the fact that the authority of government is limited to only the power
that the people give it. To conclude, the idea of social contract outlines the relationship
between individuals and society; or rather specifically, the raison dtre of government.
In summary, Locke effectively affirms the criteria of classical liberalism
through The Second Treatise of Government by establishing the natures of human, of
liberty, of rights, and finally the nature of the government. In the European stage of
Enlightenment, these descriptive and motivational components give rise to a new set of
thoughts and ideologies. To that end, Locke defines the philosophical and political
groundwork of the revolutionary ideology, earning his title the Father of Classical

2) Discuss three key themes that are explored in Edmund Burkes Reflections on the
Revolution in France.

At the dawn of the French Revolution, Reflections on the Revolution in France
(1790) by Edmund Burke conveys critical response to the extreme radicalness of the
violent rebellion. According to Burke, such political upheaval was naively impractical,
recklessly untraditional, and disastrously impulsive. In turn, he emphasizes three major
themes: experience-based tradition over abstract reasoning; construction of civil society
under intergenerational convention; and lastly, gradual reform over destructive change.
To begin, Burke draws on the distinction between experience and abstraction. For
example, Burke expresses his preference to realistic practicality with a rhetorical question,
what is the use of discussing a mans abstract right to food or medicine [instead of]
procuring and administering them [?] (Reflections, 53). Correspondingly, he prefers
adheringon those principles [of] our forefathers (Reflections, 30), signifying the
value he places on the traditional principles with basis on concrete experience. He
believes that by drawing from the prudence and wisdom of established tradition, humans
are able to access a set of interconnected and mature ideas that has been constituted and
reinforced through time of redefining. This is where humans are seasoned with the
durable experience they can depend on. In other words, tradition, tested over time, is
capable of providing future regularity and stability through the prudence and practical
customs inherited from the past. On the other hand, abstraction is denounced for being
impractical as it is inadequate to consider the fact that human nature is intricate as it is
with human society. With various factors and complexities making it near impossible to
make faithful assessment solely through metaphysical and idealistic lens of reasoning,
Burke points to the rather realistic view of resorting to what worked before, so therefore
would once again, work. All in all, Burke turns away from metaphysical theories of
limited utility and affirms tradition seeing that it is sustained by unconcealed deference to
experience and evolving practices.
Second, it is imperative to propose Edmund Burkes theory of convention.
Concerning this, he defines society [as] indeed a contract (Reflections, 84) and a
partnershipbetween those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be
born (Reflections, 85). This is significant in revealing the theme of intergenerational
contract. To Burke, conventions and social contracts are one and the same and it is from
here that constitution is formed. This means that the partnership is at the root of the
government and plays the same role as convention. Moreover, it is a non-promissory
partnership with the dead, living, and to-be-born, creating a great eternal society. Thus a
social obligation and responsibility is the contract that organizes and orders our
interacting lives. As the result, such groundwork is at the foundation of civil society
whose purpose is the preservation of the human wisdom captured by tradition.
Finally, Burke criticizes the French Revolution due to its scheme of barbarous
philosophy (Reflections, 68) which compelled the incorrigibly dogmatic revolutionaries
to demand capricious change instead of a controlled reformation. As much as Burke
firmly believes in the necessity of change, his tolerable change ensures making the most
of the existing materials of [the] country and disposition to preserve and an ability to
improve (Reflections, 138). It is evident that Burke prefers to maintain as much as
possible what is already established and to not alter anything that works. To understand
why Burke resents the Revolution, Burkes distinction between reformation and change is
critical. Change, according to him, is altering the nature of objects themselves,
accidentally getting rid of the merit along with the defect, which merely needs fixing. The
problem with this lies in its violently and hasty method of trashing the essential and
stripping the natural. Also, such change risks undoing what was diligently established and
inherited by the forefathers. In reflect of the intergenerational contract, Burke wishes to
protect the society he views as an existing organic whole, hence his concern to prevent
dismemberment of the organic society. In addition, to rescind the system constituted upon
traditional wisdom contradicts the civil society because the government exists to protect
that which revolutions like the one in France tends to destroy and overthrow altogether.
Therefore, Burke promotes instead a gradual yet well-sustained reform wherein
advantages of the state are preserved while making necessary compensation for the flaws.
In summary, Burke in his writing places emphasis on the importance of tradition,
the nature of civil society with its foundation in convention, and the merit of patiently
careful yet determined reformation. The themes presented by Burke later develop to play
the role of preliminary work of foundation for Conservatism.