John Locke's republicanism Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 22, 2019
  • Layman, Daniel M.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Philosophy
  • This dissertation is a study of the shape, function, and implications of republican ideals in Locke's political philosophy. I argue that according to Locke, a person is free only when she enjoys her natural rights on her own terms, without arbitrary dependence. The relationship Locke posits between the absence of arbitrary power and freedom is constitutive rather than instrumental; to attain the ideal of freedom just is to be free from arbitrary power within the scope of natural rights. The project proceeds in two parts. In the first part, which includes two chapters, I argue that Locke is centrally committed to a republican conception of freedom. I then develop a precise framing of that conception and locate it within the broader contours of Locke's theory of moral equality and obligation. In Chapter One, I argue that Locke's explicit statements about the value of freedom and its relationship to the wills of other people, together with his polemic against absolutism, establishes that Locke's ideal of freedom demands the absence not just of interference, but of domination. In Chapter Two, I turn to the relationship between Locke's republicanism and his heavily theological notions of moral equality and moral obligation. I argue that by Locke's lights, both moral equality and moral obligation depend on moral accountability, and God's role is to anchor our accountability relationships with one another. In the second part, I use Locke's reconstructed republicanism to address three problems that arise when Locke applies his fundamental political values to concrete political problems. The first problem, which occupies me in Chapter Three, concerns Locke's conception of private property. While there is good textual reason to doubt that Locke requires appropriating individuals to leave any particular amount of resources for others, he clearly indicates that there is something wrong with distributions in which some suffer while others thrive. But what exactly is the problem? I argue that once people use their natural rights to acquire large properties, Locke's republican norm of non-domination requires people to enter and support civil societies that guarantee physical wellbeing and independence from arbitrary power. In Chapter Four, I consider Locke's infamous consent doctrine, which stipulates that political power cannot be legitimate without the consent of those subject to it. I argue that Locke actually offers two distinct conceptions of political consent, one elective and one participatory. According to the elective conception of consent, individuals must freely choose to perform a discrete act of consent before any political authority can be legitimate with respect to them. This strand of Locke's thinking about consent is, I argue, almost entirely unsuccessful. But according to Locke's participatory framing of political consent, consent to government is a dimension of political participation itself, not a separate, elective act that precedes it. I argue that this second conception of consent, though little noticed, is much more successful in relation to Locke's central project of rendering political power compatible with individuals' freedom from arbitrary power.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Postema, Gerald J.
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2014

This work has no parents.