Two Treatises on Government (1680-1690)

John Locke

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Of Paternal and Regal Power

§ 6. Sir R. F.’s great position is, that “men are not naturally free.” This is the foundation on which his absolute monarchy stands, and from which it erects itself to an height, that its power is above every, power, caput inter nubila, so high above all earthly and human things, that thought can scarce reach it; that promises and oaths, which the infinite deity, cannot confine it. But if this foundation fails, all his fabric falls with it, and governments must be left again to the old way of being made by contrivance, and the consent of men ( /Anqrwpi/nh xti/siv) making use of their reason to unite together into society. To prove this grand position of his, he tells us, p. 12, “men are born in subjection to their parents”, and therefore cannot be free. And this authority of parents, he calls “royal authority,” p. 12, 14, “fatherly authority, right of fatherhood,” p. 12, 20. One would have thought he would in the beginning of such a work as this, on which was to depend the authority of princes, and the obedience of subjects, have told us expressly what that fatherly authority is, have defined it, though not limited it, because in some other treatises of his he tells us, it is unlimited, and unlimitable;* he should at least have given us such an account of it, that we might have had an entire notion of this fatherhood, or fatherly authority, whenever it came in our way in his writings. This I expected to have found in the first chapter of his Patriarcha. But instead thereof, having, 1st. En Passant, made his obeisance to the arcana imperii, p. 5. 2nd. Made his compliment to the “rights and liberties of this, or any other nation,” p. 6. which he is going presently to null and destroy; and, 3rd. Made his leg to those learned men, who did not see so far into the matter as himself, p. 7. He comes to fall on Bellarmine, p. 8. and, by a victory over him, establishes his fatherly authority beyond any question. Bellarmine being routed by his own confession, p. 11, the day is clear got, and there is no more need of any forces: for having done that, I observe not that he states the question, or rallies up any arguments to make good his opinion, but rather tells us the story, as be thinks fit, of this strange kind of domineering phantom, called the fatherhood, which whoever could catch, presently got empire, and unlimited absolute power. He assures us how this fatherhood began in Adam, continued its course, and kept the world in order all the time of the patriarchs till the flood, got out of the ark with Noah and his sons, made and supported all the kings of the earth till the captivity of the Israelites in Egypt, and then the poor fatherhood was under hatches, till “God by giving the Israelites kings, re-established the ancient and prime right of the lineal succession in paternal government.” This is his business from p. 12 to 19. And then obviating an objection, and clearing a difficulty or two with one half reason, p. 23 “to confirm the natural right of regal power,” he ends the first chapter. I hope it is no injury to call an half quotation an half reason, for God says, “Honour thy father and mother;” but our author contents himself with half, leaves out “thy mother” quite, as little serviceable to his purpose. But of that more in another place.

    *“In grants and gifts that have their original from god or nature, as the power of the father has, no inferior power of man can limit, nor make any law of prescription against them. * * * the scripture teaches that supreme power was originally in the father without any limitation.”

§ 7. I do not think our Author so little skilled in the way of writing discourses of this nature, nor so careless of the point in hand, that he by oversight commits the fault that he himself, in his “anarchy of a mixed monarchy,” p. 239, objects to Mr. Hunton in these words: “Where first I charge the A. that he hath not given us any definition, or description of monarchy in general; for by the rules of method, he should have first defined.” And by the like rule of method Sir Robert should have told us, what his fatherhood or fatherly authority is, before he had told us, in whom it was to be found, and talked so much of it. But perhaps Sir Robert found, that this fatherly authority, this power of fathers, and of kings, for he makes them both the same, p. 24, would make a very odd and frightful figure, and very disagreeing, with what either children imagine of their parents, or subjects of their kings, if he should have given us the whole draught together, in that gigantic form, he had painted it in his own fancy: and therefore like a wary physician, when he would have his patient swallow some harsh or corrosive liquor, he mingles it with a large quantity of that, which may dilute it; that the scattered parts may go down with less feeling, and cause less aversion.

§ 8. Let us then endeavour to find what account he gives us of this fatherly authority, as it lies scattered in the several parts of his writings. And first, as it was vested in Adam, he says, “Not only Adam, but the succeeding patriarchs, had by right of fatherhood royal authority over their children,” p. 12. “This lordship which Adam by command had over the whole world, and by right descending from him the patriarchs did enjoy, was as large and ample as the absolute dominion of any monarch which hath been since the creation,” p. 13. “Dominion of life and death, making war, and concluding peace,” p. 13. “Adam and the patriarchs had absolute power of life and death,” p. 35. “Kings, in the right of parents, succeed to the exercise of supreme jurisdiction,” p. 19. “As kingly power is by the law of God, so it hath no inferior law to limit it, Adam was lord of all,” p. 40. “The father of a family governs by no other law, than by his own will,” p. 78. “The superiority of princes is above laws,” p. 79. “The unlimited jurisdiction of kings is so amply described by Samuel,” p. 80. “Kings are above the laws,” p. 93. And to this purpose, see a great deal more which our A– delivers in Bodin’s words: “It is certain, that all laws, privileges, and grants of princes, have no force, but during their life; if they be not ratified by the express consent, or by sufferance of the prince following, especially privileges,” O. p. 279. “The reason why laws have been also made by kings, was this; when kings were either busied with wars, or distracted with public cares, so that every private man could not have access to their persons, to learn their wills and pleasure, then were laws of necessity invented, that so every particular subject might find his prince’s pleasure deciphered unto him in the tables of his laws,” p. 92. “In a monarchy, the king must by necessity be above the laws,” p. 100. “A perfect kingdom is that, wherein the king rules all things according to his own will,” p. 106. “Neither common nor statute laws are, or can be, any diminution of that general power, which kings have over their people by right of fatherhood,” p. 115. “Adam was the father, king, and lord over his family; a son, a subject, and a servant or slave, were one and the same thing at first. The father had power to dispose or sell his children or servants, whence we find, that at the first reckoning up of goods in scripture, the man-servant, and the maid-servant, are numbered among the possessions and substance of the owner, as other goods were,” O. Pref. “God also hath given to the father a right or liberty, to alien his power over his children to any other, whence we find the sale and gift of children to have been much in use in the beginning of the world, when men had their servants for a possession and an inheritance, as well as other goods, whereupon we find the power of castrating and making eunuchs much in use in old times,” O. p. 155. “Law is nothing else but the will of him that hath the power of the supreme father,” O. p. 223. “It was God’s ordinance that the supremacy should be unlimited in Adam, and as large as all the acts of his will, and as in him, so in all others that have supreme power,” O. p. 245.

§ 9. I have been fain to trouble my reader with these several quotations in our A–’s own words, that in them might be seen his own description of his fatherly authority, as it lies scattered up and down in his writings, which he supposes was first vested in Adam, and by right belongs to all princes ever since. This fatherly authority then, or right of fatherhood, in our A–’s sense is a divine unalterable right of sovereignty, whereby a father or a prince hath an absolute, arbitrary, unlimited, and unlimitable power, over the lives, liberties, and estates of his children and subjects; so that he may take or alienate their estates, sell, castrate, or use their persons as he pleases, they being all his slaves, and he lord or proprietor of every thing, and his unbounded will their law.

§ 10. Our A– having placed such a mighty power in Adam, and upon that supposition, founded all government, and all power of princes, it is reasonable to expect, that he should have proved this with arguments clear and evident, suitable to the weightiness of the cause. That since men had nothing else left them, they might in slavery have such undeniable proofs of its necessity, that their consciences might be convinced, and oblige them to submit peaceably to that absolute dominion, which their governors had a right to exercise over them. Without this, what good could our A– do, or pretend to do, by erecting such an unlimited power, but flatter the natural vanity and ambition of men, too apt of itself to grow and increase with the possession of any power? And by persuading those, who, by the consent of their fellow-men, are advanced to great, but limited degrees of it, that by that part which is given them, they have a right to all, that was not so; and therefore may do what they please, because they have authority to do more then others, and so tempt them to do what is neither for their own, nor the good of those under their care, whereby great mischiefs cannot but follow.

§ 11. The sovereignty of Adam, being that on which, as a sure basis, our A– builds his mighty absolute monarchy, I expected, that, in his Patriarcha, this his main supposition would have been proved and established with all that evidence of arguments, that such a fundamental tenet required; and that this, on which the great stress of the business depends, would have been made out with reasons sufficient to justify the confidence with which it was assumed. But in all that treatise, I could find very little tending that way; the thing is there so taken for granted without proof, that I could scarce believe myself, when upon attentive reading that treatise, I found there so mighty a structure raised upon the bare supposition of this foundation. For it is scarce credible, that in a discourse where he pretends to confute the erroneous principle of man’s natural freedom, he should do it by a bare supposition of Adam’s authority, without offering any proof for that authority. Indeed he confidently says, that “Adam had royal authority,” p. 12, and 13. “Absolute lordship and dominion of life and death,” p. 13. “An universal monarchy,” p. 33. “Absolute power of life and death,” p. 35. He is very frequent in such assertions, but what is strange in all his whole Patriarcha, I find not one pretense of a reason to establish this his great foundation of government; not anything that looks like an argument, but these words: “To confirm this natural right of regal power, we find in the decalogue, that the law which enjoins obedience to kings, is delivered in the terms, honour thy father, as if all power were originally in the father.” And why may I not add as well, that in the decalogue, the law that enjoins obedience to queens, is delivered in the terms of “Honour thy mother,” as if all power were originally in the mother? The argument, as Sir Robert puts it, will hold as well for one as the other. But of this, more in its due place.

§ 12. All that I take notice of here, is, that this is all our A– says in this first, or any of the following chapters, to prove the absolute power of Adam, which is his great principle; and yet, as if he had there settled it upon sure demonstration, he begins his 2d chapter with these words, “By conferring these proofs and reasons, drawn from the authority of the scripture.” Where those proofs and reasons for Adam’s sovereignty are, bating that of honour thy father above mentioned, I confess, I cannot find, unless what he says, p. 11, “In these words we have an evident confession,” viz. of Bellarmine, “that creation made man prince of his posterity,” must be taken for proofs and reasons drawn from scripture, or for any sort of proof at all: though from thence by a new way of inference in the words, immediately following, he concludes the royal authority of Adam, sufficiently settled in him.

§ 13. If he has in that chapter, or anywhere in the whole treatise, given any other proofs of Adam’s royal authority, other than by often repeating it, which, among some men, goes for argument, I desire anybody for him to show me the place and page, that I may be convinced of my mistake, and acknowledge my oversight. If no such arguments are to be found, I beseech those men, who have so much cried up this book, to consider whether they do not give the world cause to suspect, that it’s not the force of reason and argument, that makes them for absolute monarchy, but some other by interest, and therefore are resolved to applaud any author, that writes in favour of this doctrine, whether he support it with reason or no. But I hope they do not expect that rational and indifferent men should be brought over to their opinion, because this their great Dr. of it, in a discourse made on purpose, to set up the absolute monarchical power of Adam, in opposition to the natural freedom of mankind, has said so little to prove it, from whence it is rather naturally to be concluded, that there is little to be said.

§ 14. But, that I might omit no care to inform myself in our A–’s full sense, I consulted his observations on Aristotle, Hobbes, &c. to see whether in disputing with others he made use of any arguments, for this his darling tenet of Adam’s sovereignty, since in his treatise of the Natural Power of Kings, he hath been so sparing of them. In his observations on Mr. Hobbe’s Leviathan, I think he has put, in short, all those arguments for it together, which in his writings I find him anywhere to make use of; his words are these: “If God created only Adam, and of a piece of him made the woman, and if by generation from them two, as parts of them all mankind be propagated: if also God gave to Adam not only the dominion over the woman and the children that should issue from them, but also over the whole earth to subdue it, and over all the creatures on it, so that as long as Adam lived, no man could claim or enjoy anything but by donation, assignation, or permission from him, I wonder,” &c. O. 165. Here we have the sum of all his arguments, for Adam’s sovereignty, and against natural freedom, which I find up and down in his other treatises: and they are these following; God’s creation of Adam, the dominion he gave him over Eve, and the dominion he had as father over his children, all which I shall particularly consider.