Locke – Social Contract

Because only a legitimate authority generates political obligations, I value governmental legitimacy. Simmons of Cornell University 1999 explains

This Lockean account utilizes one standard moral conception of state legitimacy [which is that],‘ and it is this conception of legitimacy” that I will hereafter have in mind when I use that term. A state’s (or government’s) legitimacy is the complex moral right it possesses to be the exclusive impose of binding duties on its subjects, to have its subjects comply with these duties, and to use coercion to enforce the duties. Accordingly, state legitimacy is the logical correlate of various obligations, including subjects’ political obligations.’ A state’s legitimacy right” is in part a right held specifically against the subjects bound by any state-imposed duties, arising from morally significant relations — in Locke’s case, consensual relations — between state and subject. It follows that “on balance” state legitimacy may he complete or partial, depending on whether such relations hold with all or only with some of those against whom the state enforces the duties it imposes (though the state is, of course, either fully legitimate or fully illegitimate with respect to each individual under its rule).

In order for a government to be legitimate it must fulfill its purpose. All governments have specific political obligations that stem from that purpose. The Constitutional Rights Foundation explains 

The purpose of government, [according to] Locke wrote, is to secure and protect the God-given inalienable natural rights of the people [including life, liberty and property]. For their part, the people must obey the laws of their rulers. Thus, a sort of contract exists between the rulers and the ruled. But, Locke concluded, if a government persecutes its people with “a long train of abuses” over an extended period, the people have the right to resist that government, alter or abolish it, and create a new political system.

To summarize, a government has authority because it’s citizens agree to follow a contract where they respect the rules and power of the state. But they only follow this contract if the state upholds their end of protecting their natural rights. Therefore, in order for the state to be legitimate and have the authority to govern, it must protect natural rights. Thus, my value criterion is respecting natural rights.

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