Second Treatise of the Government Book Summary - Second Treatise of the Government Book explained in key points
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Second Treatise of the Government summary

John Locke

An Essay Concerning the True Origin, Extent and End of Civil Government

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Brief summary

'Second Treatise of Government' by John Locke is a political treatise advocating for the natural rights of individuals, the social contract theory and limited government. His ideas have influenced many constitutions worldwide.

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    Second Treatise of the Government
    Summary of 8 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 8

    In the state of nature, we have absolute freedom and the right to protect ourselves and our property.

    Imagine waking up in a society where there are no government institutions and no laws.

    Such a state is what political philosophers call the state of nature.

    In the state of nature, all people are free and equal; there is no person or authority that holds power over you – no one to tell you to pay your taxes or parking tickets.

    What’s more, everyone in a state of nature follows the same laws, namely the laws of nature, a code of ethics granted by God which is – through human reason – inherent in each of us.

    It is this law which tells us not to harm others, and to preserve ourselves and the rest of humankind. In this sense, therefore, all people are free and equal.

    Given that we may preserve ourselves in a state of nature, we must also have the right to defend ourselves. In a state of nature, as in any other social constellation, there will necessarily be people who inflict harm on others, such as through theft or violence.

    We have the right to defend ourselves and our property against these individuals.

    However, in defending ourselves, we must still act reasonably. This means that we may only punish others to get reparation for our losses and to deter offenders from future crimes, without being heavy-handed.

    For example, if someone stole your banana from the lunch room refrigerator, in a state of nature, you would be allowed to both take the banana back and demand a cookie as reparation.

    Furthermore, you might punish the thief by taking three more cookies from him, to deter him from committing further crimes. However, it would be unreasonable for you to beat or murder him – no matter how delicious or precious that banana was.

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    What is Second Treatise of the Government about?

    Locke’s Second Treatise offers an in-depth analysis on the origin of our right to liberty and the rights of governments. It shows how, by respecting the laws of nature, we can limit the power of government to best protect ourselves and our property from destruction or worse, tyranny.

    Second Treatise of the Government Review

    Second Treatise of Government by John Locke (1689) is a thought-provoking exploration of political theory that continues to resonate today. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It presents a clear and logical argument for the rights of individuals and the limitations of government power, offering a foundation for democratic societies.
    • The book's emphasis on individual liberty and property rights introduces powerful ideas that have shaped modern political and legal systems.
    • With its philosophical depth and intellectual rigor, the book challenges readers to critically examine the nature of government and the rights of citizens.

    Best quote from Second Treatise of the Government

    Being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.

    —John Locke
    example alt text

    Who should read Second Treatise of the Government?

    • Anybody interested in politics
    • Anybody interested in the history of ideas and philosophy
    • Anybody interested in the foundations of liberalism and democracy

    About the Author

    John Locke (1632-1704) is one of the world’s most important political philosophers. Considered the “father of classical liberalism,” Locke was an influential thinker during the Enlightenment period, and his ideas on philosophy and civil government inspired other major personalities, such as Voltaire, as well as many American revolutionaries – ideas that are still alive and influential today.

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    Second Treatise of the Government FAQs 

    What is the main message of Second Treatise of the Government?

    The main message of Second Treatise of the Government is the idea of natural rights and the legitimacy of government.

    How long does it take to read Second Treatise of the Government?

    The reading time for Second Treatise of the Government varies, but it can be read in several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Second Treatise of the Government a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Second Treatise of the Government is a thought-provoking and insightful book. It is definitely worth reading for those interested in political philosophy.

    Who is the author of Second Treatise of the Government?

    The author of Second Treatise of the Government is John Locke.