Of the State of War - Granite Grok

Of the State of War

John Locke

Locke’s third chapter is on the State of War. It is an expository on the concept presented in the previous chapter regarding when one individual broaches another’s right to life, liberty and property. In the Of the State of Nature, we learned that one person broaches another’s natural rights he declares himself an enemy to all humankind, and therefore, any person can execute judgment and assist the injured party in obtaining reparation.

In Of the State of War, he extends this concept to individual within civil societies, between civil societies and civil societies against their members. It is this final concept that ultimately justifies rebellion and revolution.

He begins by stating that a state of war is not passionate or hasty

“but a sedate settled design upon another man’s life, puts him in a state of war with him against whom he has declared such an intention, …”

Note that the actions can amount to a declaration. He goes on to say that every person has a right to destroy that which threatens to destroy him.

“And hence it is, that he who attempts to get another man into his absolute power, does thereby put himself into a state of war with him; it being to be understood as a declaration of a design upon his life:”

He then goes on to discuss that the intention to take away the things necessary to sustain life is the same as designing to take another’s life. He that would destroy another would also take away their freedom. He concludes with a thought that extends these aggressions from the state of nature to fellow members of a civil society.

“He that, in the state of nature, would take away the freedom that belongs to any one in that state, must necessarily be supposed to have a foundation of all the rest; as he that in the state of society, would take away the freedom belonging to those of that society or commonwealth, must be supposed to design to take away from them every thing else, and so be looked on as in a state of war.”

In this way he extends the state of war in nature to the thief in civil society.

It is lawful to kill a thief in civil society because the thief who would rob you of your money can be presumed to be taking away liberty, by putting the victim under his power to deprive them of their property. The immediacy of the situation prevents the victim from appealing to the institutions of the civil society for protection or reparation. Furthermore, it may be presumed that the thief would be equally willing to deprive the victim or their life, for which there could be no reparation. The thief by depriving the victim of the power to appeal to the institutions of the civil society puts himself in a state of war with the victim, and so authorizes the victim to take his life if necessary. However, when the force is over or if the victim is not present such as may happen in a house burglary, the state of war is over and both sides are subjected to the fair determination of the law. But where there is no such appeal as in the state of nature, the state of war continues until the aggressor offers peace and reconciliation with reparation.

Locke compares the state of nature and state of war as follows. In the state of nature people are at peace, they offer good will, mutual assistance and preservation. In the state of war people are in a state of enmity and offer malice, violence and mutual destruction.

“Men living together according to reason, without a common superior on earth, with authority to judge between them, is properly the state of nature. But force, or a declared design of force, upon the person of another, where there is no common superior on earth to appeal to for relief, is the state of war: and it is the want of such an appeal gives a man the right of war even against an aggressor, tho’ he be in society and a fellow subject. “

We see this concept enshrined in The Constitution of the State of New Hampshire in The Bill of Rights, Article 2 and several of the other State Constitutions. In New Hampshire it is expressed as follows in the bold text, the last sentence was added in 1974:

[Art.] 2. [Natural Rights.] All men have certain natural, essential, and inherent rights – among which are, the enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing, and protecting, property; and, in a word, of seeking and obtaining happiness. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by this state on account of race, creed, color, sex or national origin.

Note that the article includes defending life and protecting liberty, thus even with the civil society authorizing individual defence when the situtation precludes appeal to the instruments of that society.

At this point, Lock addresses the question of what if the instruments of the civil society become the instruments of oppression.

“.. nay, where an appeal to the law, and constituted judges, lies open, but the remedy is denied by a manifest perverting of justice, and a barefaced wresting of the laws to protect or indemnify the violence or injuries of some men, or party of men, there it is hard to imagine any thing but a state of war: for wherever violence is used, and injury done, though by hands appointed to administer justice, it is still violence and injury, however coloured with the name, pretences, or forms of law, the end whereof being to protect and redress the innocent, by an unbiassed application of it, to all who are under it; wherever that is not bona fide done, war is made upon the sufferers, who having no appeal on earth to right them, they are left to the only remedy in such cases, an appeal to heaven.”

To put it simply where the instruments of society are perverted to indemnify violence, or where the those appointed to do justice do injury with the instrument of that society, it puts that civil society in a state of war with its members.

Consider that in Texas law enforcement has the power to seize large sums of cash on the roadside on the presumption of drug trafficking. What happens when the courts show open partiality in civil proceedings?

In the English Bill of Rights they listed the aggressions of James II, but never when quite so far as to declare being in a State of Nature, though they made the description thereof, or making a direct appeal to heaven. However, in the American Declaration of Independence, after citing their claim to their natural rights and the design of government being to protect those rights, and citing the manners in which the institutions of justice in Great Britain had been used against them, contrary to the designs of those institutions, they made just such an appeal to heaven.

“We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions,…”

This concept was also enshrine in The Constitution of the New Hampshire, Bill of Rights, Article and four other of the original States, though not in as much force except for Maryland as follows:

[Art.] 10. Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind. Though often characterized as a right of revolution, the use of the word ought (that which must be done because it is the right thing to do) makes it a duty of revolution.

This brings us to a new question. When the governments of the States refuse to hold accountable members of Antifa who assault their political opponents When the instruments of law enforcement and justice are used as political weapons. When the law is not applied equally to all those who break it. When the ends of government are perverted and its instruments intended protect private property are to redistribute property. At what point do the victims the silence of or misuse of the instruments of our civil societies recognize that their civil society is in a State of War with them? At what point is it determined that instituted means redress, elections and constitutional amendments are ineffectual. I would contend that it is when one is afraid to exercise one’s rights of conscience, religion and speech for fear of retribution by the instruments of that civil society or it unofficial enforcers.

I believe that we are perilously close to that point.