The Civil State in John Locke’s Political Philosophy: Its Relevance to Nigerian Democracy
1.0 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
1.1 General Introduction
John Locke was born on August 29, 1632 in Warrington, Somerset. His father, John Locke senior, was a lawyer and a small land owner. The family had a puritan and a parliamentary background. He studied at the famous Christ Church, Oxford. He studied sciences, especially medicine under Sir Robert Boyle and was later admitted into the household of the Lord Aschey as his physician and secretary. He later opened up a new chapter in his life and became involved in political affairs of the day.
One of the bases of his political thought was his teaching on the civil state which he best called civil society. In order to demonstrate what a civil society is, he traced its origin to the state of nature from where men unite together to go into civil state. He stated that,
This is done wherever any number of men, in the state of nature, enter into society to make one people, one body politic, under one supreme government, or else when anyone joins himself to, and incorporates with any government already made….1
From the state of nature, people enter into civil state through consent, to surrender their right of enforcing the law of nature to the society for them to setup a lawful form of government they thought fit2.
Democracy being a system of government under which the people exercise the governing power either directly or through representatives duly elected by them3, is taken to be one of the forms of government which people in the civil state may choose to set up. There is need therefore, to explore the ideals of the civil state by John Locke, and to bring out its relevance to the practice of democracy in the Nigerian setup.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
In the light of the above explication, it is good to ask the basic question:
what are the problems of Nigerian democracy? Some of the problems are: the failure of leadership, inadequate checks and balances of the arms of government, lack of security of life and property, and violation of human rights. These problems among others make Nigerian democracy to be in shambles. Every Nigerian is in one way or the other affected by this difficult situation facing the Nigerian State, and it is every one’s duty to make maximum effort towards solving these problems for the actualization of the ideals of democracy in Nigeria. Therefore, the ugly situation of Nigeria democracy is the problem that motivates the research.
1.3. Purpose of the Study
Following the afore-mentioned problems, the aim of the study is to first of all explore John Locke’s teaching on the elements of the civil state, and to demonstrate the necessity of this teaching in solving the problems facing Nigerian democracy. In other words, this work seeks for the relevance of John Locke’s notion on civil State, to the practice of democracy in Nigeria.
1.3. Scope of the Study
Taking cognizance of Locke’s vast contribution and discussion in philosophy, this study is limited to his teaching on the civil state, and its importance to the remedy of some of the posing problems of democracy in the Nigerian State.
The method of the work is expository and evaluative. This means that Locke’s Civil State is explored and it is evaluated by showing its relevance to Nigerian democracy.
For proper comprehension, the work is divided into five chapters. Chapter one serves as the background which explicates the introduction, the statement of the problem, the aim, the scope, the method as well as the literature review. Chapter two treats the origin of John Locke’s civil state, which is traced back to the state of nature. Also Locke’s view of right to private property is stated in this chapter. In chapter three, Locke’s civil state is exposed properly, with its basic features like the purpose of the civil state, the separation of powers of government, the extent and limit of representation, and the dissolution of government. In chapter four, how the ideals in the Lockean Civil State can be of good help in tackling some of the problems facing Nigerian democracy, is duly considered. Finally, chapter five deals with general evaluation and conclusion.
1.5. Literature Review
In order to properly explain Locke’s notion of civil state, there is need to explicate the views some other thinkers have about the civil state. A. Appadorai quoting R. Maclver in his book The substance of Politics stated that:
The state is an association which, acting through law as promulgated by a government endowed to this end with coercive power, maintains within a community territorially demarcated the universal external conditions of social order.
He agreed with Herbert Spencer that “the state is nothing but a natural institution for preventing one man from infringing the rights of another; it is a joint-stock protection company for mutual assurance5.
Following what is said above, from the ancient period, many philosophers in their political thought have in one way or the other viewed on the notion of civil state. Each of them is influenced by the political affairs of his time, so they have related different views about the civil state. Therefore, the views of various philosophers of different epochs are to be reviewed.
Plato one of the ancient philosophers, in his political thought held that the state originated for the reflection of people’s economic needs. This means that for him, as he is quoted by Stumpf in his book Philosophy: History and Problems, “a state comes into existence because no individual is self sufficing, we all have many needs”6. The state exists for the service of needs of men. In other words, “men are not independent of one another,
but needs the aid and cooperation of others in the production of necessaries of life”7. He divided the citizens of the state into three classes, namely: the guardians who are the rulers, the auxiliaries who are the soldiers of the state, and the common people who provide the material needs of the state.
Aristotle also in the ancient period stated that the state is natural to man. As he is quoted by Stumpf, “it is evident that the state is a creature of nature and that man is by nature a political animal”8. This made him to state that “he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god”9. The state for him exists for an end, and this end is the supreme good of man. This means that, “the state comes into existence for the bare end of life, but it continues in existence for the sake of good life….”10
Thomas Aquinas in the medieval era viewed the state as a natural society, which has at its disposal the necessary means for attaining its end, which is the common good of the people. For him “… the government of the state is instituted to secure the necessary conditions of the common good”11. This means that,
The state’s function is to secure that common good by keeping the peace, organizing the activities of the citizens in harmonious pursuit, providing for the resources to sustain life, and preventing as far as possible, obstacles to the good of life”12.
Hooker a renaissance period thinker whose teaching had much influence on John Locke, viewed the emergence of the state as a natural inclination in man to live in society, and this is only achieved by common agreement of the individuals involved. This according to Copleston means that “the establishment of civil government thus rests upon consent, without which there was no reason that one man should take upon him to lord or judge over another”13.
Furthermore, in the modern era, Hobbes according to M. Sibley in his book, Political Ideas and Ideologies, viewed the emergence of the civil state as,
When men contract with one another to leave the state of nature, they then enter civil society where the equality of nature gives way to subordination to the ruler14.
For Hobbes the sovereign is not a party to the contract, he only accepts his power from the contractors and he is absolutely free to act in any way he sees fit, subject only to the primary law of nature that he preserves himself.
Rousseau, another philosopher of modern period, viewed that in the civil state each person gives up his natural liberty in order to gain civil liberty in common with others under the supreme direction of the general will. Rousseau’s own view of the civil state according to M. Sibley, is that, “a legitimate civil state… implies that men have given up their natural freedom and have exchanged for it a civilized freedom broader and more certain than that which they previously enjoyed”15.
Finally, the foregoing is the concise conceptions of philosophers on the civil state. With these in mind, it is proper to examine John Locke’s exposition of this topic.
1 J. Locke, The Second Treatise of Government, ed. T. Peardon (New York: Oxford Library of Arts Press, 1965), P.50.
3 A. Appadorai, The substance of politics(India: Oxford University Press, 1960), p. 137.
 R. Maclver quoted in A. Appadorai, Op. Cit., p. 50
5 Herbert Spencer quoted in A. Appadorai, p. 50.
6 Plato quoted in S. Stumpf, Philosophy: History and Problems (USA: McGraw Hill Inc, 1994), p. 70.
7 F. Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. 1 (London: Continuum Books, 2003), p. 225.
8 Aristotle quoted in S. Stumpf, Op. Cit., p. 103.
10 F. Copleston, Vol. 1, op. cit, p. 351.
11 F. Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. 2 (London: Continuum Books, 2003), p. 415.
12 S. Stumpf Op. Cit., p. 193.
13 F. Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. 3 (London: Continuum Books, 2003), p. 323.
14 M. Sibley, Political Ideas and Ideologies (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1970), p. 351.