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Locke on Consent: the Two Treatises as Practical Ethics



Locke's Two Treatises of Government is (primarily) a work of practical (or applied) ethics rather than (as commonly supposed) political philosophy or (as some recent historians have argued) political propaganda. The problem is the oath of allegiance to James II. So interpreting it makes political obligation resemble the special moral obligations of profession rather than the general obligations of morality. Political obligation is the formal moral obligation to law that comes from voluntary participation in law-making (directly or through representatives one helps to choose), a form of express consent. Ordinary moral obligations to law, those arising from considerations of justice, are, in contrast, much the same for ordinary residents as for foreign visitors. This is the domain of tacit consent. The right to organise a political society, including the right to exclude, derives from the natural right of free association.