Locke on paternal government

Locke theorized that at its core all human government lies rooted in paternalism. That is to say, to which ever extent a government feels compelled to justify its existence, it does so via the father-child relationship.

As a god fearing protestant whose entire philosophy centered around inherent human rights, Locke struggled with juggling his hatred of government with his admiration for the Biblical hierarchy of family. He believed, regardless of its collective nature, that a government should be viewed as an individual and subject to natural law. That notion created the following problem:

If governmental control is immoral due to one man’s lack of right to forcefully compel another, then a parent’s control over the actions of a child must also be immoral.

This concept challenges everything from child labor to age of consent laws. The currently accepted norm is that a society can collectively decide at what age a citizen is capable of making their own decisions, and in turn due rights. But does the right to remove life, liberty or property from anyone, at any age, fall under the umbrella of government? More importantly, does it even extent to parents? Does a 6 year old have the right to property ownership, or do his shoes belong to whomever provided them? A 10 year old clearly lacks the right to pursue his own liberty, as he’s legally linked to his parents for the first quarter of his life.

We so often make powerful statements, such as those contained within our bill of rights, only to backtrack towards something more socially acceptable. Progress is often the result of swallowing a tough pill, and they don’t come much tougher than parental rights.


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