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When to Cut the King’s Head Off - The Public Good and the Oversight Power in Locke's Theory of Civic Systems

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posted on 2023-09-01, 04:39 authored by Jonathan Sloan

This paper examines Locke’s approach to the enduring power of the people to oversee the actions of their governors once civic society has been formed. In escaping the states of nature and war by forming society, the people exercise their constituent power to determine political legitimacy by vesting authority in governors. This vesting forms a fiduciary relationship between governors and the people, placing fiduciary obligations on the former to only seek the public good. It is the findings of this research that this fiduciary bond exemplifies the continued supremacy of the natural law once civic society has been formed, with the people as conduits between it and the authority of governors. In examining the substance of the public good, this research concludes that it is defined by the purposes for which society was formed. These are, the capacity of governors to exercise authority in accordance with the people’s collective political will whilst defending their natural rights, and the measure to which the people’s lives are improved above what was experienced in the state of nature. This paper finds there are practical definitions of violating the public good: illegality of ruling, subverting the motivations of government, governors seeking their own private good, and violating national security. Finally, it finds that if the public good is violated, the people retain their right to oversee their government by reasserting their constituent power to strip governors of their authority and redistribute it. In a case of a resurgence of a state of war, they have a right to violent resistance.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. Forming Civic Society Through Consent -- Chapter 3. Public Good as the Reason For Government -- Chapter 4. A Practical Conception of the Public Good -- Chapter 5. The Oversight Power -- Chapter 6. Conclusion

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


Master of Research

Department, Centre or School

Macquarie Law School

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Carlos Bernal-Pulido


Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer:




78 pages

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