essay topic -- the right of self defense/war belonging to an individual, even while participating in civil society --
of the state of war
book 2, treatises of government, john lock, paragraphs 16 - 21
16. the state of war is a state of enmity and destruction; and, therefore, declaring by word or action, not a passionate and hasty, but a sedate, settled design upon another man’s life, puts him in a state of war with him against who he has declared such an intention, and so has exposed his life to the other’s power to be taken away by him, or anyone that joins with him in his defence and espouses his quarrel; it being reasonable and just i should have a right to destroy that which threatens me with destruction; for, by the fundamental law of nature, man being to be preserved as much as possible when all cannot be preserved, the safety of the innocent is to be preferred; and one may destroy a man who makes war upon him, or has discovered an enmity to his being, for the same reason that he may kill a wolf or a lion, because such men are not under the ties of the common law of reason, have no other rule but that of force and violence, and so may be treated as bests of prey, those dangerous and noxious creatures that will be sure to destroy him whenever he falls into their power.
17. 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; for i have reason to conclude that he who would get me into his power without my consent would use me as he pleased when he got me there, and destroy me, too, when he had a fancy to it; for nobody can desire to have me in his absolute power unless it be to compel me by force to that which is against the right of my freedom, i.e., make me a slave. to be free from such force is the only security of my preservation; and reason bids me look on him as an enemy to my preservation who would take away that freedom which is the fence to it; so that he who makes an attempt to enslave me thereby puts himself into a state of war with me. 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 design to taken away everything else, that freedom being the 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 everything else, and so be looked on as in a state of war.
18. …. i have no reason to suppose that he who would take away my liberty would not, when he had me in his power, take away everything else. and therefore it is lawful for me to treat him as one who has put himself into a state of war with me, i.e., kill him if i can; for to that hazard does he justly expose himself whoever introduces a state of war and is aggressor in it.
19. and here we have the plain difference between the state of nature and the state of war which, however some men have confounded, are as far distant as a state of peace, good-will, mutual assistance, and preservation, and a state of enmity, malice, violence, and mutual destruction are one from another. 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, though he be in society and a fellow-subject. thus a thief, whom I cannot harm but by appeal to the law for having stolen all that I am worth, I may kill when he sets on me to rob me but of my horse or coat; because the law, which was made for my preservation, where it cannot interpose to secure my life from present force, which, if lost, is capable of no reparation, permits me my own defence and the right of war, a liberty to kill the aggressor, because the aggressor allows not time to appeal to our common judge; nor the decision of the law, for remedy in a case where the mischief may be irreparable. want of a common judge with authority puts all men in a state of nature; force without right upon a man’s person makes a state of war both where there is, and is not, a common judge.
20. but when the actual force is over, the state of war ceases between those that are in society , and are equally on both sides subjected to the fair determination of the law; because then there lies open the remedy of appeal for the past injury and to prevent future harm. but where no such appeal is, as in the state of nature, for want of positive laws and judges with authority to appeal to, the state of war once begun continues with a right to the innocent party to destroy the other whenever he can, until the aggressor offers peace and desires reconciliation on such terms as may repair any wrongs he has already done, and secure the innocent for the future: nay, where an appeal to the law and constituted judges lies open, but when the remedy is denied by a manifest perverting of justice and a barefaced wresting of the laws to protect or indemnify the violence or injures of some men, or party of men, there it is hard to imagine anything but a state 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 unbiased 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 ins such cases -- an appeal to heaven.
21. to avoid this state of war -- wherein there is no appeal but to heaven, and wherein every the least difference is apt to end, where there is no authority to decide to the contenders -- is one great reason of men’s putting themselves into society and quitting the state of nature; for where there is an authority, a power on earth from which relief can be had by appeal, there the continuance of the state of war is excluded, and the controversy is decided by that power. had there been any such court, any superior jurisdiction on earth, to determine the right between jephthah and the ammonites, they had never come to a state of war; but we see he was forced to appeal to heaven: “the lord the judge,” says he, “be judge this day between the children of israel and the children of ammon” (judges xi. 27.), and then prosecuting and relying on his appeal, he leads his army out to battle. and, therefore, in such controversies where the question is put, “who shall be judge?” it cannot be meant, “who shall decide the controversy”; everyone knows what jephthah here tells us, that “the lord the judge” shall judge. where there is no judge on earth, the appeal lies to god in heaven. [e.g., trial by combat: jjjay.] that question then cannot mean: who shall judge whether another hath put himself in a state of war with me, and whether I may, as jephthath did, appeal to heaven in it? of that I myself can only be judge in my own conscience, as I will answer it at the great day to the supreme judge of all men.
-- john locke