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Arbitrary RuleSlavery, Tyranny, and the Power of Life and Death$
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Mary Nyquist

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780226015538

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226015675.001.0001

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Locke’s “Of Slavery,” Despotical Power, and Tyranny

Locke’s “Of Slavery,” Despotical Power, and Tyranny

(p.326) CHAPTER TEN Locke’s “Of Slavery,” Despotical Power, and Tyranny
Arbitrary Rule

Mary Nyquist

University of Chicago Press

This chapter focuses on the interpretative challenges of “Of Slavery,” which have been disastrously compounded by a failure to appreciate the distinction Locke draws in Two Treatises between tyrannous and despotical rule. In his chapter “Of Tyranny,” Locke defines tyranny in conventional, antityranny terms, that is, as the ruler's irresponsible substitution of private for public ends. Because it consists in an abuse of the power by which citizens have consented to be governed, tyranny appears only within civil society, where it involves violation of the law. Using conventional antityranny discourse, Locke represents those oppressed by tyranny as political slaves. In the same disparaging, satiric vein with which he opens the Two Treatises, he attacks apologists for royal absolutism as “those Egyptian Under-Taskmasters,” who “whilst it seem'd to serve their turn, resolv'd all Government into absolute Tyranny, and would have all Men born to, what their mean Souls fitted them for, Slavery.”

Keywords:   interpretative challenges, of slavery, locke, two treatises, despotical rule, tyranny, civil society, political slaves, apologists, royal absolutism

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