Locke: Reason and Revelation Disfavor the Rule of One

Daily Dabble in the Classics, John Locke

IT may perhaps be censured an impertinent criticism in a discourse of this nature to find fault with words and names that have obtained in the world. And yet possibly it may not be amiss to offer new ones when the old are apt to lead men into mistakes, as this of paternal power probably has done, which seems so to place the power of parents over their children wholly in the father, as if the mother had no share in it; whereas if we consult reason or revelation, we shall find she has an equal title, which may give one reason to ask whether this might not be more properly called parental power? For whatever obligation Nature and the right of generation lays on children, it must certainly bind them equal to both the concurrent causes of it. And accordingly we see the positive law of God everywhere joins them together without distinction, when it commands the obedience of children: “Honour thy father and thy mother” (Exod. 20. 12); “Whosoever curseth his father or his mother” (Lev. 20. 9); “Ye shall fear every man his mother and his father” (Lev. 19. 3); “Children, obey your parents” (Eph. 6. 1), etc., is the style of the Old and New Testament.

Had but this one thing been well considered without looking any deeper into the matter, it might perhaps have kept men from running into those gross mistakes they have made about this power of parents, which however it might without any great harshness bear the name of absolute dominion and regal authority, when under the title of “paternal” power, it seemed appropriated to the father; would yet have sounded but oddly, and in the very name shown the absurdity, if this supposed absolute power over children had been called parental, and thereby discovered that it belonged to the mother too. For it will but very ill serve the turn of those men who contend so much for the absolute power and authority of the fatherhood, as they call it, that the mother should have any share in it. And it would have but ill supported the monarchy they contend for, when by the very name it appeared that that fundamental authority from whence they would derive their government of a single person only was not placed in one, but two persons jointly.


Source: John Locke, “Second Treatise on Government,” Ch. 6. Read more from John Locke in The Moral Liberal and The Center for Applied Philosophy’s joint project, The Radical Academy.