M. N. Roy Jawaharlal Nehru



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  1. chologist and a student of ethics. For a moment, it may be admitted that our knowledge regarding the constant qualities, which Locke called 'primary' qualities, of an object may be alike, but our experi­ence in the form of an inner sensation or feeling cannot be the same. And it is here that Locke introduced his ethical doctrines with which his later political ideas are closely connected.

  2. Locke's Ethical Docrrinos

  3. Locke's ethical doctrines are interesting, partly on their own account, partly as an anticipation of Bentham. Like Bentham, Locke was a man filled with kindly feeling, who yet held that everybody (including himself) must always be moved, in action, solely by desire for his own happiness or pleasure. A few quotations will clarify this point:

  4. "Things are good or evil only in relation to pleasure or pain. That we call 'good' which is apt to cause or increase pleasure, or diminish pain, in us."

  5. "What is it moves desire ? I answer, happiness, and that alone."

  6. "Happiness, in its full extent, is the utmost pleasure we are capa­ble of."

  7. "The necessity of pursuing true happiness (is) the foundation of all liberty."

  8. "The preference of vice to virtue (is) a manifest wrong judge­ment."

  9. "The government of our passions (is) the right improvement of liberty."3

  10. Locke states that liberty depends upon the necessity of pursuing true happiness and upon the government of our passions. This opinion he derived from his doctrine that private and public interests are identical in the long run, though not necessarily over short periods. It follows from this doctrine that, given a community of citizens who are all both pious and prudent, they will all act, given liberty, in a manner to promote the general good. There will be no need of human laws to restrain them, since divine laws will suffice. The hitherto virtuous man who is tempted to become a highway­man will say to himself: "I might escape the human magistrate, but I could not escape punishment at the hands of the Divine Magistrate." He will accordingly renounce his nefarious schemes, and live as vir­tuously as if be were sure of being caught by the police. Legal liberty, therefore, is only completely possible where both prudence and piety are universal ; elsewhere, "the restraints imposed by the i criminal law 3re indispensable." Locke repeatedly stated that morals, like mathematics, is a demonstrable science, subject to ascertainable,

  11. 3 Refer to Book II, Chap. XX.



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  1. universal laws, but he did not develop this idea so fully as could be wished.

  2. Further, Locke attempted to tell us what these universal laws are. They are the Divine Law and the Natural Law. The Divine Law is God's will for man's behaviour, which is made available to man both by divine relation and by the use of his own reason, and which is, above all, to be looked for in the New Testament. The Natural Law is also an eternal law, the criterion of good and evil, discoverable by reasoning and commanding men to carry out the will of God.

  3. It is typical of the very contradictory nature of his theory of morals that, having said that men are incapable of desiring anything but pleasure, he maintained that they ought to act so as to produce the greatest amount of public or general happiness, and contended that criterion of the goodness and the badness of their actions is their result expressed in terms of public happiness.

  4. Conception of Human Nature

  5. It must be admitted that Locke's view of human nature is not so profound and as consistent as that of Hobbes. However, his pro­blem is very much the same as that of Hobbes. Why do such men as his wish to form civil society, and how can they do so ? Locke's answer to that problem appears to be very different from Hobbes's. It is essentially a justification, though written before the event, of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. a revolution which Hobbes would have regarded as anarchic and deplorable in the extreme. And with a view to putting forward his answer to that question and advancing his justification of the Revolution, Locke made use, as did Hobbes and so many other thinkers of that 17th century to which the feudal contract was still a lively memory and the commercial contract com­paratively new and very appealing, of the state of nature and of the social contract as devices which helped him to clarify his ideas.


    1. 4 Laski, H. J. : Political Thought in England (Oxford University Press, Great Britain, Reprint 1955), p. 29.

    Locke's two Treatises on Civil Government are different both ia object and in value. "The first is a detailed and tiresome response to the historic imagination of Sir Robert Filmer.'" It is a reply, in other words, to Sir Robert Filmer's Patriarcha : Or The Natural Power of Kings, which is published in 1680, but written under Charles I. The king, according to Filmer, is perfectly free from all human control, and cannot be bound by the acts of his predecessors, or even by his own, for "impossible it is in nature that a man should give a law unto himself." Patriarcha begins by combating the "common opinion" that "mankind is naturally endowed and bora with freedom from all subjection, and at liberty to choose what form of govern­ment it please, and the power wnich any one man hath over others



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  1. was first bestowed according to the discretion of the multitude.'* "This tenet," he writes, "was first hatched in the schools." But the truth, according to Filmer, is quite different. It is, that originally God bestowed the kingly power upon Adam, from whom it descend­ed to his heirs, and ultimately reached the various monarchs of modern times. Kings now, he advances his arguments in his Patriarcha, "either are, or are to be reputed, the next heirs to those first progenitors who were at first the natural parents of the whole people." Our first parent, it seems, did not adequately appreciate his privilege as universal monarch, for 'the desire of liberty was the first cause of the fall of Adam." The desire of liberty is a sentiment which Sir Robert Filmer regarded as impious. According to him, political power derives, not from any contract, nor yet from any consideration of the public good, but entirely from the authority of a father over his children. His view was : that the source of regal authority is subjection of children to parents ; that the patriarchs in Genesis were monarchs ; that kings are the heirs of Adam, or at least are to be regarded as such ; that the natural rights of a king are the same as those of a father ; and that, by nature, some are never free of paternal power, even when the son is adult and the parent is in his dotage.

  2. Locke's first Treatise on Civil Government was written to disapprove the doctrine of royal prerogative based upon the divine right. It followed the method of Sydney in refuting point by point the argu­ments of Filmer's Patriarcha. Locke pointed out that, if parental power is what is concerned, the mother's power should be equal to the father's. He laid stress on the injustice of primogeniture, which is unavoidable if inheritance is to be the basis of monarchy. He showed the absurdity of supposing that actual monarchs are, in any real sense, the heirs of Adam. Adam can have only one heir, but no one knows who he is. Would Filmer maintain, he asked, that, if the true heir could be discovered, all existing monarchs should lay their crowns at his feet ? If Filmer's basis for monarchy were accepted, all kings, except at most one, would be usurpers, and would have no right to demand the obedience of their de facto subjects. Moreover, parental power, he stated, is temporary, and extends not to life or property. In fact, we appreciate the point of view of Locke and feel that in near future Patriarcha w'll appear as fantastic as Filmer seems now.

  3. The State of Nature and the Natural Law

  4. Locke's second Treatise on Civil Government is a comprehensive and systematic discussion of the origin, nature and province of government. He acknowledged his indebtedness to Hooker, from whom he derived his main ideas. He agreed with Hobbes in his individualistic point of view and in his dependence upon the social contract theory, but he rejected almost every premise of Hobbes's



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  1. philosophy. To Hobbes the State of Nature which precedes political organization had been a state of war. Neither peace nor reason could prevail where every man was his neighbour's enemy : and the estab­lishment of absolute power, with the consequent surrender by men of all their natural liberties, was the only means of escape from so brutal a regime. Locke denied such a state of affairs in the State of Nature, although he, like Hobbes, considered 'State of Nature' antecede nt to all human government. In this state, according to Locke, there is a 'law of nature', but the law of nature consists of divine commands, and is not imposed by any human legislator. It is not clear how far the State of Nature was, for Locke, a mere illus­trative hypothesis, and how far he supposed it to have had a historical existence ; but it is quite clear that he tended to think of it as a stage that had actually occurred. Men emerged from the State of Nature by means of a social contract which instituted civil govern­ment. This also he regarded as more or less historical. But for the moment it is the State of Nature that concerns us.

  2. What Locke had to state about the State of Nature and the Law of Nature is, in the main, not original, but a repetition of medieval scholastic doctrines. St. Thomas Aquinas said :

  3. "Every law framed by man bears the character of a law exactly to that extent to which it is derived from the law of nature. But if on any point it is in conflict with the law of nature, it at once ceases to be law ; it is a mere perversion of law."5

  4. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Law of Nature was held to condemn 'usury', i.e., lending money at interest. Church property was almost entirely in land, and landowners have always been bor­rowers rather than lenders. But when Protestantism arose, its support —especially the support of Calvinism—came chiefly from the rich middle class, who were lenders rather than borrowers. Accordingly, first Calvin, then other Protestants, and finally the Catholic Church, sanctioned 'usury'. Thus, Natural Law came to be differently con­ceived, but no one doubted there being such a thing.

  5. Many doctrines which survived the belief in Natural Law owe their origin to it; for example, laissez-faire and the right of man. These doctrines are connected, and both have their origins in purita-nism. Two quotations given by Tawney will be sufficient to illustrate this. A committee of the House of Commons in 1604 stated :

  6. "All free subjects are born inheritable, as to their land, and also as to the free exercise of their industry, in those trades whereto they apply themselves and whereby they are to live."

  7. And in 1636 Joseph Lee wrote :


    1. 5 Quoted by Tawney in Religion and the Rise of Capitalism,

    "It is an undeniable maxim that every one by the light of nature and reason will do that which makes for bis greatest advantage. . . .



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  1. The advancement of private persons will be the advantage of the public."8

  2. Thus Locke, in theory of Government, resembles most of the men who have won fame for their ideas, and in this there is little that is original. As a rule, the man who first thinks of a new idea is so much ahead of his time that everyone thinks him silly, so that he remains obscure and is soon forgotten. Then, gradually, the world becomes ready for the idea, and the man who proclaims it at the fortunate moment gets all the credit. So it was, for example, with Darwin ; poor Lord Monboddo was a laughing-stock.

  3. In regard to the State of Nature, Locke was less logical than Hobbes, who regarded it as one in which there was war of all against all, and life was nasty, brutish and short. But Hobbes was reputed an atheist. Locke considered the State of Nature a happy state in which the conduct of men was governed by a body of rules. The belief in a happy State of Nature in the remote past is derived partly from the Biblical narrative of the age of the patriarchs, partly from the classical myth of the golden age. The general belief in the bad­ness of the remote past only came with the doctrines of evolution. Locke defined the State of Nature in the following words :

  4. "Men living together according^ to reason, without a common Superior on earth, with authority to judge between them, is properly the state of nature.

  5. "The State of Nature has a Law of Nature to govern it, which obliges everyone, and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions ; for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker ; all the*servants of one Sovereign Master, sent into the world by His order and about His business ; they are His property, Whose workmanship they are made to last during His, not one another's, pleasure.


    1. 7 Locke : Civil Government, Book II, Chap. II.

    "And that all men may be restrained from invading others' rights, and from doing hurt to one another, and the Law of Nature be observed, which willeth the peace and preservation of all mankind, the execution of the Law of Nature is in that state put into every man's hands, whereby everyone has a right to punish the transgres­sors of that law to such a degree as may hinder its violation."7 Such a description, unlike Hobbes's, was of an imagined community of virtuous anarchists, who need no police or law-courts because they always obey 'reason', which is the same as 'natural law', which in turn, consists of those laws of conduct that are held to have a divine origin. (For example, 'Thou shalt not kill' is part of natural law,



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  1. but the rule of the road is not.) Its arbiter is reason and, in the natural state, reason shows us that men are equal. From this quality are born men's natural rights which Locke, like the Independents in the Puritan revolution, identifies with life, liberty and property.

  2. Obviously enough, for Locke, the instinct of self-preservation was, as Hobbes had also granted, the deepest of all human impulses. By Liberty, Locke meant the right of the individual to follow his own bent. Law, in such an aspect, is clearly a means to the realization of freedom in the same way that the rule of the road will, by its com­mon acceptance, save its observers from accident. It promotes the initiative of men by defining in terms which by their very statement obtain acknowledgement of the conditions upon which individual caprice may have its play. The conception of the right to property Locke derived from some sort of primitive anarchism in which a man was supposed to defend his property (by every possible means) with which he had associated his labour, or from a primitive communism which became transmuted into individual ownership whenever he mingled his labour with some object. This labour theory of owner­ship lived, it may be stated, to become, in the hands of Hodgskin and Thompson, the parent of modern socialism.

  3. Locke's Conception of the Social Contract

  4. The State of Nature, which Locke described, was thus in con­trast to the argument of Hobbes, pre-eminently social in character. It was one of "peace, goodwill, mutual assistance and preservation." This he defended on the ground that the law of Nature provides a complete equipment of human rights and duties. But such a state of Nature was in no way a civil state. There was no common superior to enforce the law of Nature. Each man protected his own interests as best as he could, and his right to his own and his duty to respect what was another's were as complete as ever they could become under government. But, because the intelligences of men worked differently in the absence of common standard of justice, there was bound to be an inconvenient variety in the conceptions of justice. The result was uncertainty and chaos. It was here that the social contract emerged. But just as Locke's natural state implies a natural man utterly distinct from Hobbes's gloomy picture, so does Locke's social contract repre­sent rather the triumph of reason than of hard necessity. Everything that is ever right or wrong so eternally ; positive law adds nothing to the ethical quality of different kinds of conduct, but merely provides an apparatus for effective enforcement. Against Hobbes, Locke tried to set up the proposition that mora! rights and duties are intrinsic, that morality makes law, and not law morality, and that governments have to give effect to what is naturally right prior to its enactment.

  5. Locke's contract was a contract of each with all, a surrender by the individual of his personal right to fulfil the commands of the law of Nature in return for the guarantee that his rights as Nature ordains



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  1. them—life and liberty and property—would be preserved. The con­tract was, thus, not general as with Hobbes but limited and specific in character. Locke wrote in Book 11: "Men being, as has been said, by nature all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate and subjected to the political power of another without his own consent, which is done by agreeing with other men, to join and unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peace­able living, one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their pro­perties, and a greater security against any that are not of it. This any number of men may do, because it enquires not the freedom of the rest; they are left, as they were, in the liberty of the state of Nature : when any number of men have so consented to make one community or government, they are thereby presently incorporated and make one body politic, wherein the majority have a right to act and conclude the rest."8 As such, it was a contract with the community as a whole which resulted in the establishment of that common political superior —the state—which was supposed to enforce the law of Nature and punish infractions of it.

  2. Locke's View about State and Sovereignty

  3. Locke's state, thus, is not a sovereign state : the very word 'sovereignty' does not occur throughout the treatise, the state has power only for the protection of natural law. Its province ends when it passes beyond those boundaries. The power given up was not vested in a single man or organ but in the community as a whole. Even the sovereignty of the political community or state is not abso­lute, it having only the power to protect natural law. Such a con­tract involved the necessity of majority rule. Each man surrendered to community his right to execute natural law ; hence the minority must be bound by the will of the majority, who might use force if necessary. The consent of individuals to membership in the political community might be expressed or tacit. Thus, the effect of the original contract was made binding upon the descendants of its founders However, the government, he held, remains responsible to the people ; its power is limited both by moral law and by the cons­titutional traditions and conventions inherent in the history of the realm. Government is indispensable and its right is therefore in a sense indefeasible, but it is also derivative in the sense that it exists for the well-being of the nation.* Both government and society exist to preserve the individual's rights, and the indefeasibility of such rights is a limitation on the authority of both.


    1. Locke : Civil Government, Book II, Chap. VIII.

    2. Refer to Locke's Civil Government, Book II, Chap. DC.

    Locke regarded the original contract as the first step to the drawing up of a trust. People, having formed a society, must then institute a government. They i j not do this by making a contract



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  1. with the Government—that, as Rousseau was so clearly to point out, would be to invest government with too much dignity and authority. Men do this by drawing up a trust which creates government as "only a fiduciary power to act for certain ends." If there is a mis­carriage of power by those in authority, the government will be dis­solved and the power will revert to the society. Locke concluded his Treatise on Civil Government with the following remark :

  2. "The power that every individual gave the society when He entered into it can never revert to the individuals again, as long as the society lasts, but will always remain in the community : because without this there can be no community, no commonwealth, which is contrary to the original agreement, so also when the society hath placed the legislative in any assembly of men, to continue in thera and their successors, with direction and authority for providing such successors, the legislative can never revert to the people whilst that government lasts ; because, having provided a legislative with power to continue for ever, they have given up their political power to the legislative, and cannot resume it. But if they have set limits to the duration of their legislative, and made this supreme power in any person or assembly only temporary : or else, when by the miscarri­ages of those in authority, it is forfeited ; upon the forfeiture of their rules, or at the determination of the time set, it reverts to the society, and the people have a right to act as supreme, and continue the legislative in themselves or place it in a new form, or new hands, as they think good."53 His Individualism

  3. Locke is regarded as a thorough-going individualist because he placed his individual before his state. He based his whole theory of the state on consent. The contract of obedience must be free or else, as Hooker had previously insisted, it is not a contract Yet Locke urged that the primitive members of a state are bound to its per­petuation simply because, unless the majority had power to enforce obedience, government, in any satisfactory sense, would be impos­sible. He believed that consent to form a political society implies acceptance by everyone of the rule of majority because unanimity of will and opinion is rare and individual wills or minority wills cannot reassert themselves without reversion to the State of Nature.

  4. Locke recognized, though he did not explicitly describe its nature, the distinction between state and government. Indeed, at times he approximated a secondary contract (worked out more clearly by his great German contemporary, Pufendorf) by which government was created after establishment of civil society. The distinction is made in the light of what is to follow. For Locke "was above all anxious to leave supreme power in a community whose single will, as mani-



  1. john lockb

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  1. fested by majority verdict, could not be challenged by any lesser organ than itself."54 Government there must be if political society is to endure ; but its form and substance are dependent upon popular institution. And his 'right to revolution', a development of the earlier theory of resistance, became one of the most influential partr of his doctrine. A government which begins in force can be justified, as all governments are justified, only by its recognition and support of the moral rights inherent in persons and commodities. In other words, the moral order is permanent and self-perpetuating, and governments are only factors in the moral order.

  2. Classification of Government

  3. Locke followed the great Aristotelian tradition in dividing govern­ments into monarchies, aristocracies and democracies, considering the location of legislative authority as the fundamental test. The executive and the judiciary he viewed as clearly dependent upon the law-making body. He, anyhow, did not develop explicitly the i theory of separation of powers. He was willing to have a king if the king were divested of his law-making power and if his right to rule were acknowledged to depend upon popular consent. It does not mean that Locke completely disliked kingship. His Letters show that he disliked the Cromwellian system and the republicanism which Harrington and Milton had based upon it. He was ready to have a kingship provided it fulfilled the condition, mentioned above. Al­though admitting that monarchy, from its likeness to the family, is the most primitive type of government, he denied Hobbes's assertion that it is the best. It seems, in his view, to degenerate always into the hands of lesser men who betray the contract they were appointed to observe. In the same way, he did not consider aristocracy much better off since it emphasizes generally the interest of a group against the superior interest of the community as a whole. According to him, democracy alone proffers adequate safeguards of an enduring good rule ; a democracy, that is to say, which is in the hands of delegates controlled by popular election. He further said that although, m a democracy, the legislature is the most supreme organ of the govern­ment, it must be removable by the community. It is implied that, like the English House of Commons, the legislative is to be elected from time to time by popular vote. The condition that the legisla­tive is to be removable by the people, if taken seriously, condemns the part allowed by the British Constitution in Locke's day (also today) to King and Lords as part of legislative power. In all well-framed governments, Locke said, the legislative and executive are separate. (It is surprising that Locke said nothing about the judi­ciary.) The question, therefore, arises : What is to be done when



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  1. they conflict ? If the Executive fails to summon the legislative at the proper times, we are told, the Executive is at war with the people, and may be removed by force. This is obviously a view suggested by what happened under Charles I. From 1628 to 1640 he tried to govern without Parliament; this sort of thing, Locke felt, must be prevented by civii war if necessary.

  2. Further, the question of the rights of the individual as against the government, is a very difficult one. It is too readily assumed by democrats that, when the government represents the majority, it has a right to coerce the minority. Up to a point, this may be consider­ed true, since coercion is the essence of every government. But this sort of divine right of majorities, if pressed too far, may become almost as tyrannical as the divine right of kings. Locke said little on this subject in his Essays on Government, but considered it at some length in his Letters on Toleration, where he argued that no believer in God should be penalized on account of his religious opinions. He argued that the state should deal only with the preservation of social order, not with the souls of men. He regarded the Church as a voluntary society, without the right of coercion ; and he favoured toleration in religion. The state, he argued, should suppress opinions only when they are subversive of public peace. But he was against Catholics, Mohammedans and atheists. He argued that Catholics owed allegiance to a foreign power; Mohammedans' morals were incompatible with English civilization ; and atheists lacked a sanc­tion for good conduct. This shows that his conception of toleration in religion was limited and biased. The same defect appears in his theory of popular consent. As soon as he accepted the right of the majority to coerce the minority, no matter half-heartedly oi whole- "^eartedSy, or either for the perpetuation of civil society or in the public interest, he paved the way for the tyrannical rule of majo­rities. There is no guarantee that the choice of the majority is al­ways good and pious and in the interest of the community as a whole, while the minority is always wrong and its every action threatens the very basis of civil society. Locke's silence on this puzzling but important subject makes his individualism or his theory of popular consent as ambiguous and idealistic as that of Green in the nineteenth century.

  3. Comparison between Hobbes and Locke

  4. Here, it may be admitted that Locke's theory is superior to Hobbes's. He, starting with the stale of Nature, created a limited government, while Hobbes concluded in favour of an absolute and irresponsible sovereignty. Locke firmly believed that the political community, which holds the real power, delegates its power to the government, reserving the right to overthrow the latter if necessary, whereas the sovereignty of Hobbes was absolute and inalienable. Also, Locke expressly gave the right of revolution to the people,



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  1. which Hobbes denied and considered as unlawful. Locke saw that vigilance is the sister of liberty, where Hobbes dismissed the one as faction and the other as disorder. At every point, that is to say, where Hobbes and Locke are at variance, the future has been on Locke's side. Although he might not have defended his cause so splendidly as his rival (Hobbes), it is at least admitted by most that he had a more splendid cause to defend.

  2. Locke was the true progenitor of Benthamism, and his work can hardly be understood, save in this context. Just as in his ethical inquiries it was always the happiness of the individual that he sought, so in his politics it was the happiness of the subject he had in view. "That which is for the public welfare," he said, "is God's will" ; and therein we find the root of that utilitarianism which, as Maine pointed out, is the real parent of all nineteenth-century change. And with Locke, as with the Benthamites, his clear sense of what utilita­rianism demanded led to an over-emphasis on human rationalism. No one can read the second Treatise without perceiving that Locke looked upon the state as a machine, which can be built and taken to pieces in a very simple fashion. Herein, undoubtedly, he, to quote Laski, "over-simplified the problem ; and that made him miss some of the cardinal points, a true psychology of the state must seize. His very contractualism, indeed, is part of this affection for the rational. It resulted in his failure to perceive how complex is the mass of motives embedded in the political act. The significance of hard instinct and the vast primitive deeps of the unconscious were alike hidden from him."1' This is a defect which we note in his writings but excusable. For it needed the demonstration by Darwin of the kinship of man and beast for us to see the real substance of Aristotle's vision that man is embedded in political society.


    1. 12 Laski, H. J. : Political Thought in England, p. 47.

    Locke's political philosophy proved, on the whole, quite ade­quate and useful until the industrial revolution. Since then, it has been increasingly difficult to tackle the important problems. The power of property, as embodied in vast corporations, grew beyond anything imagined by Locke. The necessary functions of the state —for example, in education—increased enormously. Nationalism brought about an alliance, sometimes an amalgamation, of economic and political power, making war the principal means of competition. The single separate citizen has no longer the power and independence that he had in Locke's speculations. Our age is one of organization, and its conflicts are between organizations, not between separate individuals. The state of Nature, as Locke stated, still exists as between states. A new international Social Contract is indispens­able before we can properly enjoy the promised benefits of govern-
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