This condition, to a greater extent than the first, shows that Locke would support the civil rights movement. For example, the “Jim Crow” laws that subordinated the African Americans illustrate an unlawful intrusion into natural rights; therefore, the African Americans have the right to resist these laws. This second condition is the crux of Locke’s theoretical support of the civil rights movement. In order to understand Locke’s argument in its entirety, we must first examine the limitations he puts on resisting government. Locke realizes that the right to resist a government may follow a slippery slope, leading a person to oppose a government because it causes minor grievances for him. He states that this unsubstantiated opposition creates “anarchy and confusion” (401).
Moreover, anyone who resists the government, except in cases of unjust and unlawful force, deserves a “just condemnation both from God and man” (402). Locke presents three cases in which the citizens do not have the right to dissolve or to resist the government. First, if the prince, or chief executive, of a country is sacred according to the laws, like the absolute monarch in France, then he is secure from all of the harm and violence of resistance. This ruler is the figurehead and the symbol of his country’s stability. In such cases, the preservation of this divine ruler, despite the suffering of a few private men, is better for the country’s well-being than civil disobedience (402). Second, Locke argues that the citizens do not have the right to resist the government if the injured party can improve his condition through an appeal to the law.
If the hostile force does not threaten the life of the oppressed citizen, then he must allow the law to act and to seek justice and not take matters into his own hands (403). To illustrate this point, Locke uses the example of an armed thief who demands money from an innocent man. If the thief does not threaten the innocent man’s life and only demands money, then the innocent man must appeal to the law for retribution (403-404). However, Locke says that a hostile force that endangers the life of the oppressed citizen leads to a state of war, in which the citizen can resist and defend himself against this force (404). This distinction between hostile force that endangers life and hostile force that does not endanger life is important, because it shows the line that Locke draws between just and unjust resistance. The third case that Locke presents to limit government resistance is the unwillingness of an oppressed minority or group of men to unite in opposition to the government.
Locke believes that people are by nature politically passive and reluctant to overthrow political systems. He says that the oppressed few do not have the force or the sheer numbers to “disturb the government” and to resist effectively the well-settled state (404). The minority has the impossible task of opposing the government without the support of the public, which lacks any interest in resisting the government. Locke states that the oppression of a small number of people does not justify government resistance because the majority of the public does not support this cause and the task of dissolving the government is nearly impossible (404). Based on this third case, one might present the objection that Locke would not support the civil rights movement because minority groups, such as the .