Front Page Titles (by Subject) Natural Law and State of Nature - Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4
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Natural Law and State of Nature - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Natural Law and State of Nature
“On Locke's State of Nature.” Political Studies (UK), 26 (1978): 78–90.
John Locke's Two Treatises of Civil Government unfold five distinct usages or phases of the “state of nature” and reveal natural law as the motive force behind each phase. (1) The unifying core idea behind the state of nature is the stateless, autonomous condition in which humans lack an authoritative, common, human superior and are free and equal: “Men living together according to reason, without a common Superior on Earth, with Authority to judge between them, is properly the State of Nature...” (Second Treatise, Section 19). (2) This autonomous condition is the original condition of all human peoples. (3) But it becomes such an inconvenience for some peoples as they develop their social and economic life under the impulse of rational natural law that they leave this state of nature by forming government. (4) Even so, the state of nature still remained as the condition of some peoples, Locke thought, in his own day. (5) The state of nature continues as a constant potential and actual feature of all human communities in respect to the possibility of tyranny, absolute monarchy, revolution, or withdrawal from government.
Moral or legal equality and liberty define the essential elements of the state of nature. Human persons were free and equal, but only if they obeyed the limits of natural law. Otherwise the state of natural liberty would become a state of immoderate license. Political society becomes necessary both because men obey the natural law (creating properties, increasing population, multiplying the occasions for wrong) and because men disobey natural law (violating its tenets by having and declaring wrong intentions). Humans enter civil society by an act of consent, but in so doing they do not always or necessarily escape the state of nature. The state of nature may recur, as in war or revolution. Furthermore, some defective types of political society, chief among which is absolute monarchy, exhibit the characteristics of a state of nature.
Locke's account of the state of nature comprehends an anthropology and a conjectural cultural history. The five phases specified above are all guided by the natural law. Rational natural law leads men out of their primitive original condition to a developed economic and political life. The state of civil society is, for Locke, a contrivance surrounded and threatened by a recurrence of the natural condition, both domestically and internationally. In Locke's day, indeed, some peoples had not achieved the advantages of civil society at all.