Pateman On Locke


For years social contract theorists had monopolized the explanation of modern

society. John Locke was among those who advocated this theory of a collectively

chosen set of circumstances. Carole Pateman, on the other hand rejects many of the

pillars of the social contract and specifically attacks certain aspects of Locke's argument

regarding paternalism and patriarchy. Pateman defends her idea that the individual about

which Locke writes is masculine, instead of the gender-encompassing form of the word

"man." Pateman also argues that Locke denies the individuality of women. Instead of

scrapping his entire work, however, she grants him a couple of concessions, even

acknowledging Locke as anti-patriarchal. If John Locke were around to defend his

theories, he would probably have an opinion about the treatment of his work.

To accurately discuss Pateman's view of Locke's paternal/patriarchal theory, a

working knowledge of the theory itself is necessary. According to Locke "all men by

nature are equal"(Second Treatise: 43) with the exception of children who have not

reached the full state of equality, but must obey their parents. Domestic and political

power is vested in the Father, according to Locke. As he puts it, "the natural fathers of

families, by an insensible change, became the politic monarchs of them too."(Second

Treatise: 42) Locke does not reserve domestic power regarding children solely to the

Father, however. Instead he claims that the mother "hath an equal title."(Second

Treatise: 30) He even defends the rights of children. Locke argues that children have the

same moral rights as any other person, though the child's inadequate mental faculties

make it permissible for his parents to rule over him to a limited degree. "Thus we are

born Free, as we are born Rational; not that we have actually the Exercise of either:



Age that brings one, brings with it the other too." (Second Treatise: 30) Locke does

specify that children are free because of their "father's title," in addition to being

governed by the law of their father. It is less clear in this situation whether Locke is using

the term "father" to include both parents as the "term" man can be interpreted to mean

both sexes. It is likely, based on the tradition of male heredity prevalent during his time,

that Locke literally meant only a Father's legacy affects the children.

With at least a basic background of Locke's views on paternal power, it is

possible to examine a feminist, namely Carole Pateman's, view of the same theories.

Much like the other social contract theorists, Pateman believes that Locke leaves women

out of the picture. In Pateman's eyes Locke excludes women from "participation in the

act that creates civil society."(Sexual Contract: 21) Others have generously argued that

Locke omitted women from the original contract in order to keep from alienating his

(male) audience or, even though they are not mentioned directly, women still "could

have been party to the social contract."(Sexual Contract:21) Pateman believes his

omission was the direct result of Locke's idea of an individual being masculine. When

Locke speaks of man and man's role in the social contract, Pateman takes "man" literally

to mean the male gender instead of as a universal term.

Pateman also concerns herself with Locke's status as a believer in paternal or

parental power. Although Locke stresses the Bible's fifth commandment (Honor thy

father and mother) he does not extend women's equality to other arena's. Instead,

according to Pateman, "the husband still exercises power over his wife, but the power is

less than absolute."(Sexual Contract: 22) It is in this manner that Pateman attributes

male dominated government and politics to a traditional patriarchal system. To quote

Pateman directly:





The genesis of the (patriarchal) family is frequently seen as synonymous with

the origin of social life itself, and the origin of patriarchy and the origin of

society are treated as the same process.(Sexual Contract: 25)

Despite the image depicted here Pateman does grant that Locke appears to be

anti-patriarchal in many of his views.

Locke separates the family from politics. It is through this separation that

Pateman benevolently attributes his anti-patriarchalism. To begin, Locke states that a

man has no more power over his offspring because he conceived them than he earns

through the care for these children. From this it can be drawn that fathers have only the

power of benevolence with which to control the home. Paternal power in the home

must be earned and is forfeited through misuse. Pateman claims that "the separation of

the family from political life had everything to do with Locke's view of

women."(Sexual Contract: 21) Locke also