Without a civil society, all rules of order begin to break down. At this point, there really is no society present. Rather, there is anarchy and an anarchistic society is not one where the populace can be reasonably cared for and protected. John Locke puts forth many assessments in this regard. However, Locke also understands that the current state of society will often play a role in terms of how we react to it. In Richard II, we have a monarchy of a society that fails to be civil in a number of ways. Because of this, action is taken by certain members of the populace.
This does raise questions regarding whether or not the actions of these characters in the play support or undermine the theories of John Locke as they relate to the civil society. A closer examination of the play will reveal answers in this regard. In the play, we see certain callous and decidedly not well thought out actions on the part of Richard II. In the early stages of the play, the king interferes in a dual between Bolingbroke and Mowbray. The former is banished for 6 years as a result of his actions with the latter is banished forever.
This creates great animosity among Mowbray and his followers while also setting the stage for the creation of a serious enemy. Such actions are further compounded when Richard appropriates all the land of John of Gaunt for himself when the character passes away. Are such actions those of a ruler that professes to oversee a civil society? A great many arguments can be made that such actions are hardly noble in their intent and action. At the core of Locke’s writing is that there really is no such thing as a divinity among the kings that rule a particular land.
In other words, kings are not divine beings that can impose their will on the populace in any way they see fit. There are various John Locke, Government, and RICHARD II – Page 2 reasons why Locke promotes such a notion. Firstly, he recognizes that kings are human beings and, hence, fallible as all humans are. This can lead to kings being self-serving as opposed to serving their subjects and the rule of law. When both of these components are ignored, the civil society breaks down. Also, it becomes impossible for proper governance to exist unless deep and serious thought is put forth towards the nature and role of ruling.
So, when a king puts forth the attitude that all things are good because of his divine will, society runs the risk of collapsing. Why is this so? Mainly, it is because no logic is being employed by the ruler. Rather, the king believes all things decreed correct because the king is infallible. This does little more than set the stage for the collapse of the king’s rule as well as the collapse of the civil society. We can see this in RICHARD II in several ways. Richard slowly seems to lose his grip on proper rule and becomes a self-serving entity.
During the events of the play, we learn that Richard’s kingdom is involved in a long, bitter, and protracted war with Ireland. As such, the need for making proper and accurate decisions is a must. Poor decisions can undermine the effectiveness of the war effort which, in turn, can lead to a collapse of the kingdom. Early in the play, Richard is accused of not properly managing the war effort as evidenced by his personal appropriations of Gaunt’s wealth among other improprieties. This sets in motion the idea that he must be disposed as the ruler of the kingdom. John Locke, Government, and RICHARD II – Pg 3
While all rulers will be criticized at some point, the most stinging criticism would be that the leader does not hold the fabric of society together. Rather, he contributes to the collapse of society. An argument of these sorts can be made towards the rule of Richard II. Of great concern to Locke is the notion that the population has a right to private property and that any government or ruler that infringes on private property is little more than a tyranny. In the context of RICHARD II, there is a ruler that has no respect for private property as evidenced by his unlawful seizing of land and wealth.
This poses the question when a king acts lawless, is there any law to the land? Locke also was an avowed believer in the notion that government must represent the will of the people. Those governments that do not provide for the populace in such a way will run the risk of being legitimately overthrown by the motivated members of the populace. We see such events played out in RICAHRD II in many different ways. Ultimately, all the actions of King Richard promote the notion that he does not serve his subject.
Rather, he serves his own personal goals with little regard for the life and property of those he is entrusted to care for. One could say that RICHARD II truly does provide a clear interpretation of the problems with government detailed in John Locke’s SECOND TREATISE OF GOVERNMENT. As such, it would be safe to infer that Locke would hardly approve of the way Richard II rules. Considering the downfall of the king in the play, Richard II would have been better served had be been guided by Locke’s philosophical approach to government.