I suffered a lot, I'm now realizing, by reading John Locke early without really getting a context within which his second treatise on government could be understood.
I happen to think that the Lockean presentation of government is seriously flawed and unrealistic and in fact promotes a version of government action which is never realized in practice and which obscures the actual shaping forces for politics that have existed for milennia.
I call this liberal absolutism because it's sort of an application of the kind-of-bourgeois concepts of absolutism, where the king was the chief executive and the administration had a free hand to conduct policy without interest groups and groups an issues which traditionally anchored politics into something other than the beurocracy interfering.
The idea that society functions well on its own and that government only intervences when there are significant problems which impede this freedom is a farce at best.
First of all, what is the government?
Second of all, what are societal problems, which interfere with the natural freedom of society, which justify intervention of the government?
Thirdly, how the hell is the government supposed to cleanly and purely intervene in the economy and in society to correct these things without leaving even a footprint of its presence?
Actor, problem, action. None of these are defined and none of them exist in reality.
I would suggest that they're mental categories created by Locke based on his experience in the administrative halls of an Absolutist state, where conceptual fictions could be justified because the government had all the power and no one could say 'this is bullshit' if the government decided to put its ideas into action above all else.
So what is an alternative?
I think something which I term the 'constitutional theory of society' would be more appropriate.
It's constitutional in the sense of the British consitution, which refers to the constitution of society as opposed to once little document.
The constitution of society is a legal, economic, and social nexus which leads to behaviors and institutions that other people, following Locke, have labelled as Political, although the people involved would probably not have thought of what they were engaged in as being as simple as that.
We're talking 17th century, before the English Civil War, era here.
Hobbes, although I'm not really on his same wavelength on these things, was much closer to approaching society from these terms, even though he used the basis in the sort of Constitutional approach, leavened with Rennaisance poliitics, to justify a move to absolutism.
Hobbes' early work De Cive is very good in this regard in at least giving
an approach to a non-Lockean consitutional theory of society, much clearer than Leviathan (and shorter), even though Hobbes' purpose was to put into place policies which, I'd argue, lead to the destruction of the kind of politics that Hobbes in fact draws on in making his argument.
Rights and duties exist within a constitutional framework, not a Lockean framework.
Later theorists like Kant did their best to try to smuggle into a Lockean model the realities of rights and duties in society. The very fact that Kant sought to do this signals that there is in fact some realms of existence in the social world way removed from the Lockean model which can't be dismissed.
Rights and duties still come out of normal life, although I'd reject Kant's a-historicism in looking at this. And the neccesary corollary to that is that the action in terms of maintenance of society which comes about through duties being fulfilled and rights honored arises somewhat spontaneously, or at least cthonically.
But the fulfillment of it is not divorced from the context and can only be looked at from within the context.
People need roads, well, until paving started there was a local office in many parts of the united states which obligated the holder to maintain the roads and to raise support from his neighbors to help maintain the roads.
No mystery to it; roads needed to be maintained so the community elected a guy every once and while to do it. He did it, on top of being a farmer or tradesman, and the problem was solved.
What I would say is that you can analyze something like this in Lockean terms after the fact but in so doing you miss much of the subtlety of why the situation exists how it was resolved, and why people chose to resolve it in the way they did.
None of this was or is straightforward. What is a road? Why do we have roads? What is the purpose of the road in the community? Who benefits from roads? How is the fixing of roads integrated with the fulfillment of economic expectations on the parts of the people who are doing it, who have other jobs they're working? What is the community aspect of it, is their a communal sense that this is a social responsability?
Who gets elected? Is it a matter of prestige?
None of these questions strictly fits into the traditional liberal paradigm , although it can be altered somewhat to accomodate anything if needed, but they point to the real questions of society, which the term 'political' masks and tries to sepeate from the processes which formed it.