John Locke: Revolutions are Always Motivated by Misrule as Well as Procedural Violations

Jack Rakove, writes in his book Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America(p. 309): 

In a key passage, Locke defined the prerogative of the executive not in terms of the time-encrusted powers of a king, but rather as a discretionary power to act “for the public good, without the prescription of the law, and sometimes even against it.” To this definition he added a shrewd observation: “Whilst employed for the benefit of the community, this true use of prerogative never is questioned: for the people are seldom or never scrupulous or nice in the point.”

This matches what I have seen in Department politics. By and large, as long as almost all the faculty agree with the results of a Department Chair’s actions, they tend to overlook procedural violations. It is only when they think that the Chair’s decisions are mistakes that the professors harp on the infringement of the faculty members’ right to be consulted. On the other hand, I have seen the combination of enough perceived mistakes and procedural violations lead to the academic small-time equivalent of revolution.

The key to avoiding the perception of misrule is to make sure to know and fully take into account in one’s decisions what people want–especially what those with the ability to influence what others want.

Note: Everything I say here is descriptive (“positive”) rather than prescriptive (“normative”). There is a danger that comes from setting bad precedents about violating procedures that is not always fully taken into account. On the other hand, though I am deeply committed to constitutional government, one cannot avoid the logical possibility that a set of bylaws or constitutional rules inherited from the past might be too much of a straitjacket.