More John Locke

This is a bit of a rehash but I ran across these quotes from Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government in an old post, specifically from the book’s Chapter IV, Section 23, published in 1690:

“This freedom from absolute, arbitrary power, is so necessary to, and closely joined with a man’s preservation, that he cannot part with it, but by what forfeits his preservation and life together: for a man, not having the power of his own life, cannot, by compact, or his own consent, enslave himself to any one, nor put himself under the absolute, arbitrary power of another, to take away his life, when he pleases. No body can give more power than he has himself; and he that cannot take away his own life, cannot give another power over it. Indeed, having by his fault forfeited his own life, by some act that deserves death; he, to whom he has forfeited it, may (when he has him in his power) delay to take it, and make use of him to his own service, and he does him no injury by it: for, whenever he finds the hardship of his slavery outweigh the value of his life, it is in his power, by resisting the will of his master, to draw on himself the death he desires.”

In shorter form, Locke states:

  • Man cannot exist without freedom from absolute and arbitrary power.
  • No person can give more power than he has himself, nor can he assume the same over another.

A man also has the sole rights to the fruits of his labor. This from Sec. 27:

“Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.”

Note that Locke states that the covetous and quarrelsome have no right to claim any product of that labor, nor do they have a right to claim that the industrious are required to provide for those who are not productive in the use of the skills and faculties that God has given them.

Isn’t it a bit disheartening (and embarrassing) that our rhetoric about things like Obamacare, religious freedom and tax policies aren’t put forward at this intellectual level? Compared to this, our current political debates have the philosophical heft of a Doritos or a GoDaddy commercial during the Super Bowl.

Keep in mind that Locke wrote these words in 1690, 323 years ago. Locke was a scholar but also a keen observer of human nature and social currents. In 1690, the majority of the world was governed by undemocratic, monarchical and/or authoritarian systems. Locke was observing the birth of multiple avenues of thoughts on liberty, freedom and how governance could be structured to preserve them.

323 years has done nothing to change the nature of man, his interaction with his fellow man or the nature of those who seek to govern. It is remarkable and tragic at the same time that we still commit the same errors as in Locke’s time. Understanding these facts alone should be a complete and perfect vindication and approbation of Locke’s observations and postulates.

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