Life, Liberty, Property

Yesterday: Discourse on Democracy    Tomorrow: Ten Great Works of Political Theory

Twitter: @GreatBooksDude


A good morning to get my car serviced.  Hopefully I don’t get hit on too much this time.  But of course there are worse things in the world than having a few bad women too interested.

While I’m here, though, I figure I’ll write up a short bit on one of the greatest (and–AGAIN!–one of the shortest) works of political theory, namely John Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government.  Locke was a British philosopher whose works include An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (about the theory of knowledge), Some Thoughts Concerning Education, and A Letter Concerning Toleration, among others.  A complete thinker, Locke, like Milton, was a clear proponent of civil liberty, writing in an age when Parliament was again asserting legislative control over its monarch, this time ousting King James II–bloodlessly–and importing the Dutch royal family, William and Mary.

Locke’s thesis in his Second Treatise is dimwittedly simple.  The government is in place to protect the lives, liberties, and properties of its citizens.  Anything it does to violate these purposes renders it illegitimate, and the people are then within their rights if they choose to “alter or abolish” it.  In essence, government serves a purpose because men would not otherwise give up their liberties to have one.

So Locke, like many Enlightenment political philosophers, begins with the “state of nature”–the state wherein men are at war with one another and with their surroundings. He follows the ordinary chain of logic to make the next assumption, which is that they bond together for protection from both of their opponents.  When they do this, though, Locke argues that they do so to a limited degree; unlike Hobbes, who is widely considered to be his intellectual counterpart, he does not assume that in forming mutual defense alliances that become “society” they give up all of their rights.

This work has had an enormous impact, notably (as has been extremely well-documented) on Thomas Jefferson and the American founders.  But recently Locke has been intellectually ripped.  Nothing could show the bankruptcy of the university system more clearly than this: on one hand, university scholars are now arguing that Locke places strong constraints on private property, and on the other they are arguing that Locke was merely a tool used by William and Mary to justify their own usurpation (as was claimed in Billionaire’s Ball). 

Are these people retarded?


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