Wednesday, May 25, 2005

John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government

Political Science 160B
Modern Political Thought

Take Home Final Exam: John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government

Select one of the following and explain in an essay of 4-5 pages to what extent and why you agree or disagree with Locke’s or Rousseau’s reasoning and conclusions. Cite relevant passages from the text.

In The Second Treatise of Government, John Locke makes the basic argument that private property is a natural right for all people and that private property must exist among people before a social compact for the creation of government can be made. Locke has a great interest in private property. He endeavors to show “how men might come to have a property in several parts of that which God gave to mankind in common. (Locke. Pg. 18).” God gave the earth to humans. It becomes man’s responsibility to use his labor in order to work the land for producing things. Locke clearly states this in that whatever man “removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labor with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property, (Locke. Pg. 19).” Locke does not say that God has created private property, but rather he has placed the natural resources upon the earth for man to use. It is up to man to use his labor in order to improve upon nature and create greater resources, which would improve upon his life. The key is property. Locke attempts to explain a social contract for both society and for the development of a government by defining a pre-capitalistic trade and market economy with the use of scientific reasoning. He cites two examples in his line of reasoning. The first is the Law of Nature. Locke claims that if you use nature to take something from nature, that that thing is property and it belongs to you. However, if you grab something from someone else, who used labor to acquire something from nature, that thing does not belong to you and you have broken a law of nature. Locke says that in the Law of Nature, “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions, (Locke. Pg. 9).” A second example of this reasoning is the concept of spoilage. Spoilage is considered a deterrent against individual hoarding of goods. “As much as any one can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils, so much he may by his labor fix a property in: whatever is beyond this, is more than his share, and belongs to others. Nothing was made by God for man to spoil or destroy, (Locke. Pg. 20-21).” Here Locke may realize that there is a need for individuals to provide charity to those in need. However, the idea of charity contradicts the idea of man using labor to acquire property. Individuals who use labor to make things and acquire property will be motivated by self-interest. They would be interested in making products that they can trade for other products, which they do not make. Charity is the idea that you give to help others in need, for the betterment of society. Self-interest does not play a part in charity. So Locke redefines the meaning of the word charity as the natural event of spoilage in order to prevent individuals from hoarding and allow those individuals to provide their products to all of man.

What Locke created in The Second Treatise of Government, was an early form of capitalistic thought. People have a greater need than simply living, in a natural setting while hunting and gathering for food. People use property as a means to enjoy life and enjoy the fruits of their labor. What they produce in excess, they can trade or sell the excess to others in exchange for other unique products, satisfying their self-interests. “The same law of nature, that does this means give us property, does also bound that property to. God has given us all the things richly, (Locke. Pg. 20).” Locke even goes through a condensed history of how man developed the idea of property y, development of agriculture, the idea of trade where agricultural products such as foodstuffs can be traded for finished products, even the invention of money which Locke describes as “a little piece of yellow metal, which would keep without wasting or decay, (Locke. Pg. 23).” But Locke does not expand these ideas as a new type of economic thought. He attempts to politicize the idea of property. Government was created by the people as a means of resolving disputes of property. “The reason why men enter into society, is the preservation of their property, (Locke. Pg. 111).”

One of the main problems with The Second Treatise of Government is that Locke places too much emphasis on the concept of private property rights and in linking these property rights with the origins and development of government. Chapter 5 of the Second Treatise could be considered a pre-history of capitalism. But even with this emphasis of property, Locke does not recognize two problems with his arguments. First, he does not see that an unequal distribution of property will cause a division of class based on economics. There is only a limited amount of land in the world and only a smaller amount of land would have the right conditions to allow agricultural development. Not everyone will have the ability or chance to own land. Yet at the same time, there will be individuals who by luck or fortune will have the ability to acquire large tracts of land. The more land these individuals can acquire, the greater the share of wealth they will have over those who do not have land. This will cause a division of class between those who have land and those who have not. This unequal distribution of wealth and economic classes can also cause an unequal distribution of political rights. This unequal distribution of political rights would allow those who have a greater share of property, to use their property and wealth as a means to adjust political, social and economic policy to their advantage and to satisfy their interests over the interests of those who do not have land. Locke accepts the majority principle of government “where men have so consented to make one community or government, they are thereby presently incorporated, and make one body politic, wherein the majority have a right to act and conclude the rest, (Locke Pg. 52).” Locke does not grasp this contradiction.

The second contradiction that Locke does not realize is his equation of happiness with property. Locke equates happiness with the acquisition of property. He notes that property is a natural right that God has provided a natural abundance of resources for man to use and enjoy. Locke also claims that this is a part of human nature to better ones own self and to satisfy their individual self-interest. For Locke, this self-interest is the improvement of material positions and material well being in an individual—how much property can the individual acquire in his lifetime? With the acquisition of property, an individual can enjoy free leisure time of which the individuals can devote themselves to this leisure time to explore their self-interests in culture, music, the arts, language and history. While Locke focuses on property and the foundation of civilization, and uses reason to further advance his arguments, he does not consider the emotional side of happiness. He does not ask if there is another side of happiness, which could be based on emotional self-fulfillment, and that this side of happiness may have no basis for material possessions. Locke does not question these philosophical ideas of emotional self-fulfillment as asked by other philosophers such as Rousseau.

Works Cited

Locke, John. (1980). The Second Treatise of Government. Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis.

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