Theory of Property to His Theory of Government Essay Sample
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Theory of Property to His Theory of Government Essay Sample
John Locke ‘s labour theory of property and government has won attention from a staggering range of interpreters. Some analysts have hailed the theory as the greatest achievement of Locke’s political writing, whereas others have scorned it as critically misdirected and shallow. For numerous analysts both friendly and hostile, the labour theory functions as the core of Lockean individualism, but for others the theory serves as the foundation of Locke’s Communitarianism. Many critics and supporters of Locke have found his reasoning to be firm, but some admirers and some detractors have found it to be insubstantial.
Therefore our task is to critically evaluate this theory in terms of explaining what it is, how the two premises are interrelated and to consider justifications for inequality and private property. Firstly what must be addressed is the problem of property. The difficulty is we don’t know what initial view of property Locke was using when he wrote his thesis. If we take the liberal view it means that Government is based on consent, monarchy and the rule of law. An alternative is the opinion of bourgeois property rights, meaning that property is given by natural rights and the government ultimately owns it.
However, it is generally agreed today that the interpretation of property is the Christian view, which opens up the debate between John Locke and Robert Filmer, the main reason being that the two disagree over the notion of the Christian view.§Filmer’s claims were claims about the God-given rights of the crown. This is also known as the divine right of kings.
In this way Filmer rejects the existence of private property, because the monarch owns all property. In what you could call a monopoly ownership of land, everyone owns land through the means of the monarch. Locke felt it necessary to undermine this statement. He initially says that everyone is naturally free, so the government’s existence is by consent alone. With all due regard to private property, he says this cannot operate simply on the basis of consent. Therefore if we use an analogy to express the two conflicting views. For Filmer men needed a concrete continuing authority in which they could be wrapped.
Like crabs they could live only in a continuous God-given shell. But to Locke they were more like hermit crabs: the shells they needed, their instincts made available to them. It was God’s world they lived in- but as difficult as it seemed. According to Locke’s theory of government, consent is the basis for government, not for property and he thus claims it necessary for consistency in his theory. Before we go any further we should also note that property, in 1690 according to Locke, had a broader definition at the time, being wholly inclusive of personal rights and religious and civil liberties.
So, essentially we must view relationship between property and government on these terms. The question we must now answer is how can there be private property without consent and absolute monarchy? Locke’s answer to this problem came in the form of the natural right to property. These private property rights are natural rights- not in saying that men are born with them but in saying that though these rights are acquired only as the result of actions and transactions that men undertake on their own initiative and not by virtue of the means of any civil framework of positive rules vesting those rights in them.
Rights of private property are not God-given to the individuals that have them. Seemingly Locke believed that God favoured private property on the grounds that he created the world and its resources with the intention that humans should acquire rights over it in this way. We can see this stated in Locke’s second treatise of government: §God who hath given the world to men in common, hath also given them reason to make use of it to the best advantage of life, and convenience. The earth, and all that is therein, is given to men for the support and comfort of their being.
God also gave humans reason, primarily to use the earth’s resources. But the main argument for private property is the argument based on the idea that when a man labours on a resource, he puts something of himself into it. He claimed that because we mix our labour with the land, we thereby deserve the right to control the use of the land and benefit from its product. In Locke’s theory, individuals are said to have a right to defend themselves, and others by means of labour. These two rights correlate with duties to others.
The power one has to defend oneself and others is the origin of political power.So we can say that labour is the absolute fundamental human activity because the right for property derives itself from self-preservation. This is known as Locke’s labour theory. We need to understand first that there are two conditions under which the labour theory works and this is according to The Lockean proviso. The Spoilage condition means that objects of nature must not go to waste, and thus Locke contrasts the use of a resource with its wasteful destruction.
However it is not the destruction itself that can violate the spoilage condition, because we often destroy things while using them. §What Locke means is the negligent or deliberate loss of use-value without use, so that an object becomes useless for any human purpose. If this happens, this person has prevented an existing object created by God for human use from affording satisfaction to any human need or want.The other side to the equation is the sufficiency condition. Put simply it is understood as being when you acquire property, you must leave ?
O’enough and as good left to others.We can expand on this vague statement to say that the sufficiency limitation is a simple recognition, in terms of acquisition, of the right to an adequate subsistence from the resources of the world. Given a sufficiency limitation, none is liable to appropriate unless everybody can, so in this scenario, everyone must attempt to survive working on common land without any sort of enclosure. We will explain the limitations of these two conditions in due course as they are both open to debate
The existence of money reinforces these two ideas. Unlike most political theorists who view money as a measure of corruption and the apparent downfall of society, Locke believes that money does not spoil. One such analyst that disagrees is John Dunn, who believes that Differentiation in wealth leads to greater social conflict and a decline in the moral quality of social life under stress of the increasing motives for envy. Money is a medium of exchange and exchange is simply a mechanism for allocating goods to those who need to make use of them at particular times.
The situation is therefore that the property owner has exclusive rights to deal with and handle the destiny of the resources he owns. Subsequently he may use them on whatever terms he pleases, provided that the way he deals with them means that the resources do not perish and therefore become useless under his control. The downside to this is what is meant by Locke’s trickle down theory. When people are allowed the freedom to acquire property, in a free market situation it enables people to become wealthy. The theory is that newly created wealth eventually “trickles down” to all strata of society.
The argument goes that although wealth is created primarily by the wealthy, they will tend to reinvest their wealth, and this process will create even yet more. As the economy grows, it is said that more and more people will share in the newly created wealth. Locke identifies this where he states that, §Men have agreed to a disproportionate and unequal possession of the earth, they having, by a tacit and voluntary consent, found out a way how man my fairly possess more land than he himself can use the product of.?
We cannot say definitely whether Locke believed there was a passive consent to money. This is where Locke can finally link government to property. The problem with government is that it is taken to be a problem about political power. Natural rights to property, according to Locke lie in certain relations that some individuals happen to establish among themselves and certain things, such as the labouring on new resources. However the concept of natural rights is far from clear.
Property rights are acquired through industry, of which there a various different types and thus they accumulate varying degrees of wealth. This makes people naturally unequal and due to the self-confessed freedom that Locke believes in, this is an inevitable condition of humanity.§For in government, the laws regulate the right of property, and the possession of land is determined by positive constitutions.
The analyst James Tully views that Locke fuses together these ideas with his initial ones because, §Natural Law teaches that each man has a claim right to the means of preservation, and this is logically equivalent to saying that the world belongs to all in common, a statement that Locke opened with. He approaches the link between property and government cautiously, if only to ensure that wealth has not breached the two conditions. But are we able to say with conviction that the government actually protects property rights and satisfy the sufficiency condition, or is it a liability as a political institution?
The answer appears to be no and C.B Macpherson sought to answer this problem. Whereas Locke primarily focused on the defence of the class state, Macpherson, in 1962 saw that liberal political theory faced a dilemma. His interpretation is that we have the right to property that derives itself from our own labour and all that is linked to it. Servants are derived on the basis that we can sell our labour, and the fruits of our labour, simply because wage labour exists in the laws of nature. Macpherson’s Capitalist interpretation of Locke is also referred to as possessive individualism.
This is an extreme level of the philosophy that says that the good of individuals is the ultimate moral value and that communities are valuable only if they promote the good of individual members. Locke is considered to be a philosopher of this theory. Class is also subject to the laws of nature because these laws were discovered by reason; therefore those who can own property do so. In this sense only property owners are rational and are thus placed in government at the highest level in society. Locke makes it clear that if the government violates these laws of nature, then it is liable to be overthrown:
§Locke replies that each individual has this right. Revolution is the people governing lawbreakers as they do naturally when other forms of appeal have failed. Then, the majority of the people again have full constituent authority to change office holders, re-establish the old form of government, to set up a new form, or set up direct democracy. Locke seems almost authoritarian in his response to ineffectual government but he only grants revolution to property owners, therefore only they, in his estimation are citizens.
Unfortunately there are some flaws to the Macpherson thesis, and this limits its credibility. One of the main objectors to the thesis is John Dunn who emphasises the claim that Capitalism does not grant the sufficiency condition, because it places no restriction on sufficiency: §Macpherson’s analysis of Locke’s discussion of property sees its key intention as the removal of the sufficiency limitation on private accumulation and the consequent sanctioning of unlimited appropriation.
At the individual level the effect of this is to make property a pure private right, exercised from the content of social responsibility implied by the medieval understanding of the duty of charity. ” It is also not clear what Macpherson meant by servants in his explanation of class, nor what class he meant by this. Were they lower class or the bourgeoisie? The other dispute is that though Macpherson places a great emphasis on rationality, rationality is something of an illusory term because it doesn’t work.
Though you can use reason to acquire the right to property, you can also acquire it through inheritance. This means that not all those without property are irrational and exploits a significant loophole in his theory. We identified earlier that Locke’s definition of property had more than one meaning- namely that there was the material side on one hand and the life, liberty and estate side on the other. Crucially Macpherson seems only to have made a thesis based on the first part, proving that he did not fully clarify Locke’s definition of property.
Richard Ashcroft also disputed Macpherson’s thesis on the grounds that Locke did not even advocate Capitalism and was more geared to a democratic basis, as §Locke’s discussion always involves the contrast of how much better off mankind is in a society in which land is used and improved as opposed to one where land is not improved, in this sense, at all. This is pretty far from Capitalism on anyone’s account.It is possible that he is right, because, after all it is not only rich people that have the capacity and reason to be involved in government.
We can therefore see that various analysts dispute the meaning behind Locke’s theory. We can summarise these views. John Dunn’s view is one centred on Puritanical belief. People have a religious duty to their creator to work hard and strive for the life. At the same time God rewards these actions. This helps to explain the excessive mentions of God in Locke’s theory, something which is very unusual for him, and was possibly a point of irony made to emphasise his contradiction towards Filmer.
§The claim is that God must have provided for human beings at every point of their existence a set of rules for social behaviour and that these rules must at all points have been embodied in institutions of social control. Furthermore, these institutions must have been subject to a single supreme authority at every point and all rights held under them must have been determinations of his will. And because all rights and all powers are determinations of his will, because it is the sole focus of legitimate human authority, his power must be transferable. Dominion is a form of perpetual property.
It belongs to God, is conferred by him upon individual men, and transferred from one man to another by his will. § John Marshall criticised this interpretation as he believes that Locke thinks puritans are a fanatical branch of society. This may not be entirely wrong as England traditionally at the time had strong ideological conflicts between puritans and Protestants. Marshall viewed that Locke was on the liberal wing of Christianism- a type of religious freedom. Essentially Locke was defending Mercantilism- the economic theory that trade generates wealth.
As we conclude this evaluation of Locke, we have much to consider. Matthew Kramer a critique of Locke claims the inadequacy and failure of the labour theory which lies at the centre of Locke’s argument. But until we can detect the fundamental unsoundness, we must reserve full judgement. If this lies at the foundation of his theory of property and government, then this does slightly discredit it. He links property to government effectively in a unique way. We also have to allow for the time-scale from which people now criticise his theory as it was not written for the people of today nor the last hundered years.
I personally sway towards the view of John Marshall because this also links to the individualist idea of Locke? I outlined at the start that there was a debate over whether Locke was more Communitarianist and Individualist. If we take the example of someone such as Jean- Jacques Rousseau, we can say that he is more Communitarianist. Though Locke arguably attempted to incorporate both ideas simultaneously, it is individualism that overrides his thesis throughout.
We can also consider what Locke would make of British society today. With no revolution in centuries and none foreseen in the distance, would he agree that the government of today is in fact accountable and not violating the laws of nature? Are there too many in existence? I do not believe that supporters of the Lockean perspective would be too impressed with what his political theory has eventually resulted in in society today.