Political Thoughts, Quotes and Comment


JOHN LOCKE (1632 - 1704)


Man in a State of Nature.

1. "we must consider what estate all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they see fit, within the bounds of the law of Nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man.
A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another,"

2. "But though this is a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of license; though man in that state have an uncontrollable liberty to dispose of his person and possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession,"

3. "The state of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it, which obliges every one, and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions;"

4. "And that all men may be restrained from invading others' rights, and from doing hurt to one another, and the law of Nature be observed, which willeth the peace and preservation of all mankind, the execution of the law of Nature is in that state put into every man's hands, whereby every one has a right to punish the transgressors of that law to such a degree as may hinder its violation."

5. "every man in the state of Nature has the power to kill a murderer, both to deter others from doing the like injury (which no reparation can compensate) by the example of the punishment that attends it from everybody, and also to secure men from the attempts of a criminal who, having renounced reason,.....by the unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind, and therefore may be destroyed"

6. "in the State of nature everyone has the executive power of the law of Nature.... it is unreasonable for men to be judges in their own cases, that self-love will make men partial to themselves and their friends; and, on the other side, ill nature, passion, and revenge will carry them too far in punishing others, and hence, nothing but confusion and disorder will follow, and that therefore God hath certainly appointed government to restrain the partiality and violence of men. I easily grant that civil government is the proper remedy for the inconveniences of the state of Nature,"

7. "I will not oppose the authority of the judicious Hooker, where he says,""to supply those defects and imperfections which are in us, as living single and solely by ourselves, we are naturally induced to seek communion and fellowship with others; this was the cause of men uniting themselves as first in politic societies.... all men are naturally in that state, and remain so till, by their own consents, they make themselves members of some politic society,"

Right to Self-preservation

1. "force upon the person of another, where there is no common superior on earth to appeal to for relief, is the state of war; and it is the want of such an appeal gives a man the right of war even against an aggressor, though he be in society and a fellow subject. Thus a thief whom I cannot harm, but by appeal to law, for having stolen all that I am worth, I may kill when he sets on me to rob me but of my horse or coat, because the law, which was made for my preservation, where it cannot interpose to secure my life from present force, which if lost is capable of no reparation, permits me my own defense and the right of war, a liberty to kill the aggressor, because the aggressor allows not time to appeal to our common judge, nor the decision of the law, for remedy in a case where the mischief may be irreparable."

On Property

1. "it is very clear that God, as king David says (Psalm 115. 16), "has given the earth to the children of men," given it to mankind in common."

2. "every man has a "property" in his own "person". This nobody has a right to but himself. The "labour" of his body and the "work" of his hands, we may say are properly his."

3. "But how far has He given it us --"to enjoy"? 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."

4. "As much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is his property. He by his labour does, as it were, enclose it from the common... God and his reason commanded him to subdue the earth.... He that, in obedience to this command of God, subdued, tilled, and sowed any part of it, thereby annexed to it something that was his property, which another had no title to, nor could without injury take from him."

5. "Nobody could think himself injured by the drinking of another man, though he took a good draught, who had a whole river of the same water left him to quench his thirst."

6. "its is labour indeed that puts the difference of value on everything;.... that of the products of the earth useful to the life of man, nine-tenths are the effects of labour."

7. "Thus labour, in the beginning, gave a right of property, wherever any one was pleased to employ it, upon what was common, which remained a long while, the far greater part, and is yet more than mankind makes use of."

8. "Right and conveniency went together. For as a man had a right to all he could employ his labour upon, so he had no temptation to labour for more than he could make use of. This left no room for controversy about the title, nor for encroachment on the rights of others. What portion a man carved to himself was easily seen; and it was useless, as well as dishonest, to carve himself too much, or take more than he needed."

Beginning Civil Society

1. "no political society can be, nor subsist, without having itself the power to preserve the property, and in order thereunto punish the offenses of all those of that society, there, and there only, is political society where every one of the members hath quitted this natural power, resigned it up into the hands of the community in all cases that exclude him not from appealing for protection to the law established by it."

2. "the end of civil society being to avoid and remedy those inconveniences of the state of Nature which necessarily follow from every man's being judge in his own case,"

3. "Wherever any persons are who have not such an authority to appeal to, and decide any difference between them there, those persons are still in a state of Nature."

4. "Men being,....by nature all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate and subjected to the political power of another without his own consent, which is done by agreeing with other men."

5. "For where the majority cannot conclude the rest, there they cannot act as one body, and consequently will be immediately dissolved again."

6. "reason being plain on our side that men are naturally free; and the examples of history showing that the governments of the world, that were begun in peace, had their beginning laid on that foundation, and were made by the consent of the people;"

7. "The great and chief end, therefore, of men uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property; to which in the state of Nature there are many things wanting."

On Legislative Authority

1. "the first and fundamental law of all commonwealths is the establishing of the legislative power, as the first and fundamental natural law which is to govern even the legislative. Itself is the preservation of the society and (as far as will consist with the public good) of every person in it. This legislative is not only the supreme power of the commonwealth, but sacred and unalterable in the hands where the community have once placed it. Nor can any edict of anybody else, in what form soever conceived, or by what power soever backed, have the force and obligation of a law which has not its sanction from that legislative which the public has chosen and appointed;"

2. "Their power (legislative power) in the utmost bounds of it is limited to the public good of the society. It is a power that hath no other end but preservation, and therefore can never have a right to destroy, enslave, or designedly to impoverish the subjects;"

3. "the law of Nature stands as an eternal rule to all men, legislators as well as others. The rules that they make for other men's actions must, as well as their own and other men's actions, be conformable to the laws of Nature -- i.e. to the will of God, of which that is a declaration, and the fundamental law of Nature being the preservation of mankind, no human sanction can be good or valid against it."

4. "Absolute arbitrary power, or governing without settled standing laws, can neither of them consist with the ends of society and government, which men would not quit the state of Nature for, and tie themselves up under, were it not to preserve their lives, liberties, and fortunes, and by stated rules of right and property to secure their peace and quiet."

5. "the supreme power cannot take from any man any part of his property without his own consent. For the preservation of property being the end of government, and that for which men enter into society, it necessarily supposes and requires that the people should have property, without which they must be supposed to lose that by entering into society which was the end for which they entered into it; too gross an absurdity for any man to own."

6. "First: They are to govern by promulgated established laws, not to be varied in particular cases, but to have one rule for rich and poor, for the favorite at Court, and the countryman at plough. Secondly: These laws also ought to be designed for no other end ultimately but the good of the people. Thirdly: They must not raise taxes on the property of the people without the consent of the people given by themselves or their deputies."
We are capable of knowing there is a God

1. "having furnished us with those faculties our minds are endowed with, he has not left himself without witness: since we have sense, perception, and reason, and cannot want a clear proof of him, as long as we carry ourselves about us."

2. "yet it requires thought and attention; and the mind must apply itself to a regular deduction of it from some part of our intuitive knowledge..."

3. "I think we need to go no further than ourselves, and that undoubted knowledge we have of our own existence."

4. "man has a clear idea of his own being; he knows certainly he exists, and that he is something."

5. "if anyone pretends to be so sceptical as to deny his own existence, let him for me enjoy his beloved happiness of being nothing, until hunger or some other pain convince him of the contrary."

Man knows that nothing cannot produce a being; therefore something must have existed from eternity

1. "man knows that bare nothing can no more produce any real being, than it can be equal to two right angles."

2. "If, therefore, we know that there is some real being, and that nonentity cannot produce any real being, it is an evident demonstration, that from eternity there has been something; since what was not from eternity had a beginning; and what had a beginning must be produced by something else."

3. "Next, it is evident, that what had its being and beginning from another, must also have all that which is in and belongs to its being from another too."

4. "a man finds himself with perception and knowledge." "If it be said, there was a time when no being had any knowledge, when that eternal being was void of all understanding; I reply, that then it was impossible there should ever had been any knowledge: it being as impossible that things wholly void of knowledge, and operating blindly, and without any perception, should produce a knowing being,"

And Therefore God

1. "Thus from the consideration of ourselves, and what we infallibly find in our own constitutions, our reason leads us to the knowledge of this certain and evident truth -- That there is an eternal, most powerful, and most knowing being; which whether anyone will please to call God, it matters not."



On the State of Nature

Much like Rousseau, Locke sees the state of nature as a state where all human beings were completely free, independent and relatively equal. All Individuals had a right to dispose of their own person and property as they saw fit. While man was at his liberty to do as he saw fit, this liberty was not license in that it was restrained by the law of Nature which was known to man through his reason. Locke believes that all of mankind could come to the conclusion that, while he is at complete liberty, the law of Nature, through reason, prohibits him from harming himself or the person or possessions of others. Locke believes that man is, by nature, gregarious and therefore, through this gregariousness, forms bonds with others. Locke does not see the formation of civil society as an evil which enslaves men like Rousseau, but something that is a part of man's nature and endorsed by God. Because man is social by nature, it is natural for them to band together in politic societies. To Locke, this banding together started with the family unit and later, through social contract and a vote of the possible members, the formation of a politic society. One of the drawbacks of Locke's state of Nature, was that every individual was both the enforcer of the laws of Nature as well as the judge and jury with regard to others whom he encountered. Locke reasons that individuals would always see themselves as correct in any disputes that arose with others. Therefore, when attempting to judge between himself and another, each would see himself as correct and likely judge and, if possible, punish the perceived offender too harshly. It is in this respect that Locke believed that the entrance into a social contract and ultimately a social community was most beneficial. In this society, each individual would give up his ability to judge and punish others to a governing authority who would judge all equally before the law of the society. Locke's idea is that the potential members of the society draw up a contract that designs the government and its limitations -- much like the founding fathers of our nation. When the social contract is complete, all potential citizens vote on it. In this vote, unlike Rousseau who required the agreement of all potential members, a simple majority would carry the day and the society would be established. Once established, all members would be bound by the will of the majority and the laws enacted by their legally elected representatives.

On Personal Protection

Even in a political society, there were, according to Locke, times when a man continued to be as if in a state of Nature. This situation occurred when the duly appointed authorities (for example the police) are not available to protect the life or property of the citizen from harm. A good example would be when a citizen's house is broken into in the middle of the night. In such a case, Locke would say that the citizen is still in a state of Nature and, a state of war exists between the citizen and the burglar or thief. Locke would say that the citizen has a right, under natural law, to judge and punish the intruder as harshly as he sees fit -- even killing the intruder. This is because, the citizen may be in danger of being murdered by the intruder and, once murdered, there is no remedy that the society could provide that would bring back what was taken ( his life). Such measures are only accepted in situations where authorities are not available when the crime takes place. Let us assume that, in a second example, a citizen has been defrauded of some of his possessions by a con man. In this case, the situation is different because, the authorities can be contacted and the con man arrested and taken to court where a remedy can be provided in accordance with the law. In this situation, the citizen, while perhaps cheated out of more than would have been stolen from him by the thief in the night, is not in a state of war with the con man. The citizen is not in danger of murder from the con man while, he may have been when the thief broke into his home. In the first case, the legitimate authorities could not protect the citizen while, in the second example, authorities could be contacted and, the law enforced against the crime. It may have been from the writings of John Locke that our nation derived its second amendment to the constitution -- the right to keep and bear arms. It is this right that allows each citizen to protect himself, his family and possessions from criminals who would try to take what was not theirs, when authorities could not be summoned.

Application Today

Today we have almost continuous attacks on the 2nd Amendment or, the right to bear arms. Politicians and every type of activist group will tell us that guns are an evil and that they cost our society hundreds of lives each year. They will also tell us that they have no intention of restricting any citizen's right to hunt. But, hunting is not what the second amendment is all about. It is provided so that each citizen can defend himself when he is placed in a position where the proper authorities (police) can not be summoned in time to help him against an attacker who might take his life. In these cases, it is only the right to bear arms that protects him/her from losing something that can not be returned by the best efforts of society and it's laws. John Locke would say that no society has a right to take away a citizen's right to defend himself, against personal harm, when that citizen is in a situation where the legitimate authorities cannot render him assistance. In these cases, the citizen is still in a state of war with the intruder and may act against the intruder as he sees fit in an effort to protect himself.

On Property

Locke believes that the land was given to all men in common. He then goes on to say that, although this is true, it is the labor applied to the land that makes it valuable. Because there is a vast amount of land, Locke saw it as permissible for a man to take a portion of that common land for himself and then, through his labor, render the land productive and therefore valuable. He justifies this private ownership of land because of the vast amount available and, on the requirement that man use the land for a productive purpose. He uses the analogy that this private ownership was like a man taking a drink of water from a river. While the man has made a small portion of the water his own by consuming it, there was still plenty for everyone else and therefore, no other man was injured by the taking of the water nor would begrudge the individual a drink. So it was with land. Because there was almost an unlimited supply of common land, no one would begrudge an individual a portion of that land if he planned to use it for his own preservation. Locke does indicate that no man is entitled to more land than he can use. If he is able to use the land to a benefit, then it is permissible to have it as private property but, never more than he can use. For Locke this was in accordance with the word of God which commanded man to subdue the earth to his benefit. It was the application of labor, which was solely the property of the individual, to the land that, in fact, made that portion of land his own. The requirement to apply labor to the land was a limit upon the amount that any man could possess or take title to. Because of the labor applied, all could see what portion of the land belonged to another. The requirement to actually use the land limited the amount that any man could have. It provided a physical limitation upon any man's right to private property.

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