John Locke

“John Locke (1632-1704) follows Machiavelli by moderating the political philosophy of Hobbes. Power controlled by consent is also the central theme of the Second Treatise on Government; but the issue goes beyond just self-preservation as with Hobbes to comfortable self-preservation; not just staying alive but being well off. This shift in emphasis from mere life to the accumulation of property shows up in his version of the state of nature in which labor as giving the right to property and money as making unlimited accumulation of property possible are featured much more centrally. In Locke’s state of nature a basic division arises between those who own the means of production (namely, “the rational and industrious” who are successful at accumulating wealth) and those who own nothing but their own capacity to labor in return for a subsistence wage (namely, “the lazy and indolent” daylaborers and wage-earners). Because of the absence of a magistrate, when conflicts arise in the state of nature, a state of war ensues in which one’s only recourse would be an ineffectual “appeal to heaven.” Finally it becomes clear that individuals can consent to a social contract thus bringing about a civil society in which the elected legislative body is distinguished from the executive. Of course, only taxpayers and hence property-owners have a right to a vote and a voice in parliament, which is chosen by a majority. The purpose of government is to protect the life, liberty, and property of the citizens: it is to be concerned with the conditions for happiness and not with the virtue of its citizens or with how they choose to be happy, just so they do not infringe on the rights of others. Locke’s Letter on Toleration teaches that the public exercise of power and authority regard only people’s life, liberty, and estate; religion is only a private matter of voluntary choice of association: there should be a separation of Church and State. In summary, Locke transforms Hobbes’ theory into the basis for modern liberal democracy, such as we have in Britain, Canada, and the U. S. today. [Knowing: Locke is an empiricist: you begin from sense appearances which you try to represent with words or terms; but the universal never exists in the particular sensible being]” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).

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