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Is Locke Everlasting?

October 20, 2010

It is interesting to note Locke’s immediate trust and assumption of morality in a state of nature.  What does this “naivety” stem from?  Why is he so willing to give man the characteristic of morality, when on so many instances man has proven to be immoral?  It is important to point out that Natural law is derived from a theory of Justice, but what is it about this text that makes it such a prominent written text for Western Political thought? What basis did Locke have in his first Treatise on Government to demoralize Robert Filmer’s view that monarchs have a divine right to rule, allowing him to create his second treatise?

I believe that it is first important to look at Locke’s description of the State of Nature where he states that individuals do not have any obligation to each other, but rather, only have an obligation to judge for themselves what the natural law requires.  Upon reading this, I was immediately stricken with the question of, ‘How do individuals know for themselves what natural law entails?’  In society today, we are not born with this opportunity to form an opinion about natural law, and thus it is hard to imagine what it would entail.  With Hobbes, it was easier to relate to his State of Nature, as he explained it as a hypothetical situation.  Locke, on the other hand, is stating that this State did at one time exist. 

Once this state of Nature is established, Locke describes the importance of avoiding a state of war.  How is this done? Through protecting private property, which men are granted with when entering into a civil society.  Each man has the ability to use Natural law to govern their behavior, and implement these laws on those who wrong them by infringing their rights. 

While reading Locke’s work it was difficult for me to understand how a common law was able to come about.   If everyone has their own set of laws, and is able to implement these laws on those who are doing wrong, how and when do individuals rationalize their actions?  In society today, I believe, that if individuals were granted this permission, each person would develop their own beliefs and implement their laws out of a “power-trip.”  What would be the factor holding individuals back from taking their individual versions of what is right and wrong and thrusting these views on others? 

It seems like the answer lies in an individual’s property.  An individual is able to take what they need from the earth, making it their own.  A person may only receive as much goods as the labor they put into receiving these goods.  Does the notion of: hard work pays off, apply here? 

Locke describes that once individuals obtain goods, they can use these goods to trade, and barter, until eventually a common currency or trade system will arise.  In a recent Comparative Political Science course here at the University of Michigan, I learned that the economy is the leading factor in formulating the type of governmental system.  It was described by Barrington Moore, that if the bourgeoisie, or the industrial working class, gains power of the economy, then a democratic system will come about.  I cannot help but wonder if this thesis is in line with what Locke is trying to allude to. 

After Reading only the first few chapters of Locke, as it is clear from this blog post, many questions have jumped into my mind.  I can only imagine that this is what Locke had hoped would happen when writing his work.  The fact this his work makes individuals question society today, shows the strength of his work.  It shows its everlasting ability to apply to a society and make individuals decipher between what is right and what is wrong.


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