We have tried to cover a lot of material in the Second Treatise. One thing about the Treatise, is its richness of thought. Locke is a modern to be sure, but he seems to be different from Hobbes, Machiavelli (and as we shall see), Rousseau, Hegel, and Heidegger.
Yet, there are some similarities between Locke and Hobbes in particular. Locke seems to have a pretty low view of man. While it is not as low as Hobbes, it certainly is not as high as the Ancients.
State of War
Locke, after writing that the state of nature is an “inconvenience” now contends in chapter 3, that it is a state of war. The initial goal of life is to preserve oneself from harm, but even more, from slavery. When someone has a desire to put you under his Absolute power, then a state of war exists. Something like Hobbes here? Yes, but it still seems like a moderate form of Hobbes. Nevertheless, the desire for absolute power is too uncertain for the one who power is sought over–if someone says he wants to merely make you a slave (which is against our nature), you really don’t know if that one day the master will want to kill you. No matter how you cut it, absolute power over another is anathema to the law of nature, and Locke contends that we have the right to kill the person who tries to put us under such a yoke. He even extends this to the act of thievery. We prematurely had this discussion this semester, and here Locke answers the question some had.
We may kill a person who breaks into our home because we do not know if this criminal also wants to put us under absolute control. Anyone who steals must also think that he can take anything he wants from anyone, and in any amount. It breaks the law of nature to steal because of the property we have acquired from our labor (see chapter 5). Our property is an extension of the equality principle. At any rate, the thief who would take away one’s liberty may also try to take away one’s life; therefore, that places the thief in a state of war with the person who the thief is trying to steal from. Most remarkably, Locke argues that we can have a state of war even in, or under, a compact.
Of Equality & Property
Out of our natural equality–and I hasten to add Locke makes no qualifying statement about who is equal. When he says all men, he means all human beings!–comes the notion of consent. We see that the law of nature yet forbids certain things. Here it forbids us to enslave ourselves (nor may we kill ourselves). If we know what a human being is, we understand that slavery is against our nature, and that the very notion that someone thinks s/he can enslave his/her own self is irrational, or contrary to reason. Because we are equal is the reason we each have the right to consent, or not.
When it comes to property, again, the equality principle is in play. Because we work for something (even if we merely pick an apple off the ground in a common property sense) that means we own the apple and may do with it what we please in terms of using it for our benefit–like eat it, make it into a pie, whatever. Our labor, then, is an extension of us. Property ownership comes from the mixing of our ownership in our own bodies and souls, and our labor. There is much more here to discuss–the forbidding of taking too much to oneself, the development of money, and the labor theory of value (which most economists, and libertarians, reject)–but we must press on to the beginning of society.
After a chapter on paternal power, Locke pushes headlong into the beginning of societies. He addressed this briefly earlier when he mentioned his disagreement with Hooker (and Aristotle!) on man’s sociability. However, what was a vigorous disagreement turns out to be more moderated by the time we get to chapter 7. Locke contends it is not good for humans to be alone, but nevertheless, are driven into society. Is there a dual reason for leaving the state of nature: sociability and necessity?
We enter society in order to escape the state of nature, and because we are free and equal, our consent is necessary when agreeing to make a compact to form a society. This unanimous consent does not last forever, and the will of the majority is to rule thereafter.
Now, is there really such a thing as the state of nature and this type of societal beginning? Locke anticipates his adversaries by stating that even though there are no records of people leaving a state of nature and forming a government, that it nevertheless occurs this way–that compact is the beginning of society (which is not exactly an airtight defense of the actual process of leaving the state of nature). Still, we agree to come together for form a government for our mutual protection and to secure much (not all) of what we possess by nature.
Locke realizes that this form of government requires much on the people–that they be reasonable, have a sense of duty, obey the law of nature, etc. We shall pick up on the development of this much freer society next.