Locke On Distribution Essay

This essay has a total of 3021 words and 13 pages.

Locke On Distribution

Any Lockeian scholar would be lying if they told you that any topic in
the secondary literature on the Two Treatises of Government was more famous (or
infamousEdepending on who you talk to), widely debated, or caused more
controversy than the old Oxford gradOs theory of property. Some are shouting
from the left that Locke argues a rights claim for subsistence for all
individuals, that it may even support MarxOs theory of exploitation. Yelling
back are those from the right who claim that he formulates a moral
justification for capitalist appropriation of property. Then of course there
are those somewhere in between who are telling everyone to shut up because
Locke wrote the damn thing over three hundred years ago in the political
context of 17th century England and to derive these kinds of modern political
presumptions is ludicrous. They all make fine cases for their respective
theories. This humble treatise, however, will merely essay to provide a fairly
objective explanation of John LockeOs disputed offering to the political and
economic understanding of property and how it relates to poverty and the
distribution of wealth. It will then continue to examine the two most
preeminent, contemporary champions of welfarist and entitlement theories in
that of John Rawls and Robert Nozick respectively, focusing specifically on
what they, standing on LockeOs shoulders, offer as an acceptable system of
economic justice.
Locke begins by stating that each person has a natural right to preserve his or
her life. "God has given the Earth to all people in common for their
sustenance." (Locke 310). In the state of nature, each person owns everything
in nature equally with everyone else. However, some things in nature must be
"appropriated" in order for one to derive any sustaining benefit from them. As
an example, Locke says one must take possession of acorns or apples in order to
eat them and, so, derive sustenance from them. But one must do something
positive in order to appropriate the acorns or apples and, thus, make them
one's own. A person possesses his or her own body and the actions of that body.
One owns oneself. By virtue of exercising the labor of one's body in
conjunction with the machinations of nature on land held in common by mankind,
one removes a thing from the state of nature and makes it one's own. Locke says
that one's labors puts a "distinction" between oneself and the rest of mankind
in relation to the object of one's labors. The rights of the individual as
expressed in one's labors creates private rights.
Ownership comes out of the appropriation of land and the mixing of labor into
the appropriated land. This originates in the state of nature where there is no
government above the individual to impede their efforts to use and hold onto
their property nor regulate trade between buyers and sellers. Natural freedom,
according to Locke, is to live within the bounds of natural law (reason) which
are respected in the state of nature as the right to enjoy the product of one's
labor and protect its use.
This does not mean, however, that every person has a right to remove from
nature everything that he or she wills. There are limits to what may be
appropriated from nature. First, something may be appropriated from nature so
long as it is enjoyed. Next, one may appropriate to the point of spoilage or
destruction. It is a limit because the properties that were spoiled or
destroyed should have remained common property. As common property, another
person could have mixed his or her labors with nature, thus taking it his or
her property.
In terms of land, one takes possession of land by improving it. It is owned to
the extent that one can manage the land and use its products, and is subject to
the same limitations as the other things one can appropriate from nature
through his labors. God has commanded that it be so to the extent that He
commanded mankind to labor over the earth. And regardless of one's
appropriation of land, there is so much land left in common that the affect of
appropriating the land is negligible. Indeed, when one cultivates his land, one
increases the "common stock" of mankind by creating an abundance of product,
when compared to leaving the same land to nature. Thus any amount that is
cultivated beyond one's needs can be used to supply the needs of others. That
portion of one's lands which produces the surplus remains somewhat in the
possession of the rest of mankind. The rest of mankind benefit's from the
abundance produced through labor.
Civic freedom in the political society transfers only the right of property
protection to the government, the executive power of individuals becomes the
government's duty to punish transgressions of natural law. Civil rights, argues
Locke, are not the restriction of the liberties of private property but the
consent of individuals to this duty of government to be the judge and executor
of civil law founded upon principles of reason. Property rights are passed on
from the state of nature to the political state. John Locke demands that the
government which is instituted by the political society is assigned with the
power and purpose to regulate and protect the use of property. He argues that
people are not "naturally subject" to any human government but introduces the
consent of the governed concept.
The people, however, have the natural liberty at all time to revoke their
trust in the government, should it unjustly intrude on their property rights,
equality, or other freedoms. But Locke clearly articulates this breaking of
trust in a government is not a return to the state of nature but to the
political society (which then creates a new government). During this upheaval
the natural right of individuals to own and use private property is maintained;
the "artificial" government is what changes.
Locke does believe that this human government will be uncorrupted as it was
mentioned earlier that "perfect freedom" is an ideal for imperfect beings. The
social contract, in the form of Locke's political society, is primarily meant
to secure individual freedom. Whether it binds together a group of people with
a national myth or social identity seems to be a secondary benefit of the
political society. Locke intends for the distinct members of the newly formed
civil state to be served by their government, not serve the personal interests
of the leaders. It is interesting that the method Locke prescribes for choosing
the form of government is a majority vote among the political society's members
but that form of government is not necessarily representative democracy. Once
the form of government is decided then the people place their trust in whatever
it is, revocable by the citizens should it interfere in their civic liberties
and private property. The political society formed out of the individuals and
not the government would be the social identity of Locke's state. The
government can be replaced by the permanent political society.

Without private property rights to be protected it could be possible to
guarantee individual freedom for everyone to appropriate as much as they
please. But Locke points out that property accumulation is limited, not by
intruders, by the factors of spoilage and individual labor strength (not
necessarily intruders). Labor not only defines the individual as owner of
property but also defines how much of the property can be appropriated. The
property is meant to be enjoyed by the owner to the maximum; only as much
property that can be used without surplus spoiling is the other limitation of
accumulation.
Locke's detailed discussion in Chapter V outlines the impact of money in
reducing and eliminating these limitations by exploiting the so-called surplus
value and wage-labor to maximize profits. It is most important for Locke that
this productive activity is free from intrusion by other individuals in the
state of nature and the government in the civil state.
There is no individual freedom unless property rights are established and
property protection is enforced. Modern-day critics label these statements as
justification of uncontrolled, industrialized capitalism and exploitation of
the labor working class. "[Some scholars feel] that LockeOs theory indirectly
inspired Karl MarxOs theory of exploitation" (Yolton 90). Some thinkers like
Marx actively participated in organizations with the goal of bringing down
liberal, capitalist states. Yet today documents like the American constitution,
embody principles such as consent of the governed, inalienable rights, and
protection of property. Individual freedom is meaningless without private
property in both the "non-governmental", theoretical state of nature and
political societies such as the United States which are modeled on liberal
ideas espoused by Locke. Finally, though the natural and political states are
founded on reason as revealed by the divine will Locke does not propose
theocracy but the right of members of the civic state to choose whatever form
of government they want.
Locke's view of property accepts and endorses two states of affairs we find
problematic today. Huge differentials in wealth between the rich and the poor.
Locke essentially claims that the advent of money made it possible to
accumulate vast wealth. When wealth was measured in goods that were perishable,
this meant that there was a limit to what could be accumulated and kept. For
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