Through out time there has been a constant struggle between the ideas of social control and the rights of the individual. Even at the present time there are conflicting opinions on how much power the government should have and how much power the individual should have over themselves. John Locke, like many before him, had an idea of how government and society should run.
He attempts to devise an argument that will define the limits of political power while establishing the rights of resistance. Locke has many points that come together to create his argument. These are primarily based on the basic principles that natural equality when combined with legitimate authority will lead people and their property, out of a state of nature and into a better, stronger, and more stable society.
Lockes main point on property is that all human bodies are property of that person. He illustrates this view when he states, ” Through the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself”(p. 19). It is clear that Locke’s idea of property does embrace the notion that the self is the property of the person and only that individual person. Locke furthers his argument by explaining how a human can have actual material property.
In order to obtain material property one must mix whatever one wishes to own with the labour of their body. He defines labour as something that makes common private. He puts certain limits to actual material property by saying that someone can only own as much as they can use to any advantage without spoil and they must leave enough and as good for others. Locke also touches on the institution of slavery.
Slavery in the voluntary or non-voluntary sense is prohibited under Locke’s argument. His reasons for why this act is prohibited are that when someone has ownership of another person they have the power to do with that persons life what they please. This is a direct violation because he has already set the premise that each person is the owner of himself, and if someone else were to own another it would violate this premise. The idea of slavery is also prohibited because it goes against the law of nature that lists self-preservation as being its number one priority. The law of nature thus ties into the property premise and leads to an ultimate conclusion that slavery should not exist.
Locke states, ” Every one, as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station willfully, so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind, and may not, unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another”(p.9). This basically sums up Lockes law of nature. He feels that the first duty of man is to preserve himself above all other things, and next he should also preserve, as much as possible, his fellow man. Locke believes that in a state of nature every individual has the authority to execute the law of nature, but only when the killing of the offender will do justice.
Justice of this type is defined as punishing the crime for the prevention of similar crime, which is stated to be the right of all persons, and reparation which is solely the right of the injured. Overall Locke does support the killing of murderers if necessary for justice. The support roots from the idea of guaranteed protection the simple fact they will not be alive to harm again. His feelings on this issue are illustrated clearly when he says, “every man, in the state of nature, has a power to kill a murderer, both to deter others from doing the like injury, which no reparation can compensate, by the example of punishment that attends it from every body, and also to secure men from the attempts of a criminal”(p. 11). Locke doesnt believe the state of nature is comparable to total destruction of humanity or a hell, but he does see many problems with it.
The main reason people choice to go from the state of nature and into a society is for better protection of their property. He states that the two main problems with any type of property protection are that there are no common authorities and human partiality gets in the way when speaking of fair punishment. In a more detailed account he states the direct problems with the state of nature are that there are no standings laws, indifferent judges, or reliable executive powers. All these problems encompass one main issue.
This issue is that property, physical and material, needs to be protected in a more secure way. The way to obtain this higher security is to move out of the state of nature and into a society. Locke first moves out of the state of nature and into society through the introduction of consent. Consent is the necessary condition that makes obedience legitimate. To explain what he means by consent he first explains how humans can give consent and why they can give consent.
He states that the idea of consent of all is the origin of society. He states, “For when any number of men have, by the consent of every individual, made a community, they have thereby made that community one body, with a power to act as one body, which is only by the will and determination of the majority”(p. 52). This clearly shows how crucial consent is to the membership of society, and not only consent, but the consent of each and every member in that society. Their joint consent then makes for a majority type of rule. He believes to be part of a society and to be obligated to follow the rules of that society an individual must first consent to being a part of that society.
There are two different forms of consent. The first one is express consent while the second is tacit consent. Express consent is explicit consent while tacit is a silent consent. Locke believes that explicit consent is obvious and not hard to understand, while tacit is more difficult to establish. Locke does however believe that if one, ” that hath any possessions, or enjoyment, of any part of the dominions of any government, doth thereby give his tacit consent, and is as far forth obliged to obedience to the laws to that government”(p. 53).
This basically means if you live in a society where a government is established and you have property or are enjoying the society you are staying in this is enough for tacit consent. Once a person has consented, either with explicit or tacit, they are a part of society. Society is made to preserve the lives, liberty and estates, which all make up property.