4) Explain and Evaluate the Way in Which Locke Related His Theory of Property to His Theory of Government.

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  • Topic: Property, John Locke, Ownership
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  • Published : March 7, 2007
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John Locke¡¦s labour theory of property and government has won attention from a staggering range of interpreters. Some analysts have hailed the theory as the greatest achievement of Locke¡¦s political writing, whereas others have scorned it as critically misdirected and shallow. For numerous analysts both friendly and hostile, the labour theory functions as the core of Lockean individualism, but for others the theory serves as the foundation of Locke¡¦s Communitarianism. Many critics and supporters of Locke have found his reasoning to be firm, but some admirers and some detractors have found it to be insubstantial. Therefore our task is to critically evaluate this theory in terms of explaining what it is, how the two premises are interrelated and to consider justifications for inequality and private property.

Firstly what must be addressed is the problem of property. The difficulty is we don¡¦t know what initial view of property Locke was using when he wrote his thesis. If we take the liberal view it means that Government is based on consent, monarchy and the rule of law. An alternative is the opinion of bourgeois property rights, meaning that property is given by natural rights and the government ultimately owns it. However, it is generally agreed today that the interpretation of property is the Christian view, which opens up the debate between John Locke and Robert Filmer, the main reason being that the two disagree over the notion of the Christian view. ¡§Filmer¡¦s claims were claims about the God-given rights of the crown. What he appears to have gouged out of Locke in his implicitly radical response was not just a prudential judgement about how extensive the rights of the crown should be but a horror at the idea that limitless royal power should be construed as a gift God.¡¨ This is also known as the divine right of kings. In this way Filmer rejects the existence of private property, because the monarch owns all property. In what you could call a monopoly ownership of land, everyone owns land through the means of the monarch.

Locke felt it necessary to undermine this statement. He initially says that everyone is naturally free, so the government¡¦s existence is by consent alone. With all due regard to private property, he says this cannot operate simply on the basis of consent. Therefore if we use an analogy to express the two conflicting views,¡¨For Filmer men needed a concrete continuing authority in which they could be wrapped. Like crabs they could live only in a continuous God-given shell. But to Locke they were more like hermit crabs: the shells they needed, their instincts made available to them. It was God¡¦s world they lived in- but as difficult as it seemed.¡¨ According to Locke¡¦s theory of government, consent is the basis for government, not for property and he thus claims it necessary for consistency in his theory. Before we go any further we should also note that property, in 1690 according to Locke, had a broader definition at the time, being wholly inclusive of personal rights and religious and civil liberties. So, essentially we must view relationship between property and government on these terms. The question we must now answer is how can there be private property without consent and absolute monarchy?

Locke¡¦s answer to this problem came in the form of the natural right to property. These private property rights are natural rights- not in saying that men are born with them but in saying that though these rights are acquired only as the result of actions and transactions that men undertake on their own initiative and not by virtue of the means of any civil framework of positive rules vesting those rights in them. Rights of private property are not God-given to the individuals that have them. Seemingly Locke believed that God favoured private property on the grounds that he created the world and its resources with the intention that humans should acquire rights over it in this way....
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