John Locke of Poor Reform and Workhouses
The reading for this week addresses Locke’s understanding of the relationship between the poor and the capable citizens in society. He stated explicitly in his second treatise on government, the importance of work and labor in order to assess a person’s worth. Locke believes that man is not meant to be idle and that the purpose of existence is to live in the image of God and work towards a life of moral bounds and labor upon the earth making it more beneficial to all those who enjoy its benefits. During the century that Locke is writing, about 50-70% of the population is extremely poor. There seemed to be no freedoms unless the institution of waged labor came into question. Waged labor during this time was not much better than being a slave and in many ways is just an extension of slavery.
In order to combat the growing problem of the poor in the England cities, Locke proposes the idea of workhouses which would be the equivalent of reform schools. In these institutions, young people of the poor or incapacitated nature would learn tangible skills that they can then use in their homes or that they could use in order to attain a job. Education is very important to Locke because it is one of the main differences between rich/ able bodied and the poor. In my opinion, it is because of the lack of extensive education that the numbers of poor during this century in English history skyrocketed instead of declining as more jobs and resources became available.
According to Locke, a major factor in the high numbers of poor is the fact that they are simply idle or lazy and do not want to work hard in order to attain money or land. For some citizens, things of this nature come automatically due to inheritances and things of that nature and presents Locke with a parallel of poor with no means of moving up and the rich with any intent of sharing the wealth and / or knowledge. Rather than poor people, idleness seems to be the root...
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