John Locke and Commercial Capitalism

Topics: Property, Capitalism, Marxism Pages: 5 (1690 words) Published: April 30, 2006
Political philosopher John Locke ideas and theories serve as a foundation in our democratic world. In the Second Treatise of Government sovereignty is placed in the hands of the people. Locke argues that everyone is born equal and has natural rights in the state of nature. He also argues that men have inalienable rights to life, liberty and property. The central argument around the creation of a civil society was with the protection of property. In this essay I will explain Locke's theory of property and how it is not anything other than a "thinly disguised defense of bourgeois commercial capitalism." This statement is defended through Locke's personal background and his justifications for the inequalities of wealth.

Locke did not write in a vacuum. His background and interests influenced his writing in the Second Treatise of Government. Locke's theories revolve heavily around the acquisition of property. Locke, himself, came from an affluent family than and he was a part of the Whig movement. It would have been in Locke's best interest to promote a philosophy that emphasized the importance of the property in a civil society.

John Locke was born in 1632 to a prosperous family on a modest estate. He was educated at the prestigious Westminster School in London and received a bachelor's and master's degree at Oxford University. His studies were concentrated on philosophy and medicine. After leaving Oxford he became friends with the first Earl of Shaftesbury, which led him into politics. Shaftesbury the leader of the Whig movement had a great influence on Locke. The Whig movement was a faction that supported the exclusion of James II and VII from the thrones of England, Ireland, and Scotland (wikipedia). The Whigs were often associated with the great noble houses and wealthy merchants. By coming from a wealthy family he would naturally want to defend the status he has come from. Also, by associating with the Whig party, this further emphasizes the importance of wealth and politics.

Locke in his Second Treatise of Government argues how common and private property came about. He begins with the idea that God did not give absolute powers or rights of the world to Adam. Therefore Adam's heirs do not have any rights, and if they did it would be impossible to determine his heirs today (Locke §1). In other words, since no one owns the world, everyone has equal rights to the use of the land. Locke argues that,

God, who hath given the world to men in common, hath also given them reason to make use of it to the best advantage of life and convenience. The earth and all that is therein is given to men for the support and comfort of their being. And though all the fruits it naturally produces, and beasts it feeds, belong to mankind in common, as they are produced by the spontaneous hand of Nature, and nobody has originally a private dominion exclusive of the rest of mankind in any of them, as they are thus in their natural state (Locke §26).

Locke claims that all things in the natural state belong to everyone and is considered common property. In order to have any use of common property, one must be able to make it their own. Locke states, "there must of necessity be a means to appropriate them some way or other, before they can be of any use, or at all beneficial to any particular man" (Locke, §26). Thus, this leads us to the theory of private property.

Using an example of fruit, Locke introduces his theory of property. All people have two private possessions; one is our own body and the other are the products using the labour of our body (Locke, §27). If labour is exerted then "it by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for other (Locke, §27). He uses...

Cited: Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government. Ed. C.B. Macpherson.: Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, (1690) 1980.
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