John Locke: Property RightsPerhaps one of, if not the, most historically influential politicalthinkers of the western world was John Locke. John Locke, the man who initiatedwhat is now known as British Empiricism, is also considered highly influentialin establishing grounds, theoretically at least, for the constitution of theUnited States of America. The basis for understanding Locke is that he seesall people as having natural God given rights. As God’s creations, thisdenotes a certain equality, at least in an abstract sense.
This religious backdrop acts as a the foundation for all of Locke’s theories, including histheories of individuality, private property, and the state. The reader will beshown how and why people have a natural right to property and the impact thishas on the sovereign, as well as the extent of this impact. Locke was a micro based ideologist. He believed that humans wereautonomous individuals who, although lived in a social setting, could not bearticulated as a herd or social animal. Locke believed person to stand for,”.
. . a thinking, intelligent being, that hasreason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinkingthing in different times and places, which it only does by that consciousnesswhich is inseparable from thinking. ” This ability to reflect, think, andreason intelligibly is one of the many gifts from God and is that gift whichseparates us from the realm of the beast.
The ability to reason and reflect,although universal, acts as an explanation for individuality. All reason andreflection is based on personal experience and reference. Personal experiencemust be completely individual as no one can experience anything quite the sameas another. This leads to determining why Locke theorized that all humans, speakingpatriarchially with respect to the time “why all men,” have a natural right toproperty. Every man is a creation of God’s, and as such is endowed with certainindividual abilities and characteristics as gifts from God.
Not being able toknow God’s exact wishes for man, Locke believed that all men have an obligationto develop and caress these gifts. In essence, each man was in charge of his ownbody and what was done with his body. Of course, for Locke, each man would dothe reasonable thing and develop his natural skills and potentials to the bestof his abilities, in the service of God. The belief in God given abilities and the obligations that follow arenot totally deterministic. Man, endowed with reason, could choose not todevelop these abilities.
Having the ability to choose the development of hispotential, each man is responsible for that potential and consequently isresponsible for his own body. The development, or lack therein, is aconsequence of individual motivation and is manifested through labor. In keeping with the theory of one’s body is one’s own, a man’s propertycan be explained in terms of the quantifying forces of his labors. Physicallabor or exercisation of his mind, to produce fruits for this person’s labor,is then his own property. Locke believed that one did not need the consent of asovereign, as far as property was concerned, because it is the melding oflabor and nature that makes anything owned.
Yolton articulates this when hestates, “(b)y mixing my work, my energy with some object, (nature), Iparticulise that object, it’s commonness becomes particular” Locke believedthat as long as there was plenty for others, consent was pointless, irrelevantand would merely be an overzealous exercision of power. Pointless because aslong as there was more for others in the common store, one was not infringing onanother’s natural rights. Irrelevant because property production or the use oflabor was completely individualistic and one should not be able to controlanother’s labor as it is an infringement on their natural rights. There are however limits, as far as property and labor are concerned. One limit is that of non destruction.
God did not create anything for man todestroy. The amount produced by any man should be kept in check by his level ofdestruction. For example, there is a big difference between the cutting of oneor a few trees and the harvesting of an entire forest. Yolton explicates thisby stating that, “.
. . specific rights comes in conjunction with thisrestriction. Since Nothing was made by God for Man to spoil or destroy,’ theproperty making function of man’s activities ought to be curbed at the point ofspoilage. If my acquisition spoils,