Human beings open their eyes in a world that is full of rules, regulations; most of the time without even having the chance to refuse or change them. In a sense they are born in chains because of these unchangeable principles dictated to them. Almost all people in the world live in territories where there are official organized institutions called “states” which regulate and organize the political, economical and social lives. The existence of states has become an absolute condition for the well-being of societies starting from centuries ago. Humans do not have much chance to change this situation because by all their means such as family, education system, media and political authority, states try to bring up their people in the way that they want and to protect their safety as well as to provide their continuity. However, the state did not appear immediately with the beginning of human life. There was a period of time in history during which human beings lived freely in nature without a central, binding power. Many philosophers have tried to explain the necessity of the existence of the state by imagining and studying this stateless period of time. John Locke (1632-1704) was one these philosophers who tried to explain the state of nature and the origins of the state institution in his masterpiece “The Second Treatise of Government (1690)”. In this assignment, I am going to explain Locke’s views and discuss some contradictory dimensions in his thinking. I will also compare Locke with other social contract theorists such as Thomas Hobbes.
John Locke, who is accepted as one of the founders of the liberal thought, has his own understanding of the state of nature. Locke reveals in his book “Second Treatise of Government” that the state of nature was or would be a peaceful life with perfect freedom. Locke believes that human beings are naturally equal when we look at their use of the faculties. He thinks that this equality between the same kind of species creates a kind of sympathy, mutual love between humans especially in earlier times during which humans had to fight against the external dangers such as wild animals and the force of the nature (natural disasters, cold, etc) by cooperating. So, in the state of nature people were living peacefully with unlimited liberties and with the guidance of the rules of nature that is basically the “reason”. Locke claims; “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone. And reason, which is that law, teaches all man kind who will consult it that, being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions” (Locke, pg 264). However, some people, who do not act according to the principle of reason and common equity, began to create problems in the society. Locke does not say anything about the reasons of the acts of these foolish people but we understand that they somehow spoil social life. Also, in the state of nature each individual has the right to punish people who do not conform to the rules of reasoning and common equity by themselves with punishment and reparation motives and this may create problems. “To this strange doctrine, viz. that in the state of nature everyone has the executive power to the law of nature, I doubt not but it will be objected that it is unreasonable for men to be judges in their own cases, that self-love will make men partial to themselves and their friends. And, on the other side, that ill-nature, passion, and revenge will carry them too far in punishing others” (Locke, pg 267).
Some people may not judge guilty people properly and may give them severe punishments especially when they are affected by crimes. In his idea, when an individual tries to be judge in a case, his/her aim should be to deter the offender and other people from making this unreasonable act again and also to compensate hi/her damage. Because of the presence of these foolish people who do not act according to the law of nature and the problem of punishment, the state of nature may become a state of war. The state of war begins when a person tries to take away the freedom of another person or threatens his/her life in an environment where there is not a common superior to decide. This would direct threatened people to defend their lives by force and the state of war would replace the state of nature. That is exactly why humans should make a social contract voluntarily to form a government to protect the harmony of the social life. This government should not be an absolute government at all because Locke claims that even though the state of nature that has many deficiencies due to unreasonable people, it is much better than absolute monarchy because in the state of nature all people are responsible for decisions and it is a much more democratic condition. However, in absolute monarchy only one man decides everything with his own judgment. From these main ideas, Locke at the end reaches the conclusion that the role of the state should be limited and it should be to punish guilty people and to create a secure environment in which social and economic life can take place freely. The duty of the government should be only to protect its citizens’ basic rights such as the right to survive, to have property and to live freely. This can be provided only through a democratic state where all individuals give some of their rights to the government members voluntarily for the protection of their rights. Locke also criticizes the divine authority severely and explains the irrationality of a king’s divine power to possess the land and the subjects of his country.
John Locke also elaborates his views on the right to have property. Locke reveals that according to the natural law, the labour of a person’s body should be his or her property. “The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his” (Locke, pg 274). In addition, when a person mixes his/her labour with a thing that nature has offered for humans, he/she has right to possess this thing. “Whatsoever, then, he removes out of the state that nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property” (Locke, pg 274). In Locke’s idea, nature provided everything for humans; fruits, animals, water etc. and humans are free to acquire what they need from nature by mixing their labour to that specific thing For example, humans have right to gather apples from trees according to their needs. Natural materials are common to all people and the mixture of labour of a person will make that material a private property. “That labour put a distinction between them and common. That added something to them more than nature, the common mother of all, had done; and so they became his private right” (Locke, pg 275). Although mixing labour is the only criterion for having property, contract or consent is the ground of government and fixes its limits.
Locke goes further in this argument and suggests that even the grass that a man’s horse has bit would be that man’s property like the ore a man has digged. “Thus the grass my horse has bit, the turfs my servant has cut, and the ore I have digged in any place where I have a right to them in common with others become my property, without the assignation or consent of anybody. The labour was mine, removing them out of that common state they were in, hath fixed my property in them” (Locke, pg 275). Locke believes that positive laws should be based on this natural law of property and all regulations should be made according to this principle. He thinks that civilized countries do this. “And amongst those who are counted the civilized part of mankind, who have made and multiplied positive laws to determine property, this original law of nature for the beginning of property in what was before common, still takes place; and by virtue thereof, what fish anyone catches in the ocean, that great and still remaining common of mankind, or what ambergris anyone takes up here is by the labour that removes it out of that common state nature left it in, made his property who takes that pains about it” (Locke, pg 276).
The idea may look very exaggerated but we should not forget that Locke lived in 17th century in a world less organized, less institutionalised and less populated. His theory can be understood in a way that the one who first acts will have the benefit. “I grabbed this land first so it belongs to me”. However, it is not that simple. Locke insists on mentioning that a person should mix his labour in order to own a natural material that is common, public. Locke does not clearly mention about the definition of mixing labour but thinks that it is only criterion for having property. A man should exclude the natural thing from common use by mixing his labour and also should improve the characteristics of that thing. “God, when he gave the world in common to all mankind, commanded man also to labour, and the penury of his condition required it of him. God and his reason commanded him to subdue the earth, i.e. improve it for the benefit of life, and therein lay out something upon it that was his own, his labour” (Locke, pg 277). In Locke’s understanding, the conditions of human life and nature make private possession inevitable. However, man should not act greedily in possessing natural materials especially when they are in shortage. Thus he says, “Whatever is beyond this, is more than his share, and belong to others” (Locke, pg 276).
Now, I want to discuss some important points in Locke’s theory and argumentation. First of all, Locke’s theory can be said to be not secular unlike Thomas Hobbes. Locke is known to be a devoted Calvinist and we see that in many parts of his theory Locke uses God and his religious beliefs to support his views. For instance, the law of nature which constitutes an important base for his theory is set by God. “In transgressing the law of nature the offender declares himself to live by another rule that of reason and common equity, which is that measure God has set to the actions of men for their mutual security…” (Locke, pg 265). Also, he claims “God hath certainly appointed government to restrain the partiality and violence of men” (Locke, pg 267). Although Hobbes uses some quotations from the Bible to strengthen his ideas, he writes completely in a secular way. We can also see that Locke tries to destroy the “original sin” understanding of Catholic Christianity by his views on tabula rasa. Tabula Rasa refers to the unformed, featureless mind (blank page) of human beings (when they are born) in the philosophy of John Locke. That is why Locke gives importance to experiences and known as an empiricist. Locke also has some political aims in writing this piece. In the Second Treatise of Government, Locke basically has two aims: to refute the doctrine of divine and absolute power of the monarch and to protect basic rights of developing British bourgeoisie and aristocracy. Locke is a defender of Glorious Revolution and he mainly attacks on the absolute monarchy.
Locke also tries to refute Hobbes while explaining his hypothesis about the state of nature. However, his state of nature conception has a presumption. Locke draws a picture of fertility and differs from Hobbes in that way. In Hobbes’ theory, scarcity is pre-accepted and Hobbes constitutes his theory on that. However, Locke does not mention about the state of nature in the case of scarcity. We may argue that in the case of scarcity, his peaceful state of nature can turn into a state of war with rational and self-defending individuals. Although their conception of the nature of human beings seems to differ heavily, scarcity-fertility contradiction also plays an important role in the dissociation of these two philosophers. Locke is the earliest defender of basic rights of today’s democracies such as the right to live and the right to have property. “For by the fundamental law of nature man being to be preserved, as much as possible, when all cannot be preserved the safety of the innocent is to be preferred” (Locke, pg 269). As the vanguard of Enlightenment who lived 17th century, Locke was not able to see Industrial Revolution and as the spokesman of rising bourgeoisie his ideas about property could have changed after witnessing to the evolution of proletariat class. His views on property could be perceived somehow similar to Marxist understanding of labor. His statement “Whatever is beyond this, is more than his share, and belong to others” is close to “To each according to his needs” motto of Marxists. He also has some patriarchal elements in his theory. “But the husband and wife, though they have but one common concern, yet having different understandings, will unavoidably sometimes have different wills too; it there being necessary that the last determination i.e. the rule, should be placed somewhere, it naturally falls to the man’s share, as the abler and the stronger” (Locke, pg 302). The idea may seem contrary to today’s democratic principles but we should not forget that Locke developed these ideas in the 17th century.
To sum up, John Locke is a very influential thinker in the emergence of liberalism and basic civil rights. However, there are some deficiencies in his theory considering the presumption of fertility and the lack of the criterion for mixing labor. He may not be accepted as secular because of his permanent stress to God and religion. In addition, his ideas on labor and property approach him to Marxist school.
 “But force, or a declared design of force upon the person of another, where there is no common superior on earth to appeal to for relief, is the state of war; and ‘tis the want of such an appeal to for relief, is the state of war; and ‘tis the want of such an appeal gives a man the right of war even against an aggressor, though he be in society and a fellow subject” (Locke, pg 270).
 “But I shall desire those who make his objection to remember that absolute monarchs are but men, and if government is to be the remedy of those evils which necessarily follow from men’s being judges in their own cases, and the state of nature is therefore not to be endured, I desire to know what kind of government that is, and how much better it is than the state of nature, where one man commanding a multitude has the liberty to be judge in his own case…” (Locke, pg 267).