If you think that the man pictured for this post is the long lost member of Aerosmith, you are wrong. This great man is the inspiration for most of the political ideas of today. His name was John Locke. It was his thoughts that helped directly found the concept of self governance and many of the theories that led to the founding of The United States. His ideas would inspire millions to consider the fact that they owned themselves and should be directly involved in the running of their political system. His philosophy was an important step on the road from monarchy to republican government. Today we can still learn from him as we pave the steps from a centralized republican system to a system based on local voluntary community.
John Locke was born August 29th, 1632 in Somerset England. He was sent to school in London at the popular Westminster School. Later he would be admitted to Christ Church, Oxford when just twenty years old. There he showed his first sign of rebellious thought when he chose to spend his time reading the works of Descartes as opposed to the endorsed curriculum of the classical writers. None the less, he went on to receive both a bachelors and masters degree in medicine.
His name would have been known just through his work in medicine. He caught the attention of Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, who made him his personal physician. Locke was instrumental in saving him when a liver infection became life threatening. Through his connection with Shaftesbury, Locke became politically active.
This would be where Locke began his radical departure from the popular models of government. He envisioned the world as it is, with good and bad competing. He realized that the governance of the time, which was largely monarchy, was not in keeping with nature. It was nature that inspired him in his theories. He observed that there was no direct reason that any one person should lord over any other person. In nature, sure there are alpha males, but they do not get that position based on birth or some expectation because of status. There was competition for leadership based on who was best suited for the job. He also observed that in many cases it was cooperation between many individuals that caused an animal community to flourish.
He began writing his Two Treatises of Government. It has to be stated that this is not a modern study on government. Evolution does not happen in a day and this was the 1600s. That being said it is a wonderful example of forward thinking that caught much of the world off guard. It outright challenged the “divine right of kings.”
I find that many old writers are boring. They tend to get bogged down in the minutiae or are too stuffy for my modern tastes. This certainly is not true of John Locke. He is hilarious. Systematically, he attacks the supporters of monarchy. Many of these supporters of the rule of kings used the Bible to support their claims. Locke, being well versed in scripture shows without any reasonable doubt that there is no good defense of the divine right of kings to be found within those pages.
Locke would not end his thoughts on government by attacking monarchy alone.
“Tis a Mistake to think this Fault [tyranny] is proper only to Monarchies; other Forms of Government are liable to it, as well as that. For where-ever the Power that is put in any hands for the Government of the People, and the Preservation of their Properties, is applied to other ends, and made use of to impoverish, harass, or subdue them to the Arbitrary and Irregular Commands of those that have it: There it presently becomes Tyranny, whether those that thus use it are one or many.”
Obviously, he was a Freedom fighter on the pages of his books hundreds of years ago.
His largest contributions to the freedom movement were his theories on law, and his understanding of how society functions. First and foremost Locke’s theories on law come from the view that there are two kinds of law. These are natural law which he says needs no explanation and are “self evident.” These Natural Laws are things like don’t kill people or take their stuff. Judge Andrew Napolitano who is massively influenced by Locke, gives a good list of these rights in his book It is Dangerous to be Right When Government is Wrong
“Our basic Human Liberties- thought, speech, press, worship, travel, privacy, association, self defense, bodily integrity, dominion over ownership of property, fairness from government, and the presumption of liberty at all times under all circumstances and in all conflicts- are the essence of humanity.”
You should note that many of these rights were included in the Bill of Rights or the first ten amendments to the US Constitution, again, this is more proof of Locke’s influence.
The other kind of law that Locke writes about is civil law. He defines these as laws that a community agrees on. He further comments that for any civil law to be valid it must pass two criteria. First it must be agreed upon by the community. That means that no president, king, or potentate can go against the will of the people. He also makes it clear that this is not just through some body of men who were elected deciding for us, but by the people themselves. This can be shown in this beautiful quote about the government’s power over property.
“Men being by nature all free, equal and independent, no one can be put out of his estate and subjected to the political power of another without his own consent which is done by agreeing with other men, to join and unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living in a secure enjoyment of their properties.”
The other criterion for a civil law to be just is that everyone must be made aware of it. He asks how can a man be expected to follow a law that he does not know, and furthermore how can he be punished for the offence?
In my opinion, a good example in modern society of a sound civil law, based on Locke’s philosophy, is speed limits. Now, to be clear, I am not saying we should have speed limits but that they fit this definition. We as a community can decide if a speed limit is too high or too low and petition our local government for a change. We should be able to argue for its removal as well, but that is for another post. The signs are also posted making it clear of the law.
You should be asking yourself about the many laws that do not fit this model. Tax law alone would have had Locke beside himself, although were he alive today he’d likely be wearing a “Taxation is Theft” t-shirt while he sang “Sweet Emotion.” Here is one of my favorite Locke quotes concerning law.
“The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom.”
How society should be organized for Locke was equally as simple. This time there are only three divisions. The first one is when man is in a “Natural State.” We are all born into this. This is the state you live in if you are not part of a community. In Locke’s world we had the choice to just live with our family without the force of government invading your land or stealing your money through property taxes.
The next level of society, for him, was community. This is when people who are in close proximity decide to do things together. Most human interactions in society actually take place within the confines of a community. This is relevant for things like trade, or common defense. Building a house or barn together for someone would fit this model. So would the constructing of a church, or school. Anything that we decide to do together without coercion or force happens at the community level.
Finally, the last level is government. This is when a community decides to have someone handle tasks for it that they don’t want to do themselves. This could be as simple as someone being in charge of a militia or someone who handles all of the garbage for the community.
It can also be someone who is chosen as a leader to direct the activities of the community. Locke says it makes no matter what kind of government this is. It could be a republic, a democracy, or even a monarchy. In the case of monarchy, he does specify though, that the monarch should be chosen by the people. It is essential, he believes, that it is not automatically based upon hereditary. Could it be possible that the son or daughter of a king might be the best to take over after his death? Absolutely, Locke says, it is plausible, and some might argue that those who were raised by this leader will have seen examples of how to do the job. Though he concedes that it might occasionally happen, he states that his experiences do not support this. What he had witnessed was that the offspring of the royalty, no matter how good their parents were, were usually totally unsuited for the position. In the end, Locke has this to say about government:
“Government has no other end, but the preservation of property”
Many people from both the left and right on the political spectrum have laid claim to Locke. He said that property is derived from labor. Socialists like to compare that to many of the writings of Marx and other socialist leaders. It is clear, if you read any of Locke’s writings, that this is entirely a misreading of his meaning. His point was in the context of physical property. In his time, most land was owned by the wealthy nobility and this property might not ever have been seen by the owners. In his time, the rich owned all the land and the poor owned none. Commenting on this, he was very clear that if you own land and do something with it, like even building a fence and enjoying it for its beauty, you are using it and it belongs to you. On the other hand, if it was unused for decades, then it should revert to what he called a “natural state”. It would be owned by no one until someone came along to use the land. This seems pretty reasonable to me, but it is not the same as Marx’s government ownership of land.
As for the right, Locke was certainly the number one influence on practically all of the founding fathers. Many of them said so. The Declaration of Independence by Jefferson’s own admission was based in Locke’s philosophy. The Constitution, as well, has many parts that came directly from him. The Bill of Rights certainly did. In an attempt to show that they know best, those on the right have decided for themselves that all of these documents and the founders are owned by Republicans, and they get to interpret them as they see fit. Locke falls victim to their plans as well.
I am not here to make a case that Locke was a Voluntaryist, but I do think he pointed us in that direction. It was his philosophy that led the founding fathers to challenge their far off monarch. Locke was nothing if not a supporter for the individual. His words on this matter could today have been spoken by people like Adam Kokesh. Words like these:
“All men by nature are equal in that equal right that every man hath to his natural freedom, without being subjected to the will or authority of any other man; being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.”
Or this gem:
“Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself.”
Locke’s words are timeless and relevant to the evolution unfolding in front of us.
He was feared by kings and dictators all over the world. The English monarchy at one point forced Locke to flee out of the country to avoid being killed. Today, our freedom movement faces this same fear. The establishment fights us at every turn. Their propagandists in the media work hard to silence our advances. The government itself attacks us directly and covertly.
Locke helped fuel what was called “The Glorious Revolution”, or “The Revolution of 1688.” This revolution led to the overthrowing of King James the 2nd of England. One of the best details of this revolution is hinted at by another name it is known by “The Bloodless Revolution.” Though the name is actually false, (there were a few killed), it was one of the least bloody revolutions in history.
This should give us hope that we can do everything Locke helped inspire and do it better. Adam Kokesh is running for President of the United States. His platform is to dissolve the federal government in a peaceful and orderly manner. This is a natural step in the evolution of human progress started by the inspiration of John Locke.
Furthering his liberty based ideas, Locke talks extensively about revolution. His opinion was that when a government established by the people begins to act in opposition to the interests of the same people it is supposed to serve, it is the duty of those people to withdraw support for that government. At that point, they would return to a community status. He goes on to say that if the government refuses the will of the people to reject its authority, that government has become tyrannical. Of this destruction of State power Locke has this to say, “But there is only one thing which gathers people into seditious commotion, and that is oppression.”
It is time to bring this Freedom Fighter back into the light. Also, it is time to take his philosophy to its next stage. As a free and independent people, we must unshackle ourselves from the chains of the State. Government in all non-voluntary forms must be thrown away to history. Our human evolution demands it. We hold the fires of liberty high in the torch of freedom and thank all who have come before us for kindling that flame.
Written by @marcus.pulis
Two Treatises of Government, John Locke
A Letter Concerning Toleration, John Locke
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke
It is Dangerous to be Right When Government is Wrong, Andrew Napolitano