Front Page Titles (by Subject) Locke, 'Property' & Natural Rights - Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1982, vol. 5, No. 3
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Locke, ‘Property’ & Natural Rights - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1982, vol. 5, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Locke, ‘Property’ & Natural Rights
“‘Property’ and ‘People’: Political Usages of Locke and Some Contemporaries.” Journal of the History of Ideas 42 (Jan.–March 1981): 29–51.
The authors apply Quentin Skinner's and other new historians' methodology of the history of ideas to recover the linguistic context in which John Locke (1632–1704) began writing his Two Treatises of Government. Comparing Locke's use of property with his contemporaries', they conclude that his unique understanding of property led to a radically inclusive and democratic sense of who were the people endowed with full rights of participating in civil society.
Locke emerges as a far more radical theorist of universal popular rights than his fellow Whiggish republican authors of the Exclusion Crisis period (1679–1681): Algernon Sidney, James Tyrrell, and Henry Neville. Locke's radical commitment to universal natural rights and the “view that politics was indeed but a branch of moral philosophy” accounts for the relatively indifferent response to the Two Treatises in the years after their publication. The Tories' conservative and hostile silence is understandable. The Whigs, in turn, were embarassed by Locke's more radical pressing of the very principles of property and rights that they nominally supported; Locke, however, “echoed too much of the language and principles of the other Whigs easily to be repudiated by them.”
The Exclusion Crisis republicans reached back to the still living memory of the arguments over property, popular rights, and resistance to authority that were forged during the debates of the Civil War period (which involved such a mutual friend of Neville, Tyrrell, and Shaftesbury as the onetime Leveller, John Wildman). Locke and his three fellow republicans politically appealed to property as the anti-monarchical origin of civil society, but they understood property in widely divergent ways. Political society arose to defend the people's right to their property and, therefore, property limited the sovereign's power and the people's obligation to obey edicts which endangered their property. “The concept of the natural rights of all, and the property rights of some, had been one way of arguing that political power came from the people. These writers turned again to the argument that property-ownership predated civil society as a means of describing the stake that men had in society.”
Among these republicans Locke was the most radical in his widening the definition of property—like the Levellers—to mean property in each man's person (self-propriety) as well as land ownership.
Locke's widened definition of property as self-propriety tended to include all men in “the joint communal purposes of society—the protection of property.” Locke unobtrusively implied that all men had a claim to an active political voice, not merely those who owned property in the narrow sense of land ownership (and were thus economically independent in the Harringtonian sense).
Locke's distinctiveness from Sidney, Tyrrell, and Neville—who pragmatically restricted the franchise to those who met real estate qualifications—was “his consistent position that all men had a positive political interest through their non-material possessions, their self-propriety, and their natural rights.” Locke's moral absolutism in basing human rights in natural law led him to advance far beyond his fellow Whigs who generally preferred after 1688 a more narrow and status-quo interpretation of conventional property rights and a limited franchise.