Front Page Titles (by Subject) Virtue and Status - Literature of Liberty, January/March 1978, vol. 1, No. 1
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
Virtue and Status - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, January/March 1978, vol. 1, No. 1 
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.
About Liberty Fund:
This work is copyrighted by the Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, and is put online with their permission.
Fair use statement:
Virtue and Status
“Market Society and Meaning in Locke's Political Philosophy.” Journal of the History of Philosophy (USA), 15 (1977): 33–44.
Many assume that Locke was an entirely consistent classical liberal and exponent of freedom. But it was only in the early nineteenth century that Locke, was first viewed in that fashion. Locke, in fact, did not champion a fully free market.
Locke's political philosophy must be viewed in its historical context. In the seventeenth century, cataclysmic economic upheavals disturbed England. It experienced an evolution and transition from feudalism towards mercantilism or state capitalism. Late seventeenth century England was not a free market economy. Severe inflation, land transfers through enclosures, and abandoned royal prerogatives during the Civil War (1640–1660) characterized not so much the rise of a free market middle class but a threat to hereditary aristocracy. Faced with this historical situation, Locke did not claim that the aristocracy was illegitimate, but rather that some aristocrats—those who lived idle and debauched lives—deserved to lose their authority and social status.
Locke did not attack inherited hierarchy. His concern was to refute the claim that manual labor was ignoble or inferior. He maintained that any job allowed an individual to demonstrate his rationality and productivity. If anyone fell or rose from a lack of these qualities, it was just. Whether one was a farmer or a lord, he could lead a virtuous life. Being poor did not of its nature make one depraved or animalistic; it simply fostered such a tendency.
In sum, Locke was more interested in analyzing and justifying a certain personality and moral type than an economic system. We should be careful not to view political philosophers out of context, ignoring their practical political policies or their historical milieu.