Front Page Titles (by Subject) Justice, Lockean Rights, and Liberty - Literature of Liberty, April/June 1978, vol. 1, No. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
Justice, Lockean Rights, and Liberty - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, April/June 1978, vol. 1, No. 2 
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:
Justice, Lockean Rights, and Liberty
“Liberty and Justice,” Justice and Economic Distribution. Edited by William Shaw and John Arthur. New York: Prentice Hall, 1978: 183–193.
Is a free society consistent with justice? A Lockean or libertarian theory of rights can produce both a free and a just society. Such a Lockean social system recommends itself by reason of its decentralization, personal participation, rights, liberty, and justice. It would allow a maximum of human differentiation with a minimum of imposed conformity.
Lockean individual rights (respect for the liberty of each person) foster the growth of free markets and justice. Under this system the voluntaristic mechanisms of the market would replace political, coercive decision making. This society would intimately link liberty and justice by means of the concepts of just holdings (entitlements) and the wrongness of coercing persons.
Lockean rights stipulate that each human possesses a natural right to his life, liberty, and honestly acquired property. This leads to a “negative” conception of liberty: freedom from coercion against one's person and legitimate property. A society built on Lockean principles would be a complex web of voluntary relationships, a contractual society. Each person's uncoerced and free agreement to trade or to associate would give rise to a market society for the exchange of goods and services.
This market society would be characterized by decentralized decision making: no centralized political authority would compel unwilling participation by bureaucratic edict. All individual parties would have to voluntarily cooperate, participate, and coordinate their plans in reaching any joint decision. Political, involuntary planning, by contrast, breeds interest groups struggles and a Hobbesian war of all against all.
With its supreme social principle of respect for the freedom or noncoercion of each person, a free society bans any act violating personal liberty and encourages only noncoercive acts.
How relevant is this emphasis on noncoercion, property, and liberty to justice? To require noncoercion means that each person's just holdings (or entitlements) must be respected. One perpetrates not only coercion but also injustice when one deprives another nonconsensually of what that person justly acquired. The call for liberty is the call also for justice because justice is the condition of respecting the freedom of individuals to possess all that they are entitled to possess.
Accordingly, in a Lockean society, distributive justice is a procedural strategy of leaving each person free to engage in any rights-respecting (or noncoercive) economic activity. Any political intervention to redistribute goods or services contrary to the voluntary market decisions of individuals would violate justice.