JOHN LOCKE ON PROPERTY (January, 2013)
John Locke (1632-1704)
Second Treatise of Government (1689)
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John Locke (1632-1704) is a key figure in the history of classical-liberal
thought. His Second Treatise of Government (1689) is the canonical
text in political philosophy that most extensively and systematically advances
the classical-liberal themes of individual liberty, natural rights, private
property, deep suspicion of political power, radical limitations on the scope
of legitimate political authority, and rightful resistance against unjust
and arbitrary power. Locke’s next most important work in political
Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), completes his fundamentally classical-liberal
vision with arguments for religious toleration that readily generalize to
the conclusion that the state has no authority to govern persons’ self-regarding
actions or the activities of mutually consenting adults. This brief essay
will examine the character and content of Locke’s central contentions
Nevertheless, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that when Locke shifts
from high philosophy to public policy – especially public policy concerning
the less reputable members of society – liberty and property tend to
get lost in the shuffle. When the poor escape from “negligent
officers,” the untoward result is that they “are at liberty for
a new ramble.” “Restraint of the debauchery” of the poor
is a necessary step “towards setting the poor on work.” Despite
Locke’s core devotion to property rights and despite the strong anti-paternalism
and anti-moralism of his A Letter Concerning Toleration, in
on the Poor Law” (1697) Locke calls for “the suppressing of superfluous
brandy shops and unnecessary alehouses, especially in country parishes not
lying upon great roads.” However, liberty and property are not
compromised along the great roads that Locke travels.
Lead Essay: Eric Mack, "Locke on Property" [Posted:
January 7, 2013]
Responses and Critiques
- Response by Jan Narveson [Posted: January 14,
- Response by Peter Vallentyne [Posted:
- Response by Michael Zuckert [Posted: January
- Eric Mack's Reply to Jan Narveson (January 15, 2013)
- Jan Narveson's Comment on Eric Mack (January
- Eric Mack’s Response to Peter Vallentyne
(January 16, 2013)
- Peter Vallentyne’s Reply to Eric Mack
(January 17, 2013)
- Eric Mack's Comment on Michael Zuckert (January
- Jan Narveson's Reply to Eric Mack (January
- Michael Zuckert's Comment on Eric Mack (Janaury
- Eric Mack's Comment on Jan Narveson 2 (January
- Jan Narveson's Comments on Eric Mack and Michael
Zuckert (January 20, 2013)
- Peter Vallentyne's Response to Jan Narveson
(January 20, 2013)
- Eric Mack’s Reply to Peter Vallentyne 2 (January 20, 2013)
- Eric Mack’s Comment on Michael Zuckert
2 (January 21, 2013)
- Jan Narveson's Comment on Peter Vallentyne
(January 22, 2013)
- Peter Vallentyne's Response to Jan Narveson 2 (January 22, 2013)
- Eric Mack's Final Comments (January 22, 2013)
- Jan Narveson's Final Comment on Peter Vallentyne (January 22, 2013)
- Michael Zuckert's Concluding Thoughts (January
- Jan Narveson's Response to Michael Zuckert
(January 28, 2013)
About the Authors
Eric Mack is Professor of Philosophy at Tulane University and a
faculty member of the University’s Murphy Institute of Political Economy.
His many scholarly essays focus on the moral foundations of rights, the nature
of natural and acquired rights, property rights and economic justice, and the
legitimate scope of coercive institutions. He is the author of John Locke which
should be available in paperback by late January 2013. Eric has also written
other essays and annotated bibliographies on 17th century political theorists
such as John Locke, James Tyrrell, Robert Filmer, and Thomas Hobbes for the
Online Library of Liberty. See:
Jan Narveson is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the University
of Waterloo in Canada. He is the author of seven published books, notably The
Libertarian Idea (1988 and 2001), You and The State (2008), and This
is Ethical Theory (2010), and of several hundred articles and reviews in philosophical
journals and collections. He has also been active in the presentation of classical
music concerts (some 1,500 so far) as president of the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber
Music Society. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1989;
in 2003 he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, which is that country's
highest recognition of civilian achievement.
Peter Vallentyne is Florence G. Kline Professor of Philosophy at the University
of Missouri. He writes on issues of liberty and equality in the theory of justice
(and left-libertarianism in particular) and, more recently on enforcement rights
(rights to protect primary rights). He is an associate editor of Ethics.
Peter edited Equality and Justice (2003, 6 volumes) and Contractarianism
and Rational Choice: Essays on David Gauthier’s Morals by Agreement (1991),
and he co-edited, with Hillel Steiner, The Origins of Left Libertarianism:
An Anthology of Historical Writings and Left Libertarianism and Its Critics:
The Contemporary Debate (2000).
Michael Zuckert is Nancy R. Dreux Professor
of Political Science at University of Notre Dame. He is the author of many
studies on early modern political theory, including Natural Rights and
the New Republicanism and Launching Liberalism: Studies on John Locke. He
is also founding editor-in-chief of a new journal, American Political Thought.
Additional Material on Locke and his Political and Economic Thought
Copyright & Fair Use Statement
"Liberty Matters" is the copyright of Liberty Fund, Inc. This material
is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. These
essays and responses may be quoted and otherwise used under "fair use" provisions
for educational and academic purposes. To reprint these essays in course booklets
requires the prior permission of Liberty Fund, Inc. Please contact the
OLL Editor if you have any questions.
LEAD ESSAY: ERIC MACK, "LOCKE ON
John Locke (1632-1704) is
a key figure in the history of classical-liberal thought. His Second
Treatise of Government (1689) is the canonical
text in political philosophy that most extensively and systematically advances
the classical-liberal themes of individual liberty, natural rights, private
property, deep suspicion of political power, radical limitations on the scope
of legitimate political authority, and rightful resistance against unjust
and arbitrary power. Locke’s next most important work in political theory, A
Letter Concerning Toleration (1689),
completes his fundamentally classical-liberal vision with arguments for religious
toleration that readily generalize to the conclusion that the state has no
authority to govern persons’ self-regarding actions or the activities
of mutually consenting adults. This brief essay will examine the character
and content of Locke’s central contentions about property.
Two salient features of Locke’s political thought are his focus on natural rights and
his focus on property. Locke
holds that all humans who have reached the age of reason are equally free
and independent beings; we are “equal one amongst another
without Subordination or Subjection ” (ST 4) and have basic
moral claims against being subordinated to the ends of others “as if we were made for
one another's uses” (ST 6). Each individual has ends of
– his temporal and eternal happiness – to which he has reason
to devote himself. Hence, each has reason to claim a right against interference
in his pursuit of his own ultimate ends (ST 17); and each must acknowledge
that others, who are his equals, have the same rights that he claims for himself.
Hence, all are required by reason to affirm every adults’ right to freedom
The Natural Right to Freedom
FT = First Treatise
ST = Second Treatise
This natural right to freedom is not an unlimited
Hobbesian liberty to do whatever one desires to do. For such a liberty in
others would mean that one was open to utter subjection to them, and “who could be free, when
every other Man’s Humour might domineer over him?” (ST 57).
Instead, each individual’s natural right to freedom implies a natural
obligation on the part of others to refrain from interference with that individual’s
pursuit of his temporal and eternal happiness. Each person’s right to
freedom is constrained by others’ like rights to freedom.
How can the extent of each person’s rightful freedom be codified so
that no person’s exercise of his right to freedom will be incompatible
with any other person’s exercise of his right to freedom? Locke saw
that this codification requires the specification of what is mine and
what is thine. My rightful freedom consists in my disposing as I
see fit of what is mine (or at least not thine) “without asking leave,
or depending upon the Will of any other Man” (ST 4). Your
freedom requires that I not dispose of what is thine without your
leave. A regime of compatible freedom depends on the identification of the
fences that mark off mine from thine. Thus, for Locke, rights characteristically
take the form of property. Property in its broad sense, i.e., rights to life,
liberty, and estate, provide each individual with moral protection against
subordination to other individuals and to the state. And property,
especially in the sense of estate, provides the framework that allows and
facilitates a peaceful and flourishing civil order. Locke’s theory of
rights to one’s legitimately acquired holdings is an integral part of
his more general view that each individual is morally entitled to pursue his
own ends in his own chosen way. Religious freedom is, for instance,
primarily a matter of the freedom of individuals in their religious practices
to dispose of their own holdings (but not the holdings of others) as they
In the work that has done most in recent decades to revive interest in Locke’s
political philosophy, Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974), Robert Nozick
defends an essentially Lockean position on justice in holdings on the basis
of a doctrine of natural rights. Moreover, like Locke, Nozick takes each person’s
basic rights to be reflective of morally significant features of persons,
viz., their existence as separate beings with distinct systems of ends. For
both thinkers, in virtue of these morally significant features, individuals
are not to be treated as objects or resources or means at the disposal of
others; they are not to be subordinated to or sacrificed for others’ ends.
As long as an agent abides by this basic constraint, all others are required
to allow him to pursue his own ends in his own chosen way. This is a very
different sort of moral perspective from the consequentialist contention that
there is some overarching social outcome--e.g., the maximization of the
preservation of human life--that each person is bound to promote and that
persons should be constrained in their conduct toward one another insofar
and only insofar as constraint advances that maximization project. While
Locke sometimes speaks as though our fundamental duty is to preserve mankind
at large (at least when that is compatible with one’s own self-preservation),
he immediately parses this duty as a negative obligation not to “take away, or impair
the life, or what tends to the Preservation of the Life, the Liberty, Health,
Limb or Goods of another.” (ST 6).
The Rights of Property
Let us turn to Locke’s vindication of the rights of property in the
sense of estate. In the crucial chapter “Of Property ,” as
throughout the Second Treatise, Locke is writing in opposition to
the authoritarian political theorists Robert Filmer and Thomas Hobbes . Despite their
differences, both Filmer and Hobbes held that all property rights of citizens
depend on the will of their sovereign and that, therefore, there can be no
valid assertion of property rights against the will of the sovereign. Locke
argues to the contrary that property rights do not depend on the will of the
sovereign; indeed, no one can be said to have a property in any holding
if another party, e.g., the sovereign, may deprive him of it without his consent
(ST 138). In the 17th century the standard alternative to the view
that property rights were created by the sovereign’s will was the view
that the earth was originally owned by all mankind in common and that
it came to be divided into private property (or came to be open to private
acquisition) through some sort of general consent. Filmer, however, provided
powerful arguments against any such consent theory of private property rights,
and Locke was convinced by these arguments. For this reason, Locke sets out “to shew, how Men might
come to have a property in several parts of that which God gave to
Mankind in common, and that without any express Compact of all the Commoners” (ST 25).
Locke himself continues to say that God had given the earth “to Mankind in common ” because
this was his most direct way of denying Filmer’s claim that God had
given the earth to Adam. Yet Locke sees that this language seems to imply
that private property can only arise through general consent. Locke’s
solution was to argue that all that should be meant by saying that
the earth was originally the common property of mankind is that no portion
of the earth was the original property of anyone in particular (ST 26). In
effect, the earth is originally unowned. Hence, individuals
may take hold of and use portions of the natural world without having to obtain
the consent of others. Locke argues that the earth must be originally unowned
precisely because, if the earth were originally commonly owned in
any substantive sense, universal consent would be needed before any
individual could permissibly take up and use any portion of the earth. But
then, since universal consent will never be attained, morality would require
that everyone abstain from all uses and appropriations of natural materials.
Morality would require that we all starve in the midst of a plentiful nature. “If such a consent as
that was necessary, Man had starved, notwithstanding the Plenty God had given
him” (ST 28). Locke concludes that, since morality could
not require that we all starve, it cannot be that the earth is originally
jointly owned by mankind.
Still, why not think that man is obligated to starve if he cannot get universal
consent to engage in the private use or appropriation of parts of nature?
Locke addresses this question in his little-read First Treatise.
His answer is cast largely in terms of God’s intentions. God would not
have created men with a need to use and appropriate portions of nature and
surrounded men with a plentiful nature if He did not intend for men to use
and appropriate parts of it (FT 86, ST 32-35). However,
there is also a less theological version of this answer. Each person’s rational pursuit of (temporal)
happiness centers on his desire for and rational pursuit of self-preservation;
indeed, all persons rationally seek “the comfortable preservation
of their Beings” (FT 87). For this reason, all persons
have rights to pursue their comfortable preservation and, since the use or
appropriation of portions of nature is necessary for the pursuit of comfortable
preservation, all persons have rights to engage in such use or appropriation.
Hence, people cannot be subject to natural obligations to forgo such life
enhancing activities (FT 86-88).
We have here an inkling of an idea often found in classical-liberal thought,
viz., that there is a natural right of property. This is not a right
to particular natural objects or shares of such objects. For rights to particular
objects or shares must be acquired through the right-holder’s
actions. Rather, the natural right of property is a right to make things one’s
own. It is a right not to be precluded from acquiring holdings and exercising
discretionary control over them. Imagine a political order that prohibits
people from engaging in activities that would generate private property rights.
By definition, that prohibition would not violate any individual’s acquired property
rights. Yet that prohibition would violate persons’ natural right of
property. Locke recognizes the distinction between this background natural
right of property and particular acquired property rights by noting in his First
Treatise discussion of the natural right that “in another place ” he
will show how a person creates for himself “a
Property in any particular thing” (FT 87). That other place is the Second Treatise’s
chapter “Of Property,” where Locke offers his famous labor-mixing
account of particular property rights.
"every Man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body has any
Right to but himself. The Labour of his Body, and the Work of
his Hands, we may say, are properly his"
Locke begins that account with the affirmation of each person’s natural
right of self-proprietorship and, hence, each person’s right to his
own labor. “Every Man has a Property in
his own Person. This no Body has any Right to but himself. The Labour of
his Body, and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his” (ST 27).
Since nature itself is originally unowned, any individual may “mix ” his
labor with any portion of nature that is not being used or has not already
been acquired by another. This mixing of labor involves the intentional transformation
of some natural material for the sake of some future use by the transforming
agent. Hence the labor is plausibly construed as invested in the transformed
object rather than merely frittered away, and the laborer retains his right to this
invested labor. Since depriving the laborer of the transformed object violates
that agent’s rights, the agent who “mixes” his labor with
some morally available natural material acquires a right to the altered object.
The primary reason to respect the agent’s freedom to dispose of the
transformed object as he chooses is regard for that agent’s rights,
not regard for the overall social benefits of allowing the agent to enjoy
"Mixing One's Labor"
A number of points should be made about Locke’s
labor-mixing account. First, as far as it goes, it is eminently plausible.
If persons do have rights over their own persons and hence over their respective
talents, efforts, and time, then they have moral claims against being deprived
of objects in which they have invested their talents, efforts, and time. The
wrong done to the agent whose invested labor is expropriated by another is
morally on par with the wrong done to an agent who is coerced into supplying
labor to another.
Second, it is far from obvious that all rights of initial acquisition
can or need to be explained on the basis labor-mixing. As various conventions
develop that define what counts as an entitlement-generating initial
acquisition, it seems that individuals can acquire initial entitlements by
engaging in the activities specified by those conventions. Since those conventions
enable people to make things their own, respect for the entitlements generated
through those conventions seems to be required by the Lockean natural right
Third, Locke provides no account of property rights that arise through voluntary
transfer. Here too it seems that, rather than trying to fit all acquisitions
of property rights into the labor-mixing paradigm, Locke would have done well
to emphasize how conventions that define just transfer facilitate people making
things their own and hence each person’s natural right of property underwrites
his claim to the holdings he has acquired in accordance with those conventions.
The recognition of a Lockean natural right of making things one’s own
opens the door to a doctrine of property rights that is less centered on labor-mixing
than Locke’s actual discussion is.
"Nor was this appropriation of any parcel of land, by improving it, any prejudice to any other man, since there was still enough, and as good left; and more than the yet unprovided could use."
Locke denies that it follows from his doctrine of just acquisition that “any one may ingross
as much as he will” (ST 31). For Locke affirms two constraints
on just acquisition, viz., a spoilage proviso and an “enough, and as good ” proviso
(ST 33). The spoilage proviso is tied to Locke's vision of
the natural world having been provided to us by God who intends its use
not its waste. According to this proviso, one’s property rights do
not extend to what will spoil in one’s possession. If a third bushel
of berries will just rot in my possession, I cannot claim just ownership
of them even if I have labored to collect them. However, Locke provides
two reasons for why the spoilage proviso has vanishingly little significance.
The first is that before the existence of money no sensible person will
gather more than he can consume or barter for some other perishable good.
The second is that once money comes into existence, perishable holdings
can be converted without limit into nonperishable holdings (ST 46).
"Enough and as Good"
“enough and as good” proviso is more significant both in theory
and practice. According to this proviso, individuals may not so extensively
appropriate from nature that others are left without enough and as good to
use for their own purposes. Many recent authors think that this proviso signals
Locke’s commitment to economic egalitarianism. This is mistaken. To begin with, this proviso does not
require that an individual be left with an equal share of the earth;
it only requires that he be left with “enough.” Moreover, “as
good” is best read as requiring that each individual be left with “as
good” a portion as would have been available to him had others not privately
appropriated portions of the earth. The proviso cannot plausibly be read as
imposing the crazy restriction that each individual be left “as good” a
portion as has already be acquired by other individuals. That restriction
would require that no one ever acquire the best portion – because
that would leave not as good for others! As Nozick suggests, (ASU 174-82),
the “enough and as good” proviso should not be understood as a
demand for the equal division of the earth but rather as a demand that in
some sense no one be made worse off by the initiation, expansion, and
elaboration of private property. On Nozick’s version of this proviso,
no individual is to be made worse off along the dimension of utility.
An individual has no just complaint if the operation of the overall system
of private property does not impose a net utility loss on him or if he receives
an appropriate utility-restoring compensation.
In contrast to Nozick, Locke is more consistently focused on freedom.
His advocacy of the “enough and as good” proviso marks Locke’s
concern that the institution and deployment of private property may “straiten ”
(ST 36) some individuals, i.e., may fence them in (or out) in a morally
impermissible way. What matters for Locke is not a baseline of utility that
an individual would enjoy in a world that was still an open commons. Instead,
what matters is a baseline of noninterference with that individual’s
employing his self-owned labor in pursuit of his comfortable preservation.
The proviso is satisfied if and only if the institution, development, and
elaboration of private property yields an economic environment that is at
least as receptive to that individual’s deploying his talents, efforts,
and time in pursuit of his comfortable preservation as the pre-property environment
would have been. It is not too far off the mark to say that Locke is concerned
with no one being worse off with respect to economic opportunity rather than
with respect to utility per se.
Locke divides the institution, expansion, and elaboration of a regime of
private property into two phases and argues that within each phase economic
opportunity will on net expand for all – or nearly all – individuals.
The first phase, which exists before the introduction of money, begins with
mankind’s transition from a hunter-gatherer to an agricultural existence.
For Locke this corresponds to a transition from the land being treated as
an open commons to its being divided via individual investments of labor into
private holdings. How much land will a given head of family acquire in the
transition from hunter-gathering to farming? Locke’s answer is that:
(1) a given rational agent will acquire no more land than is necessary to
produce the goods that he or his family needs for consumption or can barter
for needed consumption goods and (2) this amount of land will be very much less than
the land that he or his family has needed for sustenance as hunter-gatherers.
The reason so much less land will be needed is that labor, understood broadly
as industrious activity, is the primary factor for all valuable human goods
and labor will be vastly more effectively or intensively used in private agricultural
endeavors than in hunter-gatherer meanderings. Thus as any head of family
turns to agriculture and makes some portion of the earth his own, the amount
of land he employs radically diminishes, and on net the amount of land available
to others increases – whether they remain hunter-gatherers or turn to
agriculture (ST 37). Notice that since economic gain accrues to people
almost entirely on the basis of their industrious labor, one party’s
economic gain in no way implies another party’s loss.
The Creation of Money
"gold, silver and diamonds, are things that fancy or agreement hath put the value on, more than real use, and the necessary support of life"
The second phase of the development of private property begins with the creation
of money by way of “fancy or agreement” (ST 46).
Money radically expands the scope of feasible exchange (ST 48) and
enables people to store the greater available gains from production and trade.
The prospect of these storable gains greatly encourages the more extensive
development and deployment of industrious labor (ST 49). On the other
hand, this prospect motivates individuals to invest in much more extensive
holdings of natural materials than they sought to labor on before the introduction
of money. The success of some people in this pursuit will preclude
others from appropriating or perhaps even using enough and as good of the
earth. More generally, in the monetary phase the economic inequality that
is rooted in “the different degrees
of industry ” (ST 48) among men will become substantially
more pronounced. So it looks as though the development of commercial society
that is triggered by the introduction of money regularly violates the “enough
and as good” proviso. Yet Locke maintains that this proviso will not – or
will not often – be violated.
Locke’s official argument for this conclusion depends on his claim
that money arises through universal (albeit tacit) consent to gold and silver
having economic value. Since it is obvious that once money exists, economic
inequality will be more pronounced and some people will expand their holdings
of the earth to the exclusion of others, consent to the existence of money
must also be construed as consent to these outcomes. “It is plain that Men
have agreed to a disproportionate and unequal Possession of the Earth” (ST 50).
Hence, this argument runs, the proviso is not violated after the
introduction of money because in the course of that introduction everyone
has agreed to that proviso’s suspension. Similarly, no one can justly
complain about increased economic inequality because everyone has consented
to this inequality as part of their agreeing to the establishment of money.
The problem here is not merely that there has been no such universal consent
to money or inequality, but also that Locke himself has wisely disavowed any
appeal to universal consent within his justification of property rights. Can
Locke escape these problems?
"A King in a large and fruitful Territory
[without private property and money] feeds, lodges, and is clad worse than
a day Labourer in England."
It looks like Locke can escape by focusing on the reason that individuals
would have to consent to the introduction of money. For Locke, that reason
must be that each party anticipates gaining in the course of the transition
from the first phase to the second phase of the private property regime. “For no rational Creature
can be supposed to change his condition with an intention to be worse” (ST 131).
Why, according to Locke, would it be rational for each individual to agree
to a transformation of human society that increases economic inequality and
may leave that individual unable to appropriate (or even use) raw material?
Locke’s answer is that the industrious powers that such a transformation
promotes and releases so increases wealth and opportunity that each individual
can reasonably anticipate that he will gain from this transition even if he
ends up with a smaller pro rata share. According to Locke, such gains can
be expected if, but only if, a “wise and godlike” ruler
establishes “laws of liberty to secure protection and encouragement
to the honest industry of Mankind” (ST 42). Indeed, because
of the enormous improvement generated by human labor in commercial societies, “a King in a large and
fruitful Territory [without private property and money] feeds, lodges, and
is clad worse than a day Labourer in England.” (ST 41). For
the achievement of material prosperity, “numbers of men [living
under laws of liberty] are to be preferred to largenesse of dominions” (ST
How do these claims about the bountifulness of commercial society indicate
that such a society generally satisfies the “enough and as good” proviso?
Understood narrowly, the proviso is not satisfied. For it will not be uncommon
for an individual to find himself precluded from using as enough and as good raw material
as he would be able to use were the earth still an open (and hence undeveloped)
commons. But understood more broadly, the proviso is generally satisfied.
For all – or nearly all – individuals within commercial society
will encounter a world of economic options that will be at least as
receptive to their bringing their self-owned powers to bear in pursuit of
their ends as they would encounter were the earth still an open commons. Within commercial
society, no individual – or almost no individual – will be “straitened” in
his life-enhancing economic activities compared to the open-commons alternative.
And the real point of the proviso is to rule out this sort of straitening
of people. Note that the proviso understood broadly will be satisfied precisely
because economic opportunity depends fundamentally on the positive-sum process
of encouraging the development and exercise of industrious labor rather than
the zero-sum process of fighting over given raw material. It is the vast expansion
of industrious labor and opportunity that private property and expanded trade
calls forth which also explains why commercial society enhances the material
well-being of everyone – or nearly everyone.
"though the things of nature are given in common, yet man, by being master of himself, and proprietor of his own person, and the actions or labour of it, had still in himself the great foundation of property"
Locke tells us that labor is “the great Foundation
of Property” (ST 44). He means this in two distinct
senses. First, the investment of labor is the source of initial
Second, the investment of labor is the primary source of the value of
rightfully held objects. And, of course, it is the creation, protection,
and exercise of those rights that engender that value. Locke’s
emphasis on the extent to which economic value arises through labor often
leads to the claim that Locke subscribed to the labor theory of economic value,
i.e., the view that the exchange value of any item will (or will strongly
tend to) be proportionate to the amount of labor that goes into the production
of that item. However, this theory is tied to the idea that labor is
in the final analysis one homogenous activity and that different amounts of
this homogenous activity get poured into different objects that then have
exchange value in proportion to the amount poured into them. There is
no basis for thinking that Locke subscribed to this notion of labor or to
the idea that the exchange value of any object is proportionate to the labor
involved in producing it. Indeed, he tells us that the value of gold
and silver depends on fancy and agreement and that the value of land depends
on scarcity (ST 45).
Essay on the Poor Law (1697)
Although Locke asserts quite generally the satisfaction
of the “enough
and as good”
proviso in commercial society, I have represented Locke as holding that the
proviso is satisfied for all – or almost all – individuals,
for it is difficult to imagine a philosophical proof that at all
times and in all places the development of private property and free commerce
straitens nobody. Moreover, in his 1697 “An Essay on the Poor Law,” Locke seems to
view at least some of the poor as people who have been deprived of the opportunity
to work, i.e., who are worse off with regard to economic opportunity than
they would have been were they still living in an open commons. His
proposed remedies are various measures to provide these impoverished individuals
with employment opportunities – on merchant ships, in workhouses, and
so on. And these are the sort of measures that are called for by the “enough
and as good” proviso insofar as people’s worsened positions are
really the result of the development and exercise of private property rights.
"The true and proper relief of the poor… consists
in finding work for them, and taking care they do not live like drones upon
the labour of others."
However, in his Poor Law essay Locke does not merely recommend that the impoverished
be offered employment. Rather, Locke proposes that the poor be forced to
accept the employment opportunities offered. Within this essay at least,
it is a settled point for Locke that the poor are to be maintained.
“Everyone must have meat, drink, clothing, and firing. So much
goes out of the stock of the kingdom, whether they work or no.”  However,
the nation cannot afford to provide these necessities unless, through their
labor, the poor bear the burden of their own maintenance as much as possible. “[T]he
true and proper relief of the poor … consists in finding work for them,
and taking care they do not live like drones upon the labour of others.”  It
is easy here to accuse Locke of forgetting about the self-ownership right
of the poor to refuse offered employment and of focusing instead on the policy
of maintaining “the stock of the kingdom.” Still, factors
other than mere disregard for liberty are at work. Locke’s hard-work
ethos makes him unsympathetic to and suspicious of “idle vagabonds.” He
almost certainly sees any vagabond’s rejection of offered employment
as manifesting not so much a desire for liberty but, rather, a
desire to live at the expense of others.
Nevertheless, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that when Locke shifts
from high philosophy to public policy – especially public policy concerning
the less reputable members of society – liberty and property tend to
get lost in the shuffle. When the poor escape from “negligent
officers,” the untoward result is that they “are at liberty for
a new ramble.”  “Restraint
of the debauchery” of the poor is a necessary step “towards setting
the poor on work.” Despite Locke’s core devotion to property
rights and despite the strong anti-paternalism and anti-moralism of his A
Letter Concerning Toleration, in the “Essay on the Poor Law” Locke
calls for “the suppressing of superfluous brandy shops and unnecessary
alehouses, especially in country parishes not lying upon great roads.”  However,
liberty and property are not compromised along the great roads that Locke
 Citations from
the Second Treatise (and the First Treatise) will be to
paragraph numbers in Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, 2nd
edition, Peter Laslett, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967).
[The links are to one of our online editions, the Thomas Hollis edition of
1764. The link will take you to the paragraph in which the quotation is located
 Robert Nozick, Anarchy,
State and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974).
 The most sophisticated
reading of Locke as a consequentialist is offered by A. John Simmons in The
Lockean Theory of Rights. According to Simmons’ rule-consequentialist
account, Lockean rights are norms general compliance with which maximizes
the human preservation. I examine consequentialist sounding passages
from the Second Treatise in John Locke, pp. 43-6,
52-3, 84-5, 93-4, and 97-8.
 It is often
held that propositions about God are essential to Locke’s arguments
within political philosophy. See John Dunn’s The Political
Thought of John Locke and Jeremy Waldron’s God, Locke, and
In John Locke, I argue that these propositions are not essential
to Locke’s arguments. The standard Straussian position is that
Locke disbelieved these claims and his disbelief is essential to
his real convictions. See, e.g, Leo Strauss’ Natural
Right and History.
 Contrast this
with Nozick’s example of pouring one’s can of tomato juice into
the ocean. (ASU 175).
 For a striking
instance of this contention, see Michael Otsuka’s Libertarianism
without Inequality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).
 This claim
that everyone in a commercial society is better off than everyone in
an open commons society is quite a bit bolder than Locke actually needs.
 See David Schmidtz’s
discussion in “The Institution of Property,” Social Philosophy
and Policy,Summer 1994, pp. 42-62.
 Reprinted in Locke:
Political Essays, Mark Goldie, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1997). An older version of this essay can be found in Fox Bourne's
biography The Life of John Locke (1876), vol. 2, pp. 377-91 [PDF
 Apparently these day-laborers
are not better situated than kings of open commons societies.
RESPONSES AND CRITIQUES
1. Jan Narveson's Response to "Mack
on Locke on Property"
Eric Mack sets forth with his characteristic elegance the essentials of Locke’s
philosophical outlook on political morality. He points out what is not always
clearly appreciated, namely, that if each is to be free – and not just
some few – then we need somehow to demarcate a domain, a sphere, within
which the individual has complete authority: Others must apply for permission
to enter that domain. So “regime of compatible freedom depends
on the identification of the fences that mark off mine from thine. Thus for
Locke, rights characteristically take the form of property. Property in its
broad sense, that is, rights to life, liberty, and estate, provide each individual
with moral protection against subordination to other individuals and to
Accurately enough, he goes on to say that people have, in the view of Locke
(and Nozick and others), “morally significant features” such that “individuals
are not to be treated as objects or resources or means at the disposal of others.” If
an agent abides by that constraint in relation to others, they are required
to “allow him to pursue his own ends in his own chosen way.” The
question is, though: Why are those features “morally significant”?
What is it about those features that ground the principle in question? Bad
accounts, or non-accounts (such as that these are “natural rights” )
"it is a precept, or general rule of reason, that every man, ought to endeavour peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps, and advantages of war."
We have a minor more-or-less scholarly difference regarding Hobbes, whom Mack
classifies as an “authoritarian.” That’s certainly right
on the strictly political level, but in Hobbes there is beneath this a moral
level, set forth in (a) a depiction of the state of mankind without rules and
(b) a list of fundamental moral rules beginning with one master rule, the First
Law of Nature, calling upon all to refrain from violence against others. This,
he thinks, is a “rule
of reason” – a pregnant phrase in context.
Locke too thinks that his Law of Nature, which I would argue has precisely
the same content as Hobbes’s First Law, is a pronouncement of reason,
which is that law, teaches that no one….” How
Hobbes becomes a sort of political authoritarian despite this total agreement
in basic premises is a fascinating question. Hobbes’s idea is that anybody
contemplating the natural condition of mankind would see that what we need
is a general rule, and specifically that one. Locke, on the other hand, seems
to leave matters at a purely intuitive level or even, worse yet, a religious
Mack suggests that the salient passage in paragraph 26, which starts out with
the communist-sounding proclamation that “the earth, and all inferior
creatures, be common to all men” has the effect – as I think
most of us would say – of really denying this: “In effect,” Mack
writes, “the earth is originally unowned.”
Now I agree that this is what Locke should have said, and I agree too that
his slightly tortuous argument in that paragraph tries to works around to that
conclusion. Still, what we should realize is that Locke isn’t entitled
to lean on any theological premises in the Treatise, and absent those,
there is absolutely no reason to declare the earth to be primordially communist.
The earth is just a bunch of stuff, and people are in fact able to put bits
of it to their use. Since it is just a bunch of stuff, there is no natural reason
why they should not go ahead and use it – and plenty of reason, “natural” enough,
why they should, in the process, grant each other the moral status of rights to
what they have thus selected and put to use. These reasons need to be spelled
out, and Locke gets a very good start on this by arguing (as Mack says) that
if we didn’t, in effect, have this institution of property rights, relying
instead on full-blown communism, mankind would have starved – a claim
confirmed by the world’s celebrated communist basket-cases, such as the
vast starvation of early Maoist China in recent times.
But as Mack perceptively asks – well, why aren’t we obligated
to just go ahead and starve? He proposes a de-theologized answer:
“all persons rationally seek ‘the comfortable preservation
of their Beings’
(FT 87).… [S]ince the use or appropriation of portions
of nature is necessary for the pursuit of comfortable preservation, all persons
have rights to engage in such use or appropriation.”
Now if we look at it in this de-theologized way – as we of course
should – then a question arises: If particular person Jones can, in some
circumstances, appropriate bits of nature at the expense of his fellow
man and thereby “preserve himself” – well, why shouldn’t
he do that –
contrary to the requirements of the Law of Nature?
What this all hinges on is a recognition of a natural right, namely,
a right of acquisition, “a right to make things one’s own.” There
are two aspects of this needing discussion. The one that gets almost all the
attention among recent scholars, in the wake of Nozick and others, is how we
get from our natural right to general liberty to this right to
acquire and then become the owner, in the appropriately normative sense,
of what one acquires. Locke’s famous derivation via our original right
to ourselves, through our labor, to rights in things is the focus of this discussion,
with many authors denying that the argument goes through, while others (including
Mack and myself) think it does. But even if we are right, that leaves us with
the more fundamental question: Why should we think each other to be “owners” of
ourselves in the first place? (Hobbes’s answer is clear: because if we
don’t, we’ll be facing an awful state-of-nature situation.)
We get some light on this by following Mack’s further discussion. Not
all rights of individual acquisition need depend on “labor-mixing.” “Various
conventions develop” that, he holds, “define [my emphasis]
what counts as an entitlement-generating initial acquisition.” In ensuing
discussion, considerable weight is put on this device. But doesn’t this
tread on thin ice? If ownership is a function literally of conventions, in
at least some cases, doesn’t that imply that the conventions could be
other than they are, thus changing our rights – contrary to the original
assertion of natural rights in this area?
Mack’s next discussions concern the famous spoilage proviso and still
“enough and as good proviso” on acquisition. His discussion of
the latter is elegant. We are not to acquire something if that would leave
others in a worse condition than they would have been in a propertyless
state of nature, of course -- but there is no restriction such that “each
individual be left ‘as good’ a portion as has already been acquired
by other individuals” (again, my emphasis). The more familiar egalitarian
interpretation involves an illegitimate shift of baseline. That is a signal
contribution, indeed, to the discussion of this much-vexed question. (In my
own writing on this, I have arrived at a similar conclusion by a slightly different
Mack notes that Nozick tends to put this in utility terms: No one to be left worse
off than he or she would have been in the unmodified commons – but
Mack proposes that Locke instead is concentrating on freedom, with
the striking summary that “it is not too far off the mark to say that
Locke is concerned with no one being worse off with respect to economic opportunity
rather than with respect to utility per se.”
This is interesting and plausible; my question would only be whether there
is really any difference for such creatures as we are. If there is – if
we suppose that being fed intravenously forever without doing an ounce of effort
represents a “level of utility” different from whatever might ensue
from our own efforts -- then perhaps we should agree with Mack here.
Next he goes on to discuss the effects of the introduction of money as it
bears on the proviso. Extensive commercial activity will, Mack agrees, really
disenable some people from initial acquisition of, say, natural
resources and land. How can this be all right? His answer is that, nevertheless,
the new opportunities created by all this, as we might call it, “unnatural” activity
more than compensates for any losses at the primitive level. Locke himself,
as Mack notes, has already pointed out that a king in a country without exchange
and property will be worse off than a day-laborer in the England of his day
(not to mention the contemporary poor, with their TVs, cell phones, indoor
plumbing, and more).
Now he is careful to qualify this: “Almost” everyone, not absolutely
everyone will thus benefit. That raises two questions. One has to do with interpersonal
comparisons of benefit: Are we sure that people will be better off poor
now than in a genuine “state of nature”? There’s hope for
a decent answer to that one. But another is more fundamental: What about those
who exploit the compliance of most of us with Locke’s natural law – the
thieves and cutthroats (including the political ones) or those who have a natural
preference for violence. It would be nice if we could show that such persons
are irrational – but it’s not obvious.
"Thirdly, The supreme power cannot take from any man any part of his property
without his own consent..."
With respect to one sizable subset of that class of persons, Mack discusses
Locke on the Poor Law. Those who fall into such poverty that they might really
have been better off in a commons may, Locke thinks, actually be forced to
work for their upkeep. (That is, if they can. We should note that it is totally
implausible to think that the ones who can’t would have done better
in a common.) Mack observes that “it is hard to avoid the conclusion
that when Locke shifts from high philosophy to public policy – especially
public policy concerning the less reputable members of society – liberty
and property tend to get lost in the shuffle.” Yes, indeed. Just as he
seems to underappreciate the contribution that his proposed restrictions on
the scope of political authority would have (#38): “Thirdly, The Supreme
Power cannot take from any Man any part of his Property without his own
It’s pretty hard to square that with any government, let alone the limited
one that Locke wants. Well, nobody’s perfect!
“Property Rights: Original Acquisition and Lockean Provisos” in Respecting
Persons in Theory and Practice (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), 111-129.
2. Peter Vallentyne's Response to "Mack
on Locke on Property"
It’s a pleasure and an honor to comment on Eric Mack’s superb
piece on Locke. Mack has done more than almost any contemporary writer to
develop the philosophical foundations of libertarian and classical-liberal
theories of justice. Although I endorse a Lockean-inspired version of libertarianism,
I am not a Lockean scholar. Consequently, in what follows I will not challenge
Mack’s wonderfully clear and insightful interpretation of Locke (which
seems roughly correct to me). Instead, I will comment on some aspects of
the theory of property that Mack attributes to Locke. My concern, that is,
is with the plausibility of the theory and not with whether Locke
actually held it.
Locke held that natural resources are initially unowned, that agents initially
own themselves (and their labor power), and that agents have a moral power
to acquire private property in natural resources by performing suitable actions
(e.g., labor-mixing). I agree with him.
Property rights over a thing are a bundle of rights. At the core are control
rights. These include a claim-right against others that they not use
the thing without the owner’s permission, and a liberty-right against
others to use the thing. (No one else’s permission is required for
use as such.) Additional property rights include: the claim-right to compensation
for the infringement of one’s property rights, enforcement rights
to prevent (and perhaps punish) infringements, the moral power to transfer
the rights to others (by sale, gift, etc.), and an immunity to non-consensual
loss as long as one is not infringing the rights of others. Full ownership of
a thing is a maximally strong set of property rights (compatible with others
having the same rights over other things).
Locke held that natural resources (land, air, oil, etc. in their natural
state) are initially owned in common by everyone, which means they are unowned.
This means that each agent has a moral liberty-right against all other agents
to use natural resources. No one needs anyone’s permission to use natural
resources (no one has a claim-right against such use), although, of course,
no one has a moral liberty to smash someone’s head with a rock. Because
the rock is unowned, no one’s permission is needed to use it, but because
you own your head, your permission is needed to smash it with the rock.
If natural resources are initially unowned in the fullest sense, then one
has a moral liberty to poison all the water in the world or destroy all the
plants. This, I claim, is implausible, when it adversely affects others.
Even prior to appropriation, there are some moral limits on how one may use
natural resources. My view, following that of Eric Roark, is that, whatever restrictions
there are on appropriation and ownership (addressed below), they also apply
to use. I’m not sure what Locke’s view was on this matter.
The fact that natural resources are initially unowned (a first-order issue
concerning use) is compatible with several different higher-order conditions
concerning the moral powers of individuals to acquire private property over
natural resources (and the corresponding lack of moral immunities of others
to the loss of their liberty-rights to use natural resources). One position
is that there are no moral powers to appropriate. The commons must hold in
perpetuity. Another is that only collective (e.g., majority) approval can
give someone private property over natural resources. Locke rightly rejected
these positions. He endorsed a unilateralist position, according to which
an individual has the power to appropriate natural resources by performing
a suitable action, as long as certain conditions hold. I agree. We will examine
the required action and conditions below.
What conditions, then, are required for someone to acquire private property
over natural resources? Locke seems to hold that labor-mixing is necessary.
Mack wisely restricts labor-mixing to cases where there is “the intentional
transformation of some natural material for the sake of some future use.” This
helps avoid the problem (raised by Nozick) that my picking an apple mixes
my labor with the world, but surely that does not give me private ownership
of the world. Still, I think that labor-mixing, even in this restricted sense,
plays no essential role in the correct theory of appropriation. What is required
is that the agent “stake a claim” to particular natural resources.
Exactly what is required to stake a claim requires more attention than I
can give here, but a paradigm case is publicly marking off an area and publicly
stating that you are claiming specified rights over that area. Mack
rightly notes that labor-mixing is not necessary, since “various conventions
develop that define what counts as an entitlement-generating initial
acquisition.” I further add that labor-mixing plays a justificatory
role for appropriation only where prevailing social conventions count such
mixing as staking a claim.
It is often thought that ownership of natural resources with which one has
mixed/invested one’s labor follows from self-ownership, at least where
the “enough and as good” proviso applies. Mack rightly interprets
Locke as holding this view. I believe, however, that this view is mistaken.
When I secretly trespass on your land to plant and cultivate some tomatoes,
I do not acquire ownership of the land or even of the tomatoes. I have invested
my labor in something that you own and have thereby forfeited any claim to
its products. Likewise, when the land is in the commons, my self-ownership
is fully compatible with my forfeiting the product to the commons. I do not
deny that one acquires ownership of previously unowned natural resources
when one stakes a suitable claim, and the proviso holds. I claim that this
so because of an independent moral power, an independent right to
property, and not because of one’s self-ownership. Full self-ownership,
that is, is compatible with natural resources being in the commons in perpetuity,
with individuals having no powers of appropriation.
Full self-ownership does, of course, play a role in the justification of
the ownership of one’s products: If one owns all the factors
of production (natural resources, capital, labor power), then one owns the
product. This principle, however, does not give one ownership of natural
resources, since they are not the products of one’s labor or other
Locke’s proviso on appropriation requires that “enough and as
good” be left for others. Mack gives the standard weak reading according
to which this requires only that no one be worse off (net of any compensation
provided) than she would have been had the resources remained in the commons.
I agree that this is the best interpretation of Locke, but I believe that
Locke’s version of the proviso is too weak. I think it more plausible
that an equally valuable share (net of compensation provided) must be left
for others (or more radically: a share compatible with an equal opportunity
for wellbeing). Natural resources were not created by any non-divine person,
and I see little reason to hold that the benefits they provide should not
be shared equally (or even to promote equality). I won’t attempt to
defend this view here. I
will merely note that the resulting left-libertarian theory differs from
standard right-libertarian theories only with respect to the proviso. Moreover,
given that both views hold that appropriation is just as long as suitable
compensation is paid, the only difference is the amount of compensation owed.
As Mack indicates, Locke seems to hold that all agents have consented to
the existence of money and thereby to the suspension of the proviso. This,
however, seems to be an implausible view. Hardly any of the individuals alive
today have consented to the existence of money in the sense needed for a
valid contract. Moreover, even if they have validly consented to the existence
of money, they have not consented to the suspension of the proviso. The former
does not entail the latter. So Locke seems mistaken here.
Finally, let us turn to the limitations on private property. Locke seems
to hold that the “enough and as good” proviso only applies to
the initial act of appropriation. I would argue, however, that the relevant
version of the proviso is plausible as an ongoing limitation on property
rights in natural resources. I claim, that is, that the property rights initially
obtained by appropriation are (unlike those of self-ownership) conditional
on the ongoing satisfaction of the proviso. Thus it is not enough initially
to leave enough and as good for others in the relevant sense. If circumstances
change (e.g., population growth, natural disaster), what was compatible with
enough and as good may cease to be so and thus require greater, or less,
compensation. Thus even if no compensation to others was initially
owed, some compensation may be owed at a later date. On this model, compensation
is a periodic payment rather than a single payment at the time of initial
Locke holds that private property does not include the right to exclude
others from using resources one owns that would otherwise spoil. He does
not, that is, give appropriators full private property in the appropriated
resources. Others have a liberty-right to use them when they would otherwise
"This being the reason and foundation of Adam’s property, gave the same title, on the same ground, to all his children, not only after his death, but in his life-time: so that here was no privilege of his heir above his other children, which could exclude them from an equal right to the use of the inferior creatures, for the comfortable preservation of their beings, which is all the property man hath in them;"
As Mack notes, Locke also holds that “all
persons have rights to pursue their comfortable preservation” and thus have “rights to engage
in such use or appropriation” of nature. I read this as holding that
private property rights in natural resources do not include the claim-right
that others not use one’s resources when (1) they need to use someone’s
(less than full) private property, without permission, in order to meet their
basic needs, and (2) the use of one’s resources is compatible with
one’s comfortable preservation. Under these conditions, Locke held
that others have a liberty-right to use one’s private property.
I’m inclined to reject both of the above limitations on property.
If one satisfies the ongoing limitations of the more egalitarian “enough
and as good” proviso that I would endorse, these additional limitations
seem excessively restrictive. Of course, if one only endorses the more minimal
proviso, then the additional limitations are more plausible.
Let me close by commenting on the role that property rights can play in
the theory of moral permissibility. First, they might be advocated as merely pro
tanto considerations that can be overridden by other moral considerations.
On this view, a property right may be permissibly infringed when there is
an overriding justification (e.g., to protect the rights of many others).
Locke, I believe, implicitly held that property rights were conclusive,
and not merely pro tanto, and in this he was right. Infringing a property
right is always morally wrong. Second, property rights might be advocated
as a theory of justice—understood as the duties owed to individuals—or
as a full theory of moral permissibility. I’m fairly sure that Locke
advocated only the former. As such, property rights are compatible with there
being additional impersonal moral constraints (not owed to anyone).
For example, I may not have a claim-right, against you, that you give me
some food, but you may have an impersonal duty to do so. If so, it is wrong
of you not to do so, even if perfectly just (and does not wrong me). Because
I’m skeptical that there are any impersonal duties, I’m inclined
to think that property rights exhaust the moral constraints. Here, I merely
note that others may disagree.
In sum, Mack’s excellent summary and interpretation of Locke makes
clear the importance of Lockean theories of property. I fully endorse the
Lockean framework, but I have questioned a few aspects of the specific version
held by Locke.
 For a defense, see Eric Roark,
“Applying Locke’s Proviso to Unappropriated Natural Resources,” Political
Studies 60 (2012): 687-702.
 Robert Nozick, Anarchy,
State, and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974), pp. 174-78.
 See, for example, Michael Otsuka, Libertarianism without
Inequality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003); and Peter Vallentyne, Hillel
Steiner, and Michael Otsuka, “Why Left-Libertarianism Isn’t
Incoherent, Indeterminate, or Irrelevant: A Reply to Fried”, Philosophy
and Public Affairs 33 (2005): 201-15.
 Interestingly, Nozick himself endorses this limitation view.
For a defense, see Peter Vallentyne, “Nozick’s Libertarian Theory
of Justice,” in Anarchy, State, and Utopia—A Reappraisal,
edited by Ralf Bader and John Meadowcroft (Cambridge University Press, 2011),
 See, for example, A. John Simmons, The Lockean Theory of
Rights (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), sec. 6.3.
3. Michael Zuckert's
Response to "Mack
on Locke on Property"
It is difficult to disagree with Eric Mack’s splendid little essay
on Locke’s property doctrine, so instead of taking issue with him I
will attempt to supplement his essay by attempting to place the chapter on
property more firmly within its context in the Second Treatise.
Placing it so will allow me to confirm, reinforce, and perhaps extend some
of Mack’s most important conclusions.
"To this purpose, I think it may not be amiss, to set down what
I take to be political power; that the power of a magistrate over a subject
may be distinguished from that of a father over his children, a master over
his servant, a husband over his wife, and a lord over his slave."
Readers are sometimes puzzled by the placement of the chapter on property
within the Treatises. It occurs in a series of chapters quite obviously devoted
to fulfilling Locke’s promise in 2 Tr2 to explain political power in
such a way as to distinguish it clearly from “that
of a Father over his Children, a Master over his Servant, a Husband over
his Wife, and a Lord over his Slave.” The task of distinguishing
these various powers was necessitated most obviously by Robert Filmer’s
doctrine, which identified all these powers with the power of fathers. After
presenting what one might call the baseline situation, the state of nature
where there is no political power of any sort, Locke proceeds in a series
of chapters to discourse briefly on the various powers he identified in 2
Tr2. Thus in chapter 4, “Of Slavery,” he explains how the power
of a “Lord over his Slave” can legitimately arise, despite the
natural freedom and equality of human beings. Chapter 6, “Of Paternal
Power,” clearly carries forward Locke’s agenda by explaining
the nature and limits of the power of fathers over children. Chapter 7, “Of
Political or Civil Society,” presents Locke’s account of “conjugal
society,” that is, of the “power of a Husband over his Wife.”
In the midst of these chapters elucidating the various relations or sorts
of power that Locke means to distinguish from the “power
of a Magistrate over a Subject,” or political power, comes the
seemingly irrelevant and digressive chapter “Of Property.” What
is this chapter doing in this place? The key to answering that question lies
in noticing that Locke has not in direct terms explained one of the sorts
of power he had promised to explain in 2 Tr2: that of “a Master over
his Servant.” Locke has in mind something much broader than his words
convey to a modern ear, for the master-servant relation, as he understands
it, translates into what we would call the employer-employee relation. To
explain that relation is to explain how some come to work for others in exchange
In chapter 7 Locke mentions in passing the master-servant relation in tracing
out the chronological emergence of the different relations: “The
first society was between Man and Wife, which gave beginning to that between
Parents and Children; to which, in time, that between Master and Servant
came to be added.”
In this chapter Locke proceeds to explain the conjugal relation, the first
in time, but the penultimate relation discussed before Locke gets to his
ultimate destination, the political relation of magistrate and subject. In
the preceding chapter Locke had explained the paternal (or better put) parental
relation. He will go on in chapter 7 to again touch very briefly on the master-servant
relation, but only in the context of distinguishing it from the master-slave
relation (2 T85):
servant are Names as old as History, but given to those of far different
condition; for a Free-man makes himself a Servant to another, by selling
him for a certain time, the Service he undertakes to do, in exchange
for Wages he is to receive: … gives the Master but a Temporary
Power over him, and no greater than what is contained in the Contract
between men. But there is another sort of Servants, which by a peculiar
Name we call Slaves, who being Captives taken in a just War, are, by
the Right of Nature subjected to the Absolute Dominion and Arbitrary
Power of their Masters.
Servants are free-men who exchange their labor for wages via contract;
slaves are not free and do not relate to their masters via contract, as Locke
explained in chapter 4. How men come to be slaves Locke explained clearly
in that chapter. But how do men come be servants, i.e., beings who sell their
labor to others? That is precisely the task of chapter 5 to explain.
It is not at all out of place, but it is the place where Locke presents the
ground for this all-important economic relation.
"From all which it is evident, that though the things of nature are given
in common, yet man, by being master of himself, and proprietor of his own person,
and the actions or labour of it, had still in himself the great foundation of
This insight into the organizational placement of the discussion of property
is not only helpful for confirming our general impression that Locke knew
how to present his thought in an orderly and logically structured manner,
but it also gives us a crucial insight into what the dominant point of chapter
5 is. To repeat, that point is to explain the genesis and nature of the employer-employee
relation. Or perhaps better put, to show the legitimacy of that relation.
This insight helps make clear that the point of the chapter “Of
Propriety” is to show how, beginning from the claim that the earth “belongs
to mankind in common”
(which, as Mack rightly shows, means that the earth is originally unowned
rather than jointly owned), we can arrive at a situation in which the whole
earth is owned, and owned quite unequally, with some possessing a great deal
more than they strictly need and others owning none of it. This does not
mean these dispossessed men are entirely without property, however. As self-owners,
they are “Proprietor(s)
of [their] own Person(s), and the actions or labour of it”
and thus have within themselves “the great Foundation of Property.” (2
The history of property relations would seem to be a history of injustice
or at least unfairness, for mankind moves from a situation where all have
a right of preservation and an equal right to appropriate the goods needed
for preservation from an unowned world to a situation where most have no
right to appropriate anything directly from a world no longer “owned
in common.” But the point of Locke’s chapter is to establish
that this apparently unfair development is perfectly legitimate and to the
benefit of everybody, i.e., genuinely a common good. I need not repeat the
arguments by which Locke tries to show this, for Mack has laid them out exceedingly
well in his essay.
One benefit of seeing the point of chapter 5 in this way is that it refutes
C.B. Macpherson’s claim that Locke is a mere unconscious mouthpiece
for developing market relations in 17th-century England, unwittingly taking
for granted the master-servant relation and merely importing it, untheorized,
into his property doctrine. Locke was so far from unconscious of the master-servant
relation that explaining it was his chief goal in the chapter on property.
This insight into the aim of chapter 5 confirms Mack’s basic conclusions
about the consequences of the introduction of money. The complete ownership
of the world, which in a sense is equivalent to the expropriation of some
from their primitive rights, is neither a denial of the rights of the expropriated
(if we may even speak of them in that way) nor a disaster for them. As Mack
rightly brings out, the landless retain their rights (as the right to sell
their labor for wages) and their benefit (as the increased productivity that
the unleashing of labor power made possible by the introduction of money).
The landless retain
“the great foundation of Property” in their labor power and do
accrue property in the form of the wages they gain with their labor.
"As justice gives every man a title to the product of his honest industry, and the fair acquisitions of his ancestors descended to him; so charity gives every man a title to so much out of another’s
plenty, as will keep him from extreme want,"
The assumption behind Locke’s presentation of the mature post-money
world is something like a full-employment economy. This is “ideal theory.” Mack
brings out very well Locke’s implicit point that if this assumption
of ideal theory is not met, there is a just basis for complaint by those
both dispossessed and unemployed. As he says in 1 Tr42: “As
Justice gives every Man a Title to the product of his honest Industry, and
the fair Acquisition’s of his Ancestors descended to him; so Charity
gives every Man a Title to so much out of another’s Plenty, as well
keep him from extreme want, where he has no means to subsist otherwise.”
Locke is using somewhat traditional language but his meaning is quite untraditional,
for he speaks here of granting a man a “title,” i.e., bestowing
on him a right, via charity. In speaking in that way Locke is in effect saying
that “charity” is not something different from justice (as it
traditionally was thought to be) but under the situation specified is a matter
of justice or right. That is to say, what he is speaking about is not charity
at all, but an en-titlement. This “right” to support for the
otherwise resourceless connects to Mack’s discussion of Locke’s
essay on the Poor Law. I believe that Locke’s point is that the propertied
should honor the right of the resourceless via a public policy rather than
as helter-skelter individuals. As Mack makes clear, Locke outlines a kind
of welfare policy that meets the obligations of providing support for those
unable to support themselves in the wage economy without providing incentives
for dependence or shirking. It is of some interest, I think, that Thomas
Paine, a few generations later, picked up on Locke’s basic argument
and developed from it a more full-blown plan for something like a welfare
[For further discussion, interested readers might consult my forthcoming
essay, “Two Paths from Revolution: Jefferson, Paine and the Radicalization
of Enlightenment Thought” to appear in Simon Newman and Peter Ounf,
eds., Paine and Jefferson in the Age of Revolutions (University
Press of Virginia, forthcoming, 2013.)]
Placing chapter 5 in the context of the line of argument of this part of
the Second Treatise has the further consequence of highlighting
a feature of Locke’s doctrine that does not always stand out, and which
does not receive much notice in Mack’s essay. As Locke emphasizes and
Mack reports, Locke partly justifies the movement from the universal common
to total but unequal ownership of the earth by claiming that all are better
off than they would be in a pre-private property world: the famous day-laborer
versus the Indian chief. Mack points out that it is not universally true
that all are better off—the point Locke concedes in his proposal for
a poor law. Mack, however, does not emphasize the other important aspect
of Locke’s thesis: Although all or almost all are indeed “better
off” in the sense of materially better off, the members of society
are far from equally better off, as Locke’s emphasis on explaining
the existence of a class of men who have no property but their persons and
nothing to sell or barter but their labor. Civil society, commerce, and money
raise all the boats, but some are way at the top of the wave and others in
the trough. Locke does not take this as a justification for redistribution,
in part for reasons not too far from Rawls’s theory of justice—this
is the arrangement from which all do benefit and therefore the inequality
is justifiable and just.
Nonetheless, Locke’s account brings out the nature of society and
politics in a propertied society: It is a class society, and it is a politics
of actual or potential class conflict. Locke may be correct that as a matter
of political morality the property-less would be doubly wrong to attempt
to expropriate the propertied, just as it would be wrong for the propertied
to govern in such a way that the property in their persons of the otherwise
property-less was endangered. That, precisely, is the political problem that
comes to sight when focusing on the chapter on property as aiming to explain
the existence and legitimacy of a free class of self-owning but otherwise
1. Eric Mack's
Reply to Jan Narveson (January 15, 2013)
I thank Jan Narveson for his generous, thoughtful, and thought-provoking comments.
Narveson raises five or six really important issues, including concerns about
whether there is any need to argue against the proposition that nature is the
joint property of all mankind, concerns about how precisely to formulate Locke’s “enough,
and as good” proviso, and concerns about my non-Lockean willingness to
assign a major role to conventional rules in the generation of legitimate property
However, at this point, I am going to focus almost entirely on one issue where
I think there is a really deep philosophical disagreement between Narveson
and myself. In doing so I hope to highlight a crucial and contentious feature
of natural-rights doctrines – a feature that is much too readily taken
to be a fundamental defect of such doctrines. To complement the discussion
of the character of natural-rights theory, I will say a word or two about Narveson’s
alternative approach to vindicating really basic moral rules. Needless to say,
I will only be dipping a toe or two into the depths.
The really deep philosophical dispute between Narveson and me concerns what
sorts of reasons exist for endorsing or condemning actions, or for affirming
or rejecting really basic moral principles or really basic rights. I think
(and I construe Locke as thinking) that certain “morally significant
of other people provide me with nonprudential and nonstrategic reasons to be
circumspect in my conduct toward them. Because persons have these features
they matter; and they matter in a way that limits what I may do to or with
them. Natural-rights theories seek to identify core natural features of persons
that explain why they have a status or standing that morally precludes their
being subject to certain sorts of treatment. For Locke these morally significant
features include others being one’s moral equals, others not being made
for one’s own purposes, others having ultimate ends of their own that
they are rational to advance, and others each having reason to claim freedom
from interference as the crucial condition of their advancing their own ends.
Natural-rights theorists think that such facts about others have moral import
for one. They provide one with reason not to do certain things to other people – like
destroying them, locking them up, or converting them into wall-hangings – which
one is perfectly morally free to do to other sorts of entities.
Why is one morally precluded from destroying other people, locking
them up, and converting them into wall-hangings? Why may they demand that
one not subject them to such treatment? According to any natural-rights doctrine
the crucial answer is not that such treatment would have untoward
consequences – for the agent or for the subject or for society at large.
Bad consequences for the agent may provide the agent with prudential reasons
not to impose that treatment, and bad consequences for the subject or for society
at large may provide the agent with reasons of benevolence not to impose that
treatment. Nevertheless, the wrongness of imposing those sorts of treatment
is not contingent upon that treatment having untoward consequences for the
agent or the subject or society at large. The wrongness of imposing those sorts
of treatment is not contingent on the agent having prudential reasons or reasons
of benevolence for eschewing those kinds of treatment. That is why, according
to the natural-rights theorist, one can know that one ought not to inflict
such treatment without knowing that its infliction would have bad consequences
for the agent or the subject or society at large. One can know that one ought
not to inflict such treatment without knowing that it will have untoward consequences
because one can reason from persons having traits like being one’s
moral equal, not being made for one’s purposes, and so on to one’s
having reason not to inflict such treatment. Or so natural-rights theorists
like Locke contend.
My point here is not that all these contentions are correct but rather that
it is crucial to any (genuine) natural-rights position that there are nonconsequentialist
reasons against certain types of action – reasons that are provided to
one by morally significant features of persons. One subscribes to the consequentialist
conception of reasons if one believes (as many do) that all reason for or against
actions is a matter of the value or disvalue of the consequences of those actions.
And, if one subscribes to this consequentialist conception of reasons, one
will think that the sort of reasons that have to exist for natural-rights doctrines
to make sense simply do not exist. I believe that Narveson thinks that all
purported natural-rights accounts of fundamental moral principles have to be
“[b]ad accounts, or non-accounts” precisely because he subscribes
to such a consequentialist conception of reasons.
However, this narrow conception of reasons is challenged by the thought that
persons – beings who are one’s moral equal, who are not made for
one’s purposes, and so on -- matter in a way that places moral limits
on what one may do to or with them. Since natural-rights accounts incorporate
this thought, invoking the consequentialist conception of reasons to dismiss
natural-rights accounts illicitly presupposes a conception of reasons that
natural-rights doctrines reject. This does not show that any natural-rights
account is correct. It merely shows that dismissing all such accounts as bad
accounts or as non-accounts on the basis that all reasons must be consequentialist
in character fails to take the character of natural-rights positions seriously.
Narveson prefers a mutual-advantage account of basic moral rules. On this
account a rule is justified if and only if we are all better off with general
compliance. But the well-known problem with this approach is that (almost)
every individual would be better off yet if others generally complied with
the rule while he got to violate it when he can do so without being detected.
(Narveson himself asks, “What about those who exploit the compliance
of most of us with Locke’s natural law…?”) The problem is
that if each individual is prepared to break the rule when doing so is more
advantageous for him, and each knows that each is so prepared, we get general
noncompliance – which is worse for everyone.
My contention is that we will get general compliance with nifty rules – like
refrain from violence against nonviolent others – only if people take
themselves to have nonconsequentialist reasons to abide by those rules. The
perception that there are certain constraints on how one may treat other persons
-- because they are persons – is a necessary catalyst for the general
compliance that is mutually advantageous. As Locke put it in his early Essays
on the Law of Nature, “Thus the rightness of an action does not
depend on its utility; on the contrary, its utility is a result of its rightness.” 
 On the conventional rules issue, see Eric Mack, “The
Natural Right of Property,” Social Philosophy and Policy, v.27
no.1 (Winter 2010), 53-79.
 Essays on the Law of Nature, 79-133, in Locke:
Political Essays, Mark Goldie, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1997), 133.
2. Jan Narveson's Comment
on Eric Mack (January 15, 2013)
Eric Mack is right to think that we have a serious philosophical disagreement
on the matter of the foundations of rights. We are in agreement (and everybody
else is too, I hope!) that rights are natural in the sense that they aren't
a matter of what some legislature or king decrees, but stem from how people
are, how they relate to each other and their environment. He characterizes
my counterview as: “The wrongness of imposing those sorts of treatment“ is
“contingent on the agent having prudential reasons or reasons of benevolence
for eschewing those kinds of treatment.” I admit that I don't see how
this could not be so. Why would we care about rights if the things they protected
for us were things that just didn't matter to us? Eric says that persons “matter.”
As a moral proposition, I agree: But matter how? On his view (or Kant’s
comparable one), it seems that other people “mattering” is a fact about
all of us. If it were so, why do some people kill others or take their stuff?
I don’t see how the answer could be anything other than that morality
is interpersonal -- it's the forming and inculcating of interpersonally authoritative
rules of behavior. I can’t expect you to respect me and what matters
to me if I won't in turn respect you and what matters to you. If that isn’t
enough (and apparently for some it isn’t) to induce us both to make and
keep the commitments of morality, then we are reduced to war -- and telling
our enemies that they are bad people while they’re at it, though true,
isn’t going to do any good unless there is some reason (that
they can understand) why people who do the sorts of things they are
doing are rationally regarded as bad.
It is not a “problem” with the social-contract view that
while cooperation is better for all, noncooperation is often better for each.
The fact that general noncooperation is far worse for everyone, including the
noncooperating agent, tells us a lot -- in the end, I think, everything. It
explains both why people often do evil and why we need to redouble our efforts
to see to it that they don’t. But it does not in the least impugn that
what they are doing is indeed wrong -- for wrongness is a matter of acting
against rationally imposed rules for all. It not only doesn't need to be anything
else, but it really can’t be.
3. Eric Mack’s Response to
Peter Vallentyne (January 16, 2013)
I now thank Peter Vallentyne for his very gracious and challenging comments.
I want to address several of the issues that Vallentyne raises. Most of these
issues arise within the context of the debate – or, let us say, conversation
– between theorists (like myself) who are labeled “right-libertarians” and
theorists (like Vallentyne) who are labeled “left-libertarians.” Moreover,
since most, if not all, members of each of these philosophical sub-camps
see themselves as endorsing “a Locke-inspired version of libertarianism,”
one can also describe the philosophical conversation as being between “right-Lockeans”
and “left-Lockeans.” This is not a conversation about exactly what John Locke
actually believed but rather one about what is the best philosophical elaboration
of the basic elements of Lockean political theory as those elements themselves
are best understood.
"Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet
every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but
Both “right-Lockeans” and “left-Lockeans” recognize in Locke and themselves
affirm that “every
Man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body as any Right to but himself.
The Labour of his Body, and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly
his.” [ST §27] This is a statement about
each person’s natural (or original) moral condition. Each is “Master
of himself, and Proprietor of his own Person” [ST §44] in the sense that
each is morally at liberty to dispose as he sees fit of the elements that compose
his person and each has rights against all others not to be prevented from
disposing of his person as he sees fit.
For our current purposes, it is important to note that this affirmation of
“self-ownership” is anti-egalitarian in the sense that individuals are ascribed
rights over very unequal “shares” of personal resources. Some individuals will
have rights over considerably more in the way of mental or physical capacities
and levels of energy and get-going-ness than others. In addition, it looks
as though the affirmed and rightful inequality in personal resources will in
all likelihood generate inequalities in extra-personal holdings – in the number
of acorns that people will gather, the extent of the fields that they will
cultivate and the crops that they will harvest, and the minerals they will
mine and refine. As Locke says, “Different
degrees of Industry were apt to give Men Possessions in different Proportions….”
§48]. And when the invention of money engenders more elaborate forms of labor
and commerce, this inequality in extra-personal holdings will be enlarged.
When individuals with rights over their talents, energy, and labor bring
these factors to bear on the natural materials that surround them, we seem
to get rightful inequalities of extra-personal holdings. Left-Lockeans, however,
want to push back against these apparently anti-egalitarian implications. They
want to find bases within a fundamentally Lockean approach for something like
equality in the distribution of the blessings of nature – or even (in some
left-Lockeans) something like equality in the distribution of all extra-personal
The Lockean text suggests four ways in which a Lockean might launch an argument
for some degree – perhaps a very considerable degree – of mandated equality
in extra-personal holdings. The least promising of these is Locke’s advocacy
of a spoilage proviso according to which, even if I have mixed my labor with
some natural material – e.g., even if I have gathered all three of these bushels
of berries – if some of the labor-invested material will spoil in my possession,
others are morally at liberty to take that material. But, as Locke points out,
the spoilage proviso provides little room for inequality reducing transfers
of extra-personal holdings, for only the most irrational people will invest
their labor in gathering more berries than they can consume without spoilage
or can barter away for other consumption goods. And once money comes along,
all those extra berries can readily be converted in to silver and gold coins
that never spoil.
Locke tells us that the earth has been given to all mankind in common. There
are two very strong interpretations of this claim, each of which seems to require
something like an equal distribution of the blessings of nature. One interpretation
is that we are all by nature joint-owners of the earth and hence any private
appropriation requires everyone’s agreement. The other interpretation is that
each of such is naturally the owner of a discrete equal share of the earth.
(Locke himself rejects both of these interpretations.) As I see it, the history
of left-Lockeanism (or left-libertarianism) has largely been the history of
people trying to defend one or another of these strong propositions and then
trying to show the coherence of a system that includes one of these propositions
and self-ownership. One of the striking things about Vallentyne’s left-Lockeanism
is that Vallentyne disavows both of these strong claims about original equal
rights to nature and accepts the position of Locke (and of right-Lockeans)
that nature is originally unowned.
"… which Question will at first seem strange, since the Establishment
of Property seems to have extinguished all the Right that arose from the State
of Community. But it is not so; for we are to consider the Intention of those
who first introduced the Property of Goods. There is all the Reason in the
World to suppose that they designed to deviate as little as possible from the
Rules of natural Equity;"
Another opening for the insertion of equality into a Lockean system is Locke’s
claim that an individual who is in extreme want is morally at liberty to take
the loaf of bread that she needs to avoid starvation from the otherwise rightful
owner of that loaf. Vallentyne agrees, and so do I. Locke in fact seems to
make a much stronger claim on behalf of the party in dire circumstances. In
his First Treatise he declares that “charity
gives every Man a Title to so much out of another’s plenty, as will keep him
from extream want, where he has no means to subsist otherwise….” [FT §42].
Notice that this moral-liberty argument goes beyond the spoilage proviso because
the party who needs to take the loaf to avoid starvation may take the loaf
even if it will not otherwise spoil. On
the other hand, the doctrine that people are not obligated to sit and starve
or even that there is a duty of charity to prevent starvation hardly gets one
to anything like an egalitarianism of extra-personal shares of nature.
Notice that in this First Treatise passage Locke says that the person
in extreme want has a “Title” to what she needs to survive – albeit it is a
title bestowed by charity and not by justice. This raises some of the same
philosophical issues considered by Vallentyne toward the end of his remarks.
Does the loaf-holder have a duty to hand the bread over to the starving
individual? Does he at least have a duty to allow her to exercise
her liberty to take the bread? If the loaf-holder has duties with respect to
the person in extreme want does that mean that she has claim-rights against
the loaf-holder? In A
Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke holds that although uncharitableness
is a sin, it is not subject to punishment by the magistrate because uncharitable
conduct is “not
prejudicial to other mens Rights….”
The fourth opening for something like the equal blessings of nature into a
Lockean system is Locke’s advocacy of the “enough and as good” proviso. The
core idea of such a proviso is that people’s acquisition of property and/or
their decisions about how they will employ their property may not worsen the
condition of others in some way. But in what way may people’s condition not
be worsened? And what is the baseline for determining whether a person’s condition
is worsened in the specified way? And what justifies any such proviso and how
does the affirmed proviso fit into an overall Lockean political theory? All
these are matters of complex debate. What is salient here is that Vallentyne’s
left-Lockean position turns on the inclusion of a bold “enough and as good”
proviso. Vallentyne’s proposed proviso requires that an equally valuable share
of natural resources be left for each individual or that each individual receive
due compensation for anything less than an equally valuable share being left
for her. [FN4: Vallentyne might go further. He might require
that each be left with a large enough share to provide her with an equal opportunity
for wellbeing or receive due compensation for not being left with such a share.]
Vallentyne quite rightly notes that he cannot be expected to defend this claim
in a short commentary on a short essay about Locke. So it would be unjust for
me to launch a full-scale critique here. I will merely highlight three difficulties
that I expect readers of this conversation to have. The first is the difficulty
of determining what an equally valuable share of natural resources would be.
The second is the difficulty of seeing why the benefits provided by natural
resources should be shared equally. The third is the difficulty of thinking
that raw nature, to any significant degree, provides us with benefits. An important
Lockean doctrine is that what provides us with benefits is people doing things
with raw stuff that would otherwise be worthless.
 For a variety of reasons, I dislike
these “right”–“left” labels.
 A really interesting discussion of this issue of
which Locke must have been aware appears in Hugo Grotius’s great 1625 treatise, The
Rights of War and Peace, (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2005), Bk.II,
Ch.II, VI-IX. Editor’s Note: Hugo Grotius, The Rights of War and Peace,
edited and with an Introduction by Richard Tuck, from the Edition by Jean Barbeyrac
(Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005). Vol. 2. Bk. II CHAPTER II: VI: Of Things
which belong in common to all Men. < http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/1947/121278/2448195>]
 A Letter Concerning Toleration, ed. J. Tully
(Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1983), 44. Editor’s
Note: Or see Liberty Fund’s edition, John Locke, A Letter concerning Toleration
and Other Writings, edited and with an Introduction by Mark Goldie (Indianapolis:
Liberty Fund, 2010). <http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/2375>.]
4. Peter Vallentyne’s
Reply to Eric Mack (January 17, 2013)
I have no disagreements with Eric’s excellent response to my commentary.
I will here take the opportunity to reply, very briefly, to the three questions
he raises at the end.
The first question concerns how the value of shares of natural resources is
determined. I would defend an appeal to the competitive value (based on demand
and supply) of the rights held over (unimproved) natural resources. There is
some indeterminacy in this notion, but a suitable auction would be one example,
as would be the market-clearing price in a suitable free market. This general
approach is endorsed by Hillel Steiner and Henry George, and
some jurisdictions (e.g., Hong Kong, I believe) tax landowners on this basis.
Related to this is the third question, which concerns how raw natural resources
could have any value apart from what people might do with them. I fully agree
that their value so depends. The value of rights over some natural resources
(e.g., beautiful beachfront) is higher than that of rights over other resources
(e.g., ugly beachfront) precisely because there is more that people can or
want to do with them.
The second, and remaining, question is why the value of natural resources
should be shared equally. This is a more difficult question. If I were a moral
realist, I would say that moral reality includes such a requirement (and of
course I would need to justify this claim). I am not, however, a moral realist,
and so I view this a matter of what moral principles we would endorse in a
suitable reflective equilibrium (after much information gathering, reflection,
discussion, etc.). I find full self-ownership plausible, but I also find a limited requirement
for some form of substantive equality plausible. Some kind of egalitarian proviso
on appropriation (and use) of natural resources seems like a plausible limited
requirement. I fully recognize, however, that others (most others!) do not
share this view. I thus view it, like all normative matters, as a matter for
continued reflection and investigation. I should emphasize, however, that the
issue of justification arises no matter what position one takes on the appropriation
proviso. One can always ask why some specific proviso is the relevant one,
rather than some other one, or none. The egalitarian proviso does not face,
that is, any special burden of justification compared to other versions. They
all face a very strong burden.
 Hillel Steiner, An Essay on Rights (Cambridge,
MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1994). Henry George, Progress and Poverty (New
York: Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, 1879). See the OLL edition: Henry George, Progress
and Poverty: An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase
of Want with Increase of Wealth, The Remedy (Garden City, NY: Doubleday,
Page, & Co. 1912). <http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/328>.
5. Eric Mack's Comment on
Michael Zuckert (January 20, 2013)
I have already thanked Jan Narveson and Peter Vallentyne for their gracious
and thought-provoking comments. I now thank Michael Zuckert, who, as is always
the case, reveals to me interesting ways to look at philosophical texts and
issues that would otherwise be beyond my ken. It is very gratifying to have
such distinguished thinkers as commentators and friends.
Zuckert zooms in on what seems to be a curious feature of Locke’s Second
Locke’s treatise is very reasonably viewed as (among other things) a defense
of an economic order in which owners of extra-personal productive resources
employ individuals who possess little in the way of productive resources beyond
themselves. Such an economic order will be shot through with employer-employee
relationships – or, in Locke’s language, with master-servant relationships.
Moreover, Locke mentions master-servant relationships as one of the several
types of relationship that are to be distinguished from the political ruler-political
subject relationship. Nevertheless, while Locke devotes good segments of chapters
to the owner-slave, the parent-child, and the husband-wife relationships before
going on to ruler-subject relationship, he does not seem to offer a comparable
discussion of the master-servant relationship. Zuckert’s resolution of this
curiosity is that the chapter “Of Property” – which is located between chapters
that focus on these other relationships – is in reality about the master-servant
relationship. It is an elaborate justifying explanation of the emergence of
an economic order that is shot through with employer-employee relationships.
I think that this is a very illuminating point even though (or especially
because) the only explicit reference to servants that I recall in “Of Property”
is Locke’s assertion that,
Thus the Grass
my Horse has bit; the Turfs my Servant has cut; and the Ore
I have digg’d in any place where I have a right to them in common with others,
become my Property, without the assignment or consent of any body.
The labour that was mine [including my horse’s labor and my servant’s
labor], removing them out of that common state they were in, hath fixed
my Property in them.
Still, I think that there is another respect in which “Of Property” is strangely
silent given Locke’s place as a crucial defender of a private property commercial
order. Locke never takes up the question of why freely contracted exchanges
give both parties rights against the world at large to what those parties receive
through such exchanges.
Consider a situation in which A has a property right to a particular
silver coin and B has a property right to a particular wool coat and
they voluntarily agree to an exchange of the coin for the coat. It is pretty
clear why, in virtue of their agreement, after the exchange A has
a right against B that B not grab
the wool coat and that B has a right against A that A not
grab the coin. Each has the specified right against the other in virtue
of the binding moral force of contracts. As Locke says, agreements are binding
in the state of nature because “truth
and keeping of faith belongs to men, as men….”
But why does A now have a right against everyone that they keep their hands
off the wool coat and why does B now have a right against everyone that they
keep their hands off the silver coin? One might say – albeit Locke does not
try this – that A and B don’t merely exchange the coin and the coat; they also
exchange their rights. A transfers to B his right against
the world to the coin and B transfers to A her right
against the world to the wool coat. But
I think saying this at best amounts to saying that somehow the agreement between
A and B results in A having a right against the world to the coat and B having
a right against the world to the coin. Yet what is needed is some explanation
of how the voluntary exchange has this effect. I think that there are two factors
that explain Locke’s failure to note the need to provide an explanation for
how voluntary transfers of just holdings bring it about that the recipients
now have rights against the world to what they have received in trade.
First, I think that Locke is quite appropriately impressed with the moral
power of agreement. For this reason he does not notice that, while it is clear
that if I agree to transfer my coin to you, I am bound not to grab it back,
it is not so clear why everyone else becomes obligated to you not to take the
coin. Second, along with all other 17th-century theorists, Locke is focused
on how property rights initially arise – on how portions of the natural world
are justly removed from the commons and converted into property. The task that
he sets for himself in “Of Property” is to explain how just initial acquisition
is possible (in the absence of the world at large agreeing to such acquisition).
Locke simply takes it for granted that justice in transfer is possible.
There is another significant silence in and around Locke’s chapter “Of Property.”
I’ve argued that Locke provides a forceful explanation for why the appearance
and increasing articulation of a system of private property and trade will
benefit all (or nearly all) persons. But this is, as Zuckert points out, a
bit of “ideal theory” that may not fully address the world as it actually is.
One way that Locke’s theorizing about how the rise of property could be just
and mutually beneficial does not connect to the actual non-ideal world is that
Locke remains silent about the extent to which the actual holdings – especially
the land holdings -- of the world in which he lived were just or unjust and
to what extent individuals were worse off than they would be because unjust
holdings were in fact upheld. My presumption is that it simply does not occur
to Locke to investigate the gap between his philosophical account of just holdings
and those actually existing holdings. Perhaps – I think this is a Zuckert-like
thought -- he saw the gap but judged that the most he could do was to leave
it to others to see the gap as well.
Zuckert is impressed by the extent to which the gains to participants in Lockean
commercial society are unequal – more specifically, by the extent to which
the gains to those who are propertied are greater than the gains to those who
are property-less. As I understand Zuckert, he is saying that, although justice
may not condemn this unequal gain, we have to recognize the sense in which
Lockean commercial society is a class society. Here I would just want to put
forward an alternative picture for consideration. On that picture (i) many
of the gains and the losses in Locke’s actual world and in ours derived or
now derive from the sorts of economic predation that good Lockeans condemn;
(ii) many of those illicit gains accrued and now accrue to those who are already
powerful and hooked up to concentrated political interests, and many of those
unjust losses fell and now fall on those who are already weak and unrepresented
in coalitions of concentrated interests; and (iii) the important class division
is the too-often unrecognized division between those who gain from predatory
measures that Lockeans should condemn and those from whom those gains are extracted.
Treatise, §28. <http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/222/16269/704360>.
 Second Treatise,
6. Jan Narveson's Reply to
Eric Mack (January 20, 2013)
Libertarians need to address, very seriously, the questions raised between
Eric Mack and Peter Vallentyne regarding, broadly speaking, the treatment of
those on the "bottom" (that is, the bottom of the honest-dollar scale,
but not the robbers and wastrels.)
Locke's opening pitch in the famous chapter on property takes it that nature
belongs to mankind in common. Mack's original essay in effect says that Locke
virtually undoes that position. In a sense that's true, but it's also true
that he is in a position of having to undo it. He evidently thinks that there
is something very robust about the claim, even if it's only a strong prima
Now, Locke also says, in introducing the thought, that "God gave
the earth to mankind in common." This introduces theological
notions into the foundational discourse on these matters, and there is decisive,
definitive reason for refusing to countenance such notions here -- a fact
that Locke isn't sufficiently aware of (hence the, it seems to me, totally
inexcusable book by Jeremy Waldron holding that all of Locke's views depend
on his religion, and apparently implying that he was even somehow on the
right track in this respect. But
Waldron is completely wrong about that. In the present context, the point that
can easily be made is: How does Locke know that God gave the earth
to all of us equally, as he says, rather than,
say, just the Aryans or the Inuits, or whatever, or that he gave it highly
unequally to his buddies? In context, it's obvious that Locke "knows" this
because he believes, antecedently, that the earth does belong to us
all in common, and therefore of course that's who God would, in all
conscience, have given it to. The circularity is obvious.
But what that means is that some independent argument has to be given for
it. And such argument is, to put it mildly, seriously lacking, even though
my impression is that somewhere just short of 100 percent of contemporary social
philosophers seem to agree with Locke on the substantive point.
But I don't, and I don't see how libertarians in general can. The reason they
can't is simple: If indeed all we have, at bottom, is the right to liberty,
then that right must be essentially negative. Now, a negative right over the
earth has the problem that all rights are rights against other people. And
a right against those others to a "share" of “the earth” is one that
cannot be backed by strictly negative rights. If the earth is available for
exploitation by free men, then there is no way to infer that everyone is entitled to some, either in the way of an equal share or anything else. If our only
duty is to refrain from aggression, then some may starve because others, quite
nonaggressively, neglect them.
I don't see how "left libertarianism" can be founded in liberty,
and in Peter Vallentyne's account, it's not. On his account, it seems to me,
liberty is a surd. But that’s not a point of contention between Eric
Mack and myself, so I won’t pursue it here.
The question that remains is: Do we have any business asserting such positive
claims if we are libertarians? If we are it would have to be this: that somehow,
in the process of appropriating bits of the earth, those who end up with nothing
in pure free-enterprise environments, due to whatever -- say, lack of talent
or brainpower, or whatever -- have somehow been deprived of something by the
rest, the ingenious and industrious. If that were so, we of course could infer
our duty to help them out.
But it’s at least not obviously so. The person born with no brain, or whatever,
isn’t going to make it regardless of his property rights. The Lockean idea,
not to mention the Rawlsian idea, simply can’t be based on that. Let’s agree
that the libertarian insists that we not put people below the relevant baseline.
(In response to both Mack and Vallentyne, this baseline is simply where people
would be in a state of nature even if it’s Lockean rather than Hobbesian.)
The answer, unfortunately, is that quite a few of them would be dead. Locke
is perfectly right to point out that nature of itself supplies us with nothing.
Some technology is essential, however minimum. (I include, say, the rudimentary,
innate technology by which newborns seek their mothers’ breasts. It does not,
however, include the know-how necessary to increase product when Mom’s breasts,
alas, don’t work properly or she is too low on sustenance to keep the supply
Nevertheless, there are three points that seem to me between them necessary
First, in any even moderately decent times (and if that’s lacking, see point
three), there are lots of caring people around who will be ready and willing
to contribute to appropriate helping agencies. We who worry about the down-and-out
do not have a problem. We have, of course, a horrendous problem with governments
whose policies shore up the unemployment rate, but we do not have a problem
that people will starve to death in a libertarian world -- at least, not so
long as most of them are pretty much like almost everybody that you and I know.
The frequent aspersions on private charity by the friends of the welfare state
-- exhortations that we shouldn’t throw the very poor on the “tender mercies
of arbitrary charity” etc. -- are not just derogatory but completely baseless.
It is characteristic of leftists, and a good many knuckle-headed rightists,
to say such things, but anyone who knows any appreciable number of real people
knows that the cynics simply don’t know what they’re talking about. (Of course,
those who will be charitable if they can may sometimes be unable to be so.
See point three below.)
Secondly, let’s also agree that modern technological environments make it
highly likely that a lot of people who are perfectly competent will nevertheless
end up unemployed now and then, and it may be that the skills some of them
honed with years of study and practice and that are now redundant may also
make it very difficult for those people to switch to other occupations that
would get them back on track economically. However, I don’t see that these
problems of themselves generate the kind of across-the-board, open-ended case
for “equal rights to natural resources,” with whatever Vallentyne can somehow
extract from that in the way of hard cash. What’s needed is a return to prudence:
saving for the future during good years, etc.
And thirdly, any idea of “guaranteeing” equality, and in particular guaranteeing
it in such a way that every individual is kept above some floor level, enough
to keep him alive and functioning, has the problem that moral principles can’t
of themselves actually guarantee anything whatever. If there absolutely isn’t
enough to go around, then what? It is, again, impossible to see how the libertarian
can say anything other than that in such circumstances the smart, the quick,
and the lucky will make it and those with the opposite properties will not.
But as I’ve said above, there is absolutely no reason to think that the world
we live in either is now or will in the foreseeable future be a world of such
niggardliness. All that’s true here is that advocates of positive rights for
all have to run out of gas on sheer supply problems at some point, so far as
pure theory is concerned. The earth will get zapped by a comet, or boil, or
freeze, and there may not be a thing we can do to prevent mass starvation or
some such. Pure theory is for debaters only: Again, in the real world the efforts
of so many ingenious and humane people -- think, e.g., of Norman Borlaug --
have simply solved any real supply problem, and they will continue to do so
as long as the earth bears much resemblance to what it has been for the past
many millennia. The claim that Borlaug is merely “equal,” in libertarian terms,
to the most down-and-out incompetent among us when it comes to claims on “shares”
of developed resources is so utterly absurd as to make the egalitarian case
The upshot is that libertarians do not need to follow Locke in his inconsistent
insistence on positive rights for the starving. (It is inconsistent: Mack points
out that “Locke holds that although uncharitableness is a sin, it is not subject
to punishment by the magistrate...” -- and that, after all, is the only
point at issue.) Some people’s rights, of themselves, will not keep them alive; but
warmhearted, sympathetic, and industrious people will do so. That’s all we
need -- as well as all we are theoretically entitled to.
 Jeremy Waldron, God,
Locke, and Equality (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2002).
7. Michael Zuckert's Comment
on Eric Mack (Janaury 20, 2013)
Eric’s generous opening gesture about my comment bringing out insights “beyond
his ken” may be a bit of an overstatement, but it does bring out something
of a difference between many of us who approach political philosophy from within
political science and those, like Eric, who do so from within the discipline
of philosophy. I suppose there are many ways to describe the difference but
one way is to note what Eric’s comment directly points to—readers like me are
more emphatically concerned with the text of the philosophers than readers
like Eric. He is directly concerned with the arguments and tends to see them
in an acontextual and ahistorical manner. We tend to be concerned more with
the text as text and to be attentive to the place of arguments within texts
and within history. Thus in my original post I was trying to solve a puzzle
about Locke’s organization and order of argument. But in doing so, I believe,
some substantive points of interest emerged that do not nullify the excellent
interpretation that Eric developed but give some different emphases to Locke’s
property doctrine. Although the differences between us are slight I think they
do mostly revolve around this difference in the way we approach philosophers
With that preface let me make some specific responses to Eric’s comments.
- On a relatively fine textual point: Eric observes quite correctly that
the only place where Locke refers to the master-servant relation directly
in chapter five is the famous “the
turfs my servant has cut” passage.
This was the passage that C.B. Macpherson (Possessive Individualism)
referred to as merely reflecting emerging market relations in and therefore
as evidence for his Marxist way of reading major texts of the 17th century. One
of my points was to show that Locke was not merely not taking for granted
relations in his society, but that the very point of the chapter was to show
how there might rightly be masters and servants. But beyond that, Locke refers
once more, though not in these terms, to the master-servant relation when
he speaks of the day laborer in a passage Eric too makes much of. Locke has
shown us how there come to be day laborers, i.e., men who have no land and
no direct access to the fruits of the land and who therefore must sell their
labor. To show that they are not harmed in their rights or in their welfare
is, one could plausibly say, the main point of the chapter.
- Eric uses this example of the servant and turf to raise an interesting
philosophical question: How does Locke explain the force of exchange and
contract in creating rights against all comers, not just vis-à-vis the exchangers.
Here Eric makes a move rather like Macpherson—he concludes that Locke is
just taking for granted a relation or practice that exists in his society
and has not given it any thought. Perhaps, but I wonder if the Lockean line
of answer to this question would follow tracks similar to those that lead
to rights against all comers for original appropriators. I do not follow
that up here, but it would be an interesting argument to pursue.
Similarly, Eric says that it does not occur to Locke to investigate
the gap between his account and current holdings. I cannot believe that this
is correct. Locke’s discussion in the immediate context has the purpose of
refuting Filmer’s claim that existing property relations cannot be justified
on the basis of the contractarian/state of nature/original commons arguments
he means to counter with his patriarchal doctrine. Only if the world is originally
owned and then passed on can private ownership rightly exist, as Filmer has
it. This point comes out very strongly in Filmer’s critique of Grotius on
property and the law of nature. So Locke’s task is precisely to show the
legitimacy of the existing relations and distribution of property—in general
if not in every detail. He could not have overlooked the bearing of his argument
on property holdings in his society. I actually think Eric and I agree more
here than he sees, for he makes much of Locke’s poor-law proposal, which
is a response to the “gap” between the very general account he gives of property
in a money economy with its assumption for this purpose of a full employment
economy and the realities of his and all societies.
- Eric suggests that my claims about the class character of Lockean
society is perhaps more a result of economic and political practices and
policies of which Locke would not approve and which he would work to overcome.
Probably correct to some degree. Nonetheless, I believe the main point still
holds. First, as I suggested above, Locke is writing to legitimate the property
relations of his society. These are marked by great inequality of holdings.
Second, he seems to believe that the dynamic of the money economy leads to
great inequality under all conditions. After all, he takes on the burden
of trying to show that the situation of the day laborer is just and right.
And advantageous for all. The reason I raised the class issue in the first
place is that it poses a serious political problem that Locke should need
to face, and it is not evident how he meets it. That problem is how to maintain
the property regime that benefits all but does so unequally in the face of
temptations of the disadvantaged to disrupt those relations. We enter here
issues such as the distribution of political power among the population,
special constitutional means to protect property, and so on. The problem
Locke points to but does not seem to resolve set the agenda for much of the
political thinking and action of the next century, as men like Montesquieu
and Madison (and many others) grappled with it.
 Macpherson, C.B., The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism:
Hobbes to Locke (Oxford University Press, 1964).
8. Eric Mack's Comment on
Jan Narveson 2 (January 20, 2013)
Jan Narveson provides a powerful response to my claim (on behalf of natural-rights
theory) that one has reasons to be circumspect in one’s treatment of others
that are not reasons of prudence or benevolence. Jan’s response is that there
are things that matter to one and things that matter to others and surely this
exhausts everything that matters. If one’s reasons for action or forbearance
derive from what matters, then all one’s reasons must be reasons of prudence
or reasons of benevolence. Jan’s response is powerful because, at least for
a moment, it is difficult to say what else matters.
Fortunately, I just watched a great documentary on the left-wing Current channel
entitled Marijuana Outlaws, about folks growing marijuana in northern California
– entirely, of course, for the legal medical marijuana market. These were all
more or less counterculture people who have not had the friendliest past relationships
with law enforcement. Because they don’t know what to expect from the maze
of law enforcement agencies – especially since they may be accused of supplying
marijuana to nonmedical consumers – they grow their crops in very remote places.
Unfortunately, a consequence of this is that their crops can readily be stolen
just as they are about to be harvested.
The last segment of the show involved interviews with growers whose crops
had just been stolen. What was striking was the nature of their condemnation
of what had been done to them. They all clearly believed that they had been
wronged precisely because of the labor, effort, attention, and energy that
they have devoted to their crops. Of course, they did not like ending up with
$70,000 or $80,000 less income than they expected. They were not happy about
that financial loss. Still, a great deal of what mattered to them was that
they have been treated in a way that in itself was unacceptable. Their view
was that human beings don’t (i.e., shouldn’t) go around taking other people’s
hard-earned stuff. There is something wrong with people who do treat others
in these ways. (One grower said the thieves were “shits”; another said the
thieves were creating “bad karma” that would eventually do them in.)
So everything that matters matters to someone. But one sort of thing that
matters to people is not being treated in certain ways (above and beyond the
consequences of being treated in those ways) and not themselves treating others
in those ways. (The growers also talked about how much it mattered to them
that their rights over their land be respected and how much it mattered to
them that they respect others’ land rights.) I think our view that there are
certain constraints we ought to abide by in our interaction with others and
that they ought to abide by in their conduct toward us is too deep to be a
product of any sort of ends-oriented deliberation about what rule-compliance
will be advantageous to oneself or to everyone.
Jan is right, of course, that
for some people, being circumspect in the treatment of others does not in fact
matter. Nothing I have said in this conversation shows that these people nevertheless
have reason to be circumspect – though I think the sort of considerations Locke
lines up do combine to provide reasons not to act in ways that interfere with
others’ pursuing their own ends. In some of my own essays, I have tried to
lay out why any reasonable moral code has to contain important deontic restrictions. All
of that is a much bigger conversation.
 See “Prerogatives, Restrictions, and Rights,” Social Philosophy
vol.22 no.1 (Winter 2005) 357-93, and “Individualism and Libertarian Rights,”
in Contemporary Debates in Political Philosophy, edited by John Christman
and Thomas Cristiano (Oxford: Blackwell, 2009), 121-36.
9. Jan Narveson's Comments
on Eric Mack and Michael Zuckert (January 20, 2013)
It is easy to misstate and to misread the view of us “reductivists” on moral
matters, and it may be that Eric and I agree more than he thinks. His marijuana
growers are of course right to complain about the thieves who deprive them
of the fruits of their labors. The ground of their complaint is of the essence:
Others intervened to lower their utility level – their quality of life -- relative
to a nonaggressive Lockean baseline. But the complaint itself is expressed
precisely and correctly in emotivist-approved terms – those thieves are a bunch
of “shits.” To say this we surely need no further metaphysics, do we? (Of course,
government intervention here is nearly at its worst and makes it most unlikely
that the growers will be recompensed. In such a situation, use of “deontological”
language is sure to flourish!
Eric’s response to me interacts with a point of Zuckert’s. The baseline of
interaction is always the same: Lockean (and Hobbesian) nonaggression. Interactions
that worsen no one’s condition are permitted; interactions that lower anyone’s
condition are not. Aggression mucks up social relations, giving victims reason
to react defensively, instead of being free to do their best with their natural
endowments, such natural resources as may remain, and exchanges with others
who have increased their property meanwhile. In the largely hypothetical original
state, a person’s capital is mostly natural and affords a barely tolerable
living; in developed social conditions, it makes even the day-laborer remarkably
well off by comparison. But all that changes is the level of typical legitimate
possessions of the rest of society. Given the potent combination of normal
entrepreneurship plus normal levels of compassion, as time goes by this level
gets very high.
None of the above entails anything about how much actual inequality there
will be. We should note that as regards any Lockean intention of justifying
the specific kinds of inequalities prevailing in his day, the huge problem
is simply that the British landed gentry got their land by conquest and not
by Locke-approved means. Justifying that on libertarian grounds is, prima facie,
impossible. It’s a wholly different problem than the “problem” of justifying
Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. The latter’s holdings are (unless there are things
going on that I don’t know about) due to beneficial interaction with millions
and millions of people who freely spend their legitimately earned money on
things they like or can use to advantage. Insofar as that was the case with
persons of whatever class in 17th-century England, the moral situation is precisely
Surely the problem of today is government “control” of economic relations.
That was a factor in Locke’s time too, but not, I would think, nearly as great
10. Peter Vallentyne's Response
to Jan Narveson (January 20, 2013)
Jan asks whether left-libertarianism (i.e., with some kind of egalitarian
proviso) can be “founded in [negative] liberty.” It can be so founded in the
weak sense that (1) it is a form of Lockeanism that recognizes self-ownership
and a unilateral moral power to appropriate natural resources, and (2) property
rights ground negative liberties. It can also be founded in liberty in a stronger
sense of being compatible with maximum equal negative liberty. I believe, however,
that there is more than one set of rights that are so compatible (e.g., both
radical right-libertarianism and radical left-libertarianism are so compatible).
All the hard work is in justifying one set of rights rather than another.
Jan writes, “If the earth is available for exploitation by free men, then
there is no way to infer that everyone is entitled to some, either in the way
of an equal share or anything else.” This seems quite false to me. We agree
that agents initially have maximal equal liberty-rights, against all others,
to use (unappropriated) natural resources. The point of disagreement concerns
the conditions under which someone may unilaterally acquire private property
in some natural resources, thereby causing others to lose their liberty rights
to use those resources. Jan holds that (1) agents have very strong moral powers
to acquire such private property (e.g., it’s enough to stake a claim or mix
one’s labor, with no proviso), and (2) agents have a very weak moral immunity
to losing their initial liberty-rights to use the natural resources. My left-libertarian
view is quite similar, but it holds that the moral powers to acquire private
property in natural resources are weaker (e.g., subject to making a payment
for the competitive value of private property rights acquired in excess of
a fair [e.g., equal] share), and the moral immunities to loss of the liberty-right
to use natural resources are stronger. This is not, I claim, a matter of Jan
recognizing stronger negative rights than I do. It is a matter of his holding
that the initial negative rights to use natural resources are more easily lost
than I hold them to be.
Concerning Jan’s three final points: (1) I fully agree that we are addressing
only the enforceable duties of agents, and that agents frequently help others
even when they don’t have an enforceable duty to so and even when they have
no duty at all to do so. (2) I fully agree that inequality of various sorts
is unavoidable and that, even when it is avoidable, justice does not require
equality of outcome (e.g., equal wellbeing, or equal wealth). Individuals are,
for example, accountable for managing their resources wisely and are owed no
duty of justice to undo losses incurred when they fail to do. (3) The issue
is simply that of whether the proviso on appropriation requires a payment to
others for any excess share appropriated. If it does, then that is a matter
of property rights. The others have an enforceable right to acquire the payments
owed to them.
To make this last point maximally clear, suppose that: (1) one person unconditionally
owns a tract of land and some buildings on it (as Jan might hold), (2) she
transfers full ownership of the buildings to her husband, and (3) she transfers
full ownership of the land to her husband, except that it is conditional on
his making an annual payment to each of the two adult children (while alive)
equal to one-third of the competitive rental value of the land. This situation
can arise under Jan’s version of right-libertarianism. Left-libertarianism
merely allows that something like this arises for all natural resources. Jan
and others can reasonably reject this substantive view. I don’t, however, see
how this view is any less compatible with maximum equal negative liberty than
Jan’s preferred view.
 For discussion of this issue, see Shelly Kagan, “The Argument from
Liberty,” in In Harm’s Way: Essays in honor of Joel Feinberg, edited by Jules
Coleman and Allen Buchanan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 16-41;
Jan Narveson and James P. Sterba, Are Liberty and Equality Compatible? (New
York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.); and Peter Vallentyne, “Equal Negative
Liberty and Welfare Rights,” International Journal of Applied Philosophy, 25
(2011): 237-41 (as well as the pieces by Narveson, Sterba, and Gibbard in that
11. Eric Mack’s Reply
to Peter Vallentyne 2 (January 20, 2013)
Peter Vallentyne’s nice brief response to the questions that I have
posed has got me thinking about a standard move that “right-Lockeans” such
as myself make in conversations with “left-Lockeans” like Peter.
This move is to challenge the use of “natural resources” to describe
the “raw stuff” (berries growing on bushes, fish swimming this
way or that, that ugly sticky stuff that we now call proven reserves) that
left-Lockeans say ought to be equally divided among persons or say (as Peter
does) everyone should receive the equal blessings of either through equal shares
being left for everyone or due compensation being paid to everyone for whom
an equal share is not left.
I think this right-Lockeans challenge is based on the idea that, if there
is some deep, natural, original, equal right with respect the earth, then that
right must be a right to an equal share of that raw stuff or to have
an equal share left for one or to be duly compensated if an equal share of
the raw stuff is not left for one. Ten of us just find ourselves right
next to a heap of ten yummy acorns. If there is a natural right to
the earth, it seems that in this situation it would be a right of each to one
of those acorns or to have one acorn left for one or to be duly compensated
if one is not left for one.
But the earth is not one big heap of acorns. There are berries, fish, and
that ugly sticky stuff. So the question always gets posed: In a world with
different types of stuff, what counts as an equal share? And the answer that
is always given by left-Lockeans (and that Peter gives) is: An equal share
is (something like) a share of equal market price. Right-Lockeans tend to go
along with this proposal about what would count as an equal share because they
are so happy to hear a market-oriented answer.
But it now occurs to me that “right-Lockeans” should resist this
move – this interpretation of equal shares. The reason for resisting
is, I think, this: That which has market value is no longer merely a raw bit
of the earth. That which gives any bit of the earth market value – people
having views about how it can be made available for use and consumption, how
it may be consumed, how it can be utilized for production, how it can be preserved
for future use –
makes it into a not-that-natural “resource.” Hence, whatever intuition
there is on behalf of an equal division of the earth, i.e., of that raw stuff,
or on behalf of compensation for those who do not get an equal share of the
earth does not carry over to an equal division of “natural resources.”
The role of people and their beliefs and actions in determining how much of
a natural resource any bit of the earth is (at any given moment of human history)
seems to make any claim to an equal share of natural resources very
different from a claim to an equal share of raw stuff. That is why
it seems to me that calling for each person receiving a share of equal value
or having such a share of equal value left for him or being compensated for
not have a share of equal value left for him goes way beyond calling for each
to share equally in the blessings of nature – whatever that equality
12. Eric Mack’s Comment
on Michael Zuckert 2 (January 21, 2013)
Let me begin by saying that I meant what I said about learning things about
texts and about philosophical doctrines associated with those texts from readers
like Michael that otherwise I would never see. Indeed, I wasn’t disputing
Michael’s proposal that Locke’s chapter “Of Property” be
seen as his treatment of the master-servant relationship when I said that the
turf passage is the only passage in that chapter that explicitly mentions that
relationship. I was trying to work my way over to something else that Locke
does not explicitly talk about, viz., how the purchaser acquires a right against
the world to the item that he has purchased. In this case, however, I have
drawn the conclusion that Locke did not see any need to explain how it comes
about that purchaser acquires a right against all comers and not merely against
the seller. I offer an exculpating explanation for Locke’s not investigating
acquisition of rights through transfer, viz., that the problem about private
property rights for 17th-century theorists was how to explain the justice of
initial acquisition. Filmer’s dispute with Grotius and Locke’s
dispute with Filmer is focused on the possibility of just initial appropriation.
Moving along with my theme of things that Locke does not attend to, I say
that Locke does not step back and ask whether the land holdings that actually
exist in England in, say, 1689 are just in light of his own theory of just
property rights. I think I want to stick by this claim – although there may somewhere
be textual evidence against it. Again, I do not take this to be a huge criticism
of Locke. I think it is quite natural for very deep thinkers not to raise questions
about every facet of the world that they inhabit that might be questioned on
the basis of the doctrines they develop. (Think of all the questions that we
should be raising but which we do not think of to raise.)
As Michael points out, both he and I think that the sort of aid to the poor
that Locke recommends in his “An Essay on the Poor Law” is a least
partially motivated by his sense that the “enough and as good” proviso
is triggered by the actual conditions in late 17th-century England. But I do
not think that this is evidence for the proposition that Locke is questioning
the property rights of those who will be required to fund that aid. This belief
on my part stems from my picture of what the “enough and as good” proviso
says and demands. As I see it (and, perhaps, as Locke saw it) the proviso requires
that holders of property not depose of their property in ways that add up to
any individual being made worse off with respect to (something like) economic
opportunity. (See the Mack-Vallentyne dimension of this conversation.) If the
proviso is violated, those who do the violating have to provide the victim
with compensating economic opportunity. But the property rights of the violators
are not nullified – except insofar as some of their holdings will have
to be used to provide the required economic opportunities. There is no more
general questioning of property rights than there is when I am found in a civil
suit to be liable to make some compensation payment.
Lastly, I think that Michael is correct to raise the issue of “how to
maintain the property regime that benefits all but does so unequally in the
face of the temptations of the disadvantaged [I would have said “the
less advantaged”] to disrupt those relations.” I now see my remarks
as cautions against casting this as a class issue. My suggestion was that there
is more class conflict in the zero-sum battles about who will be the beneficiaries
and who will be the losers of political interventions in the market. My view
is that most of those on the lowest rungs of the current economic ladder would
be quite a ways further up that ladder were it not for policies that good Lockeans
should condemn. Hence, to address the problems that arise because people are
currently not very far up that ladder should not be described as addressing
a problem attributable to Lockeanism.
13. Jan Narveson's Comment
on Peter Vallentyne (January 22, 2013)
I think that the idea that Mankind owns The Earth In Common and Equally is
untenable as well as, in the case of Locke, unmotivated. Peter’s latest argument
here is interesting, but seems to me flawed. He says, “Suppose that: (1) one
person unconditionally owns a tract of land and some buildings on it (as Jan
might hold), (2) she transfers full ownership of the buildings to her husband,
and (3) she transfers full ownership of the land to her husband, except that
it is conditional on his making an annual payment to each of the two adult
children (while alive) equal to one third of the competitive rental value of
the land. This situation can arise under Jan’s version of right-libertarianism.
Left-libertarianism merely allows something like this arises for all natural
resources. Jan and others can reasonably reject this substantive view. I don’t,
however, see how this view is any less compatible with maximum equal negative
liberty than Jan’s preferred view.”
Here the problem is that while it is easy to see how some individual who owns
something can give it to someone else with liens, and so, as Peter says, such
“a situation … can arise” on my version of libertarianism, it simply doesn’t
follow that libertarianism can even allow that this could be the general case.
For obviously, at the start, somebody has to be in the position of the initial
extender of that qualified right to others, meaning that that person was not under the obligation to make an annual payment. But if Peter’s idea is right,
everybody including that person has to be in that condition – and where could
that come from in a regime of pure negative rights? (Of course, you could succumb
to the theological infection and suppose that God, who after all made it all,
was in that position and … but we have seen through such gambits.)
More generally: Vallentyne’s idea that we can solve the otherwise embarrassing
problem of attributing a workable value to what “everyone” is supposed to get
in the scheme of universal ownership of undeveloped resources seems to me not
workable. The value of strictly natural resources qua natural is zero. This
remains true no matter how far mankind has come along: unless and until someone
is in a position to exchange the resource with someone else, in return for
something else, there is no economic value to discuss. But once there is, it
arises from the activities of individual people in using bits of nature. The
idea that when Jones comes across x in a strictly natural state and “takes
it into his possession,” he is thereby, as the unjustifiably fashionable phrase
has it, depriving someone else of the liberty of taking it, is entirely mistaken.
Everyone’s liberty is constrained by everyone else’s liberty, which means that
nobody gets to aggress against anyone else – to deprive anyone else of the
fruits of his or her labor, or inflict wounds, disease, or death on any innocent
person. And to claim that Smith is noninnocent because he has undertaken to
use something not previously used by anyone else, is a misuse of the notion
of “aggression.” It is logically impossible for us all to acquire the same
item: Ownership means control, and if your and my desires, interests, willings
are different with respect to the use of particular item x, then somebody must
necessarily be frustrated. The full possession of any given thing presents
a zero-sum game. And there cannot – logically cannot – be a universal solution
to such a game.
But libertarianism doesn’t have that problem, because it is essentially historical:
If person A gets there first, then x is no longer in a state of undeveloped,
unpossessed nature, and so person B who comes next cannot in his turn make
an initial acquisition of x. Instead, B will be aggressing against A if B undertakes
use of x without A’s permission.
Writers on Locke tend to talk about three possible cases of legitimate acquisition:
finding, making, and transfer from some previous owner – i.e., initial acquisition,
creation, and transfer. But the first two are not generically distinct, for
when anyone takes anything into use, that person is creating value: The item
now serves a purpose that it didn’t before (even if the owner chooses not to
alter it, like those who leave their suburban yards wild instead of planting
and mowing grass there.) That’s why A is now in a position to consider exchange,
if some B is likewise in possession of something else, y, such that A’s and
B’s situations with respect to those things can be voluntarily reversed – A
supplying B with x and B supplying A with y.
That is why Locke is essentially right. All rights are rights to act, to do
or not do as we choose, and the ownership of things is just the right to perform
actions involving the things in question. When those things are inordinately
complex and “artificial,” requiring immense technology to produce (such as
electron scanning microscopes), the point may be more obvious but the logic
is precisely the same.
"The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges
every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but
consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another
in his life, health, liberty, or possessions"
If we could talk of equal ownership of nature, each person’s share would have
a value of zero, since what is supposed to be shared in that condition has
that value. And once we are into sharing things that do have value, that value
arises from use, from work, and so the Vallentynian egalitarian would be giving
us all a share in everyone else’s labor – the very thing that his theory says
we are not entitled to do with anything insofar as it does have human labor
“mixed with it.”
Thus “left” libertarianism is not a coherent theory. There isn’t “left” and
“right” libertarianism: there is either libertarianism or not. (Or: There is
libertarianism supplemented by one sort of mistake (say, Marxist), or that
sort supplemented with another sort (say, Henry George’s, as just discussed),
and so on. But basically there is just the one fundamental moral idea: that
no one is to use force or fraud (which I think can be analyzed into a sort
of force) against anyone who has not in his turn used it against others; or
in Hobbes’s terminology, no one is to make war against any peaceable person;
or in Locke’s, that “no
one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”
14. Peter Vallentyne's Response
to Jan Narveson 2 (January 22, 2013)
Jan says: “The value of strictly natural resources qua natural
is zero.” I disagree. Suppose that we each need water for our apple trees.
What is the value of the rights to control a water hole? If an auction were
held, each of us would bid some positive amount for those rights. Of course,
the water may have no value to us without adding some labor (e.g., transporting
it to our plants), but that is factored into our bids. Our bids are based on
what we can do with the natural resource when combined with our labor, etc.
Related to this, Eric says: “That which has market value is [on the
left-libertarian view] no longer merely a raw bit of the earth. That which
gives any bit of the earth market value – people having views about how
it can be made available for use and consumption, how it may be consumed, how
it can be utilized for production, how it can be preserved for future use – makes
it into a not-that-natural
‘resource.’ Hence, whatever intuition there is on behalf of an
equal division of the earth, i.e., of that raw stuff, or on behalf of compensation
for those who do not get an equal share of the earth does not carry over to
an equal division of ‘natural resources.’”
I fully agree that what gives natural resources market value is what individuals
can and want to do with them. Eric thinks that raw stuff is different, but
I don’t understand the difference. Natural resources, as I understand
them, simply are stuff in the world that does not have any moral standing (e.g.,
no self-ownership) in its original state prior to modification by agents (so
a chair is not a natural resource, but its production ultimately involves the
use of natural resources). Natural resources are, it seems to me, just raw
stuff. Moreover, even if the two are somehow different, I don’t understand
why the issue of market value distinguishes the two. Suppose (counterfactually)
that raw stuff is homogeneous and we divide it up to give everyone an identical
share of each kind of stuff. Each has private property in her bundle. Given
that the bundles are tradable, they each have an equal market value, which
depends on what individuals can and want to do with it. So, the market value
of rights over raw stuff depends on what individuals can and want to do with
Jan says: “The idea that when Jones comes across x in a strictly natural
state and ‘takes it into his possession,’ he is thereby, as the
unjustifiably fashionable phrase has it, depriving someone else of
the liberty of taking it, is entirely mistaken.” I fully agree,
but the issue is not about taking into possession (which is a form of use)
but about appropriation (acquiring rights to exclude others from using). Appropriation,
by definition, deprives others of their former negative liberty to use the
unowned natural resources.
Jan says that libertarianism is “essentially historical.” I
Jan says: “All rights are rights to act, to do or not do as we choose,
and the ownership of things is just the right to perform actions involving
the things in question.” I fully agree.
Jan says: “Thus ‘left’ libertarianism is not a coherent
theory.” I, of course, disagree. I think of libertarianism, even right-libertarianism,
as a family of theories that disagree on various points (just as utilitarianism
is such a family). For example, different libertarian theories can disagree
about how strong the enforcement rights are that protect one’s property.
(Does one have a right to kill someone, who due to an innocent mistake, is
about to take one’s chocolate bar, when this is the only way of stopping
such use? Does one have a right to kill a murderer purely for retributive reasons?).
I view the (perhaps empty) proviso on appropriation as a similar issue on which
libertarians can disagree. I don’t see that much is gained by reserving
the libertarian label only for those who endorse an empty proviso.
This will be my last post. So, future silence should not be interpreted as
inability to answer any later posts!
15. Eric Mack's Final Comments
(January 22, 2013)
I do not think that it is part of my official duties to call an end to our
conversation. So, rather than doing that, I simply want to thank again Jan
Narveson, Peter Vallentyne, and Michael Zuckert for their spirited and instructive
comments and to suggest that our further conversation be carried on in the
private recesses of hyper-space (if any such private recesses really still
16. Jan Narveson's Final
Comment on Peter Vallentyne (January 22, 2013)
(1) Peter says, "Suppose that we each need water for our apple trees.
What is the value of the rights to control a water hole? If an auction were
held, each of us would bid some positive amount for those rights. Of course,
the water may have no value to us without adding some labor (e.g., transporting
it to our plants), but that is factored into our bids. Our bids are based on
what we can do with the natural resource when combined with our labor, etc."
This is not relevant. Of course, if there is an auction, then somebody is
in a position to distribute these things and has already taken some kind of
possession; or a bunch of people have come upon the water hole and have decided
to divvy it up; or whatever. So we no longer have value in situ: we have
the minimum requirements for exchange and distribution (which itself is a kind
If Elmer had stumbled on the water hole before any others came along, he would
then be in a position to sell water (= water rights) to second comers. That
is to say, their use of it would be an item in an exchange.
Further, the value that a given resource would get at a hypothetical
auction is not obviously relevant as a way of ascribing value to natural resources
for Peter's purpose. For his idea, as I understand it, is to understand natural
resources as such to "belong to" everyone by nature. I do think
that this Henry George idea confuses use value with exchange value. Economics
is entirely about the latter, though of course exchange value always arises
from the interaction of persons who have previously found a use-value for various
things that they come to possess. Perhaps Peter is trading on the same confusion?
For insofar as what we are trying to do is to enable all to share in the "value" of
natural resources, that value in the use-value sense varies hugely as a function
of technology (in the broad sense of, any idea of how to put stuff to use);
to divvy that up is clearly to distribute the "labors" (again,
in the broad sense of taking or putting anything to use) of persons. Distributing
the "things' independently on their technologically-modulated use makes
(2) And then, "the issue is not about taking into possession (which is
a form of use) but about appropriation (acquiring rights to exclude others
from using). Appropriation, by definition, deprives others of their former
negative liberty to use the unowned natural resources." However,
what libertarianism does, just because that's what it is, is to give everyone
rights to whatever they possess which was not acquired by molesting or robbing
from others.Taking what some person has previously acquired is aggression,
and is disallowed.
Now, the crucial question is broached when Peter says, "Appropriation,
by definition, deprives others of their former negative liberty to use the
unowned natural resources." My point about this is that it is impossible
for more than one person to take into his possession any particular object.
So to say that one deprives others of a liberty when one gets there first is
to say nothing that constitutes a complaint. There has to be some other ground
for complaint about A's acquiring x than that in so acquiring it, B "no
longer can." As Locke observed, acquisitions by anyone are impossible
if they must be compatible with acquisitions of the same thing by someone,
let alone everyone, else. A right to attempt to use x is all we can have,
as well as all we need. Having it means that no one may interfere with my attempts,
but also that the previously successful attempts of others are not to be interfered
with either. I don't see how left-libertarianism can fail to be guilty of doing
Libertarians can disagree about lots of things, among which estimates of proper
enforcement levels is an excellent example. But I don't see that this matter
of supposed rights to natural resources is one such. Rights are duty-entailers:
for A to have a right against B is for B to be required to act in certain ways
toward A. I can't imagine what else property rights can be based on than first
possession. Peter agrees that the liberty principle is, as I put it, essentially
historical. So it seems to me that when A acquires something not previously
acquired by anyone else, the case that taking it from him without his consent
is the sort of aggression that liberty forbids is definitive. And redistributing
it "equally" to everyone, since it amounts to redistributing the
varying labors of a lot of people, is thus, so far as I can see, just such
No doubt Peter will have some interesting further comments, but like him,
I shall rest with this for now.
But I'll take the opportunity to thank the Liberty Fund for the opportunity
to engage in these discussions!
17. Michael Zuckert's Concluding
Thoughts (27 January, 2013)
My colleagues seem to have signed off, but many issues remain worth discussing.
So here come a few comments on the exchange as it is now pretty much at its
end. Two large issues have dominated: Locke on property—what does he
mean, how sound are his arguments?--and broader arguments about property and
the nature of rights. I want to say a bit about both by looking first at some
of the replies to my earlier comment.
Both Eric (entry 12) and Jan (entry 9) pick up on a theme from my initial
reply to Eric. Both maintain, in effect, that property relations in Locke’s
England cannot satisfy his own criteria for just acquisition and therefore
for just current holdings. As Jan says, “The British landed gentry got
their land by conquest and not by Locke-approved means.” Eric surmises
that “Locke does not step back and ask whether the land holdings that
actually exist in England in, say, 1689 are just in light of his theory of
just property rights.”
Locke, to be sure, does not address explicitly that question, i.e., he does
not say what Eric and Jan say—that the property holdings of his day are
unjust. I would add a parallel case where Locke also fails to explicitly address
an issue where his doctrine has unsettling implications for political and economic
life of his day. According to him, conquest cannot generate legitimate political
authority, a doctrine unsettling to all European powers of the day, including
Britain. I wish to reiterate my point that Locke’s silence on these points
cannot be inadvertent, as Eric claims, for the context of his book is the debate
with Filmer, in which the legitimacy of the property distribution of the modern
world was precisely what was ultimately at stake. It is true, as Eric says,
that the debate was explicitly over the means of initial acquisition, but Filmer
made clear that the justice of current holdings was at stake in the debate:
Only his account of an initial private property could legitimate current private
The challenge Locke faced was to develop an alternative theory that could
validate the property regime of his own time. That was the very thing Filmer
meant to put in play. Cagily, Filmer was counting on the propertied in England
to support his argument for absolutism because it would provide stronger support
for their property claims than the Whiggish contractarian arguments he was
opposed to. Therefore, Locke could not have been unaware of or indifferent
to the implications of his doctrine for property relations in his England.
Yet it is true that he does not pause to examine whether the current property
distribution is just on his own criteria, nor, even more, to denounce those
holdings as unjust. In proceeding as he does, we must ask what could Locke
be thinking that he does not pause to make the point Nozick makes: that the
theory of acquisition may have very disruptive implications for the reigning
property regime? (See Loren Lomasky’s “Libertarianism
at Twin Harvard.”)  Here
we must be speculative, for Locke does not explicitly address the issue of
his own silences.
So if speculate we must, here goes. My speculation concerns the overall character
of Locke’s argument. On property—and on quite a few other things—we
should see Locke as making a two-stage argument. In the first place he means
to show that the two large institutional arrangements of civilized society—private
property and the state—are rational and just on the basis of a contractarian/natural
rights-based argument that in its nature calls both into question initially.
He shows that there is an argument that starts with an initial situation in
which property is unowned (I am with those like Eric who argue that Locke means
by “the earth belongs to mankind in common” that it is initially
unowned, but ownable) and in which there is no political authority, i.e., a
state of nature. He then tries to show that one can move form that state to
one where private property and the state rightfully exist. That argument takes
the form of a
“history”—an idealized and fabulous history, as many of its
critics have maintained over the years. That history is idealized in the sense
that it shows what would happen if the actors understood their moral situation
correctly and acted rationally in light of it. That argument is meant to show
that the state and private property in general are just and beneficial to all
who live in civilized society. Therefore, the argument is meant to show that
it is rational for denizens of the civilized world to will these institutions
as if they made the contract and underwent the history of property as Locke
explained it in chapter five. He shows that the current property regime benefits
all and that it would be irrational for anyone to will its destruction or severe
disruption. Locke himself must recognize that the present arrangement, though
falling short of strict justice on the basis of his own theory, is both more
just and more beneficial to all and to the society as a whole than would be
the project of starting all over again and insisting on strict justice according
to his criteria of just acquisition. It is not rational for him to propose
such a thing, and it is not rational for any of us to will such a thing. So,
on the basis of asking the important political and philosophical question, “compared
to what,” Locke can treat present property relations as just enough.
However, once Locke has brought forward the true criteria of justice in property
relations (and political construction) future actions should be governed by
this standard, so far as he can win agreement to his criteria. That is to say,
knowledge of the true character and justification of property has implications
both looking backward and looking forward. In looking backward, Locke approaches
Hume in validating a private property regime on the basis of social benefit,
but in looking forward he keeps individual rights much more to the fore for
reasons both of justice and of social benefit. (However, this last comment
must be qualified by his statement at the end of chapter five on the power
of the civil authorities to regulate property, but this takes us too far afield).
"And because the condition of Man, ... is a
condition of Warre of every one against every one; in which case every one is
governed by his own Reason; and there is nothing he can make use of, that may
not be a help unto him, in preserving his life against his enemyes; It followeth,
that in such a condition, every man has a Right to every thing; even to one anothers
To my mind the most interesting issue that has arisen in the discussion is
the one debated between Eric and Jan about the basis of rights. On the whole
I am on Eric’s side but I believe that Jan raises an important question
and challenge when he asks: “Why are those feature of persons” that
Eric appeals to in order to ground rights “morally significant”?
Jan goes on to observe that “bad accounts or non-accounts … abound.” He
has a point—as the many manifestoes on human rights demonstrate. He seeks
an alternative, less mushy account, roughly of a Hobbesian sort. That his account
does not work is clear from a claim he makes that is, I believe, incorrect.
He identifies “the more fundamental question: Why should we think each
other to be ‘owners’ of ourselves in the first place? (Hobbes’s
answer is clear: because if we don’t, we’ll be facing an awful
state-of-nature situation.).” That is, he agrees with Eric that self-ownership
is a crucial piece of the argument but disagrees with Eric’s Lockean-Kantian-Nozickian
way of speaking in terms of “morally significant features of persons.” He
thinks he can get the necessary self-ownership claim on the basis of harder-nosed
Hobbesian arguments. But contrary to what he says, Hobbes does not arrive at
a doctrine of self-ownership and his doctrine of natural right forecloses him
from doing so. According to Hobbes, we have a right of nature, which is a right
to everything, including one
another’s bodies. If others have a right
to our bodies we are not self-owners, for ownership of self implies immunities
that rule out Hobbes’s right of nature. So far as we recognize such immunities,
they are not natural rights but conventional rights based on the law of nature
(not really a law and not really natural as Hobbes tells us) or on the civil
law. The absence of a doctrine of self-ownership is what leads Hobbes to deny
a natural right of property. We have liberty to take what we need in the state
of nature but no property right in the sense that others are obliged to respect
our right to what we have taken and perhaps stored. There is no injustice in
the state of nature because there is no mine and thine. Locke differs with
Hobbes on more than the sovereign—he affirms a natural right that has
the character of property and therefore can affirm the possibility of injustice
in the state of nature.
As Eric maintains and as I agree, Locke affirms a natural right of property
in part on the basis of self-ownership and affirms that on the basis of those
morally significant features of persons. Jan is apparently unconvinced by Eric’s
way of developing this theme, and were there world enough and time I would
put forward an alternative account that perhaps he or others would find persuasive.
In lieu of that I will mention my attempt to develop a Lockean theory of self-ownership
on entirely nontheological grounds in my Natural Rights and the New Republicanism (1994),
chapter nine.  Two
comments about the argument I make there. First, I think Locke did have a nontheological
argument in addition to the theological arguments he presented in two treatises.
How the arguments relate is a fine question that I try to address in the introduction
to Launching Liberalism. Second, the nontheological argument for self-ownership
is developed from Locke’s treatment of self and person in the Essay on
I regret that I have not had time to address Peter Vallentyne’s comments
or many of the other issues raised by the discussion here. There seems to be
enough material and disagreement to keep going for another year or two, I am
sure. But like my colleagues, I have a few classes to teach and dissertations
to read, so I too will sign off. Many thanks to Liberty Fund for pioneering
yet another way to keep the discussion of important issues of liberty on the
 Loren E. Lomasky, "Libertarianism
at twin Harvard," Social Philosophy and Policy 22 (1):178-199
(2005). Abstract at <http://philpapers.org/rec/LOMLAT>.
 Michael P.
Zuckert, Natural Rights and the New Republicanism (Princeton University
Press, 1994). Chapter 9 "Locke and the Reformation of Natural Law of Property."
18. Jan Narveson's Response
to Michael Zuckert (January 28, 2013)
As I have been at pains to point out, "self-ownership" is not a
basis of libertarianism. It simply is one of the several ways of stating it,
and nothing else. Since Hobbes is a libertarian in moral principle -- his First
Law of Nature is, precisely, the nonaggression principle, as his deductions
from it make clear, tabling, as usual, the strictly political arguments --
he does "arrive at" the self-ownership in question, though he doesn't
call it that.
Hobbes's "right of nature," as I have also pointed out, is not and
cannot be a right, a term he carefully defines in its proper moral connotation.
For each to have a "right" "even to another man's body" is
for nobody to have any rights at all. What there is, is the "liberty" of
nature, which as Hobbes says gets us into nothing but big trouble. Rational
people, therefore, go by -- agree to -- his Laws of Nature: "willing,
when others are so too, as far-forth, as for Peace, and defence of himself
he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented
with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against
himself." He calls it a "right" but what it is, in his own account,
is and can only be a liberty, and in no way a right. Rights entail duties;
liberties, as such, do not.
Hobbes indeed acknowledges, as Michael points out, that the law of nature
is “not really a law and not really natural as Hobbes tells us.” But
Hobbes didn't take Philosophy 100. His Laws of Nature are moral, not civil
or legislated, and they are natural in the only important sense, which is that
they are based, as Hobbes says, on the nature of man, and so long as that nature
remains roughly as it is, they are, as he says, "eternal and immutable." But
the aspect of man's nature that they are based on is (practical) rationality,
given our various needs and desires and bodily limitations. Seeing our situations
and predicaments, we see the need for the Law(s) of Nature.
I am sorry not to have seen Michael's books that he refers to, and will hope
to have time to peruse them one day!
We have works by the following authors:
Life & Times of John Locke
Essays & Annotated Reading Lists
Recommended Reading on Locke and Property.
Dunn, John. The Political Thought of John Locke (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1965).
Feser, Edward. Locke (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2007).
Grant, Ruth. John Locke’s Liberalism (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1987).
Lester, Jan. Escape From Leviathan: Liberty, Welfare and Anarchy Reconciled.
London: Macmillan and New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.
Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government, 2nd edition, Peter Laslett,
ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967).
Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government, ed. Thomas Hollis (London:
A. Millar et al., 1764). Online at the OLL: <http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/222/16245>.
Locke, John. Political Essays, Mark Goldie (ed.) (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1997).
Lomasky, Loren E. "Libertarianism at twin Harvard," Social Philosophy
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