Locke and Rousseau agree… Small government for me

Written by Barnard on January 21st, 2009

Andrew Barnard

In regards to the origin of property both Locke and Rousseau agree that ultimately it is the action (labour in Lockean terms) upon a given object, usually a piece of land, which marks off something as someone’s possesion.   This where the similiarities in ideologies end.  Locke sees the idea of property, and more specifically its labourious nature, as the great egalitiarian demoneator between humanity.  Any person, he argues, has the ability or opportunity to go out and claim, work, and make industrious, thereby creating property to himself.  He sees an equality in opprotunity while with the invention of money he admits an equality of result will surely not come to pass.

Rousseau on the other hand sees property as the means by which the powerful can make a legitimate claim in subjugating and oppressing the weak.  He takes Locke’s claim of property as the vehicle to liberty and drives it into a plantation. The quest for property overcomes and drives people into an insatiable hunger for fortune; a hunger that is praised by the masses and shortly both engulfs and enslaves the population.

The role of the state in the respective Lockean and Rousseaue(n?) worlds seem to be, despite there differences, both very limited.  Rousseau it seems finds society itself as a step below the freedom of the natural man and surely cannot find anything too complimentary about a large government. While Locke on the other hand wants the State to only watch over and ensure the property rights of its citizen.  Either way it appears “Big Government” loses.

So to tie the optimist Locke and the more cynical Rousseau together with Daryl and Laurry in their quest, I feel that they could use the arguments of either Locke or Rousseau as showing violation of the “Just Terms.”

There is a catch though. Locke makes very clear his views in Chapter 5 on the value of labour in determining property.  He repeteadly uses the American inlands as land to which the Indains have to legitimate claim as they have made, in his mind, no use of it.  He states that an acre in Devonshire is worth 10 times more than an acre in, say, present-day Iowa.  By this logic of maximizing utility as the determination of ownership surely the Kennigans have no claim in the face of an airport.

When all is said and done however, whether it be our bodies, land, or liberty we as humans do have an innate or at least innate to our stage in human evolution, sense of ownership.  It is for this reason, Locke argues, that society came to be, and continues to define the legitimacy of governments today.  We seem to have come to a majority consenus earlier that due to the difficulty in defining virtue, the government should not concern itself with the effort of instilling morality into its citizenry.  That leaves only the preservation of property and liberty as the legitimate duties of conentual government.


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