John Locke was a great thinker and philosopher. He contributed greatly to evolution of theory of mind and liberal theory; he even is considered a father of liberalism. His endow to developing of social contract theory is also very important.
He was a miscellaneous person and some of his ideas are still actual. But some of his convictions are strange for me or even unacceptable. Frankly speaking, I hadn’t heard about Locke’s theory of private property before the lecture. From the lecture I have known, that Locke paid great attention to proprietorship. Locke considered that rights of property were very important. According to his theory every person had a right to the product of his labour. This principle of appropriation also applied to land: persons spent their own time and forces on land-working and land-improving and these persons were interested in results of their work. And even if uncultivated land had been held by all people than the same land, but ploughed, became property of land-improvers. And this process of individual appropriation of natural resources could be everlasting, at least while there would be enough space for each person. As for government – its main function was to protect private property.
On the one hand, this Locke’s idea of rights on result of labour seems to me rather reasonable. Really, it is quiet logical admission that all people have rights to the products of their labour. Plugged and ‘improved’ land is in some sense a result of someone’s work. So this ‘someone’ has right on this land because he has spent his own time and forces on land-improving. But on the other hand this idea of land-appropriation by labour has led to legalization of colonial projects.
I was very surprised to know that John Locke owned shares in the in the Royal Africa Company and that he also was a Secretary of the Council of Trade and Plantations. Royal Africa Company was involved in the slave trade, and the Council of Trade and Plantations helped formulate colonial policy. At the beginning I could not understand how it could be possible. It seemed to me that the person who founded and developed theory of liberalism could not justify dispossession of non-European indigenous peoples. But it emerged that I had not understood and had not taken into account one simple speciality of Locke’s theory. This feature of his theory can be expressed by one phrase: all people are equal, but some people are more equal than others. By his theory Locke at fact legalized discrimination on the grounds of property status. And even more, he understood landed ownership only in popular, ‘civil’ sense. It meant that Locke did not consider Australian aboriginals owners of Australian land because they did not use the land in the same sense as European did. Locke supposed that aboriginals were beyond law of nature and had no social contract. So they could not be treated as ‘civil’ society and so they had no any rights to the land. In this context Locke’s protection of slavery and colonialism was a logical extension for his theory of property.
It seems to me that Locke’s colonial project derived from his idea of appropriation by labour-investing. I suppose that increase of population and expand of state’s needs and appetites were the reason for seeking some kind of alternative to private property. Really, what should people do if there is no free ‘non-appropriated’ land? If people have no land they will become dissatisfied citizens and revolution would be possible. So there was nothing left to do but find ‘free’ land for every citizen.
And that much-talked about ‘free’ land had been founded. But unfortunately that land wasn’t empty – some people lives there. But who cares? ‘Civil’ people believed that native persons of for example Australia were wild and primitive. European supposed that aboriginals were beyond ‘nature law’ so they couldn’t be treated as equal to ‘civil’ people. And as a result they couldn’t pretend to ownership of their land. So European announced Australian land as their property.
Unfortunately in modern world we also can find examples of ‘non-equal’ rights for persons with different social status. Sad but true: poor people, people without property incurred discrimination and tude. Amnesty International campaign, which calls “Demand dignity”, has a purpose to end the injustice and to protect equal rights for all people no matter they are rich or poor, have property or not. This campaign organized to help people in poverty. Their rights must be respected and their voices must be taken into account. Campaign “Demand dignity” trying to knock out stereotype ‘all people are equal, but some people are more equal’ that was special to Locke.
There were a lot of precedents in history of mankind when some terrible things were justified by some decent idea. Almost each good concept could be used in different ways and not all of this ways are obligatory good. Idea could be great and right, but every coin has two side… It is concern of Locke’s ideas about freedom, property and state. His theory relies on principle of private property. At first glance this idea seems very reasonable and useful. But de facto several centuries ago developing of this idea leads to legalization of colonialism and slavery.
So, although John Locke is known as a philosopher of freedom and equality, but on the other hand it was he who approved colonialism in Australia. The reason of such a strange inconsistency between his ideas is in small specification: not every person should be treated as a civil one. It seems to me, that propose of his political and ethical theory was to protect that stratum of society that has money, property and respect. And he didn’t care about people that have no money but have another culture, traditions and value system. But I think that for Locke’s time his ideas gave big contribution into evolution of social and political theory. And even he used his theory to protect colonialism and slave trade, nowadays his ideas of properties are still actual. But now his ideas (thanks God!) use in context of real equality of all people of the world.
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