21 April 2006

John Locke, Marxist?

Last year I was looking for the context in which John Locke first used the description of the fundmental rights being “life, liberty, and property”. I failed. It's a little baffling — he did say it, right?

I can tell you that it's certainly not in Two Treatises on Government, because I've searched it. I did, however, stumble across this little shocker. Libertarians and conservatives often talk about property rights being absolute, but Locke points to at least one major exception here.

But we know God hath not left one man so to the mercy of another, that he may starve him if he please: God the Lord and Father of all has given no one of his children such a property in his peculiar portion of the things of this world, but that he has given his needy brother a right to the surplusage of his goods; so that it cannot justly be denied him, when his pressing wants call for it: and therefore no man could ever have a just power over the life of another by right of property in land or possessions; since it would always be a sin, in any man of estate, to let his brother perish for want of affording him relief out of his plenty. 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, where he has no means to subsist otherwise: and a man can no more justly make use of another’s necessity, to force him to become his vassal, by with-holding that relief, God requires him to afford to the wants of his brother, than he that has more strength can seize upon a weaker, master him to his obedience, and with a dagger at his throat offer him death or slavery.

That's Book I, Chapter IV, Paragraph 42; the emphasis is mine. How far is that, really, from “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”? Take that, libertarians!

And while we're at it, Infinite Perplexity tells me that Adam Smith favours progressive taxation!

What's a conservative to do?

Update: Digby catches Thomas Paine talking like a Marxist.

Update: Corey Robin catches Adam Smith talking like a Marxist.

Imagine that.


Anonymous said...

"Take that, libertarians! "

Locke is speaking about a moral and religious obligation - not a legal one. No where does he advocate creating an organized crime ring to steal and distribute loot.

Jonathan Korman said...

I find that argument unpersuasive, given the title of the book.