Locke’s beliefs stand test of time
A cursory glance at recent headlines carry words such as: “The Economy in Stress,” “Where Are the Jobs?” “Scandal after Scandal Seems to be Emerging,” “Threats of Terror,” “Freedoms Eroded, Excessive Intrusiveness.”
We are in the midst of the most significant disturbing events in our society. What will be the outcome of these troubling times? And, what impact will these matters have on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? We might do well to follow the prescription as provided us by that great English scholar John Locke.
In our modern form of Republican Democ-racy we hold certain truths to guide the ship of state. Some such truths would be Thomas Jefferson’s values of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness as stated in the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson’s ideas were great and expansive but not necessarily original. He drew many of these ideas from the noted scholar John Locke.
It was Locke’s philosophical belief in a democratic constitution, which served as the basis for the American Declaration of Independence, and the American Constitution. Jefferson and our forefathers, who shaped our system of government, were students of John Locke, and when drafting the documents of state, relied on his writings for guidance. Our forefathers not only followed Locke, but also identified with his line of thinking. Thus, Locke in many ways inspired the intellectual development of our colonial government, which has lasted peacefully well over 200 years.
Locke originally mentioned three rights of man, Life, Liberty and Property. Those rights were to be vigorously protected by the state. Locke advocated entering a “Social Contract” whereby men would agree to concede some of their autonomy to gain protection from each other. This “Social Contract” is the document, which delegates the duties of the state to man, and man’s duties to the state. It defines the relationship between man and his government. This contract ends the state of nature and allows for representative democracy and a fair and impartial judge to hear and resolve disputes.
Locke also discusses the labor of man as something of his own. From this concept comes the basis of “property.” Property as defined by Locke, is all that a man can produce with his labor. The bounty of that labor belongs to him and no other individual. It was Locke who said “Every person has a property in his own person that belongs to oneself.”
Men entered the above stated “Social Contract” to protect their property from the exploitation and pillage of rogue men and thieves. And if the thief was larger than you in a state of nature, your property became that of the thief. So then men created a state to protect themselves and their property from each other, under such a system property is protected and autonomy is preserved with only few limitations. And thus, the social contract is fulfilled and men are safe, secure and then can truly enjoy the bounty of “Life, Liberty and Property.”
We would claim that there are many states in the world, and those states who know John Locke respect the human rights of individuals and personal freedom for the many. Parenthetically and sadly, those states who do not know Locke’s principles are the poorest and most oppressed. In its day, such philosophical principles of human rights were attacked as “extreme” and now all people of the free world thrive from the ideas that John Locke wrote about some 300 years ago. It has stood solidly the test for well over 200 years. For our Republic, the next several years are pivotal. Our leaders and candidates for public office would do well to follow the lead so brilliantly provided by John Locke.
Dr. Robert L. Heichberger is professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Fredonia and distinguished professor at Capella University in Minneapolis, MN. All of the past columns can be viewed on www.fromourperspective.net/ Send comments to: Rheich@aol.com