. 5
( 9)


ple gives greater weight to the views of any individual member except
by giving his views greater weight than that assigned to those of some
other individual member. By giving each individual™s view the greatest
weight possible compatible with an equal weight for the views of each of
the others, majority-decision presents itself as a fair method of decision-
making. Locke may not have known these proofs but he had an instinct
for their egalitarian foundation.
In our own constitutional philosophy, we are accustomed to think that
besides the majoritarian power in a community, there also ought to be
a counter-majoritarian power “ some body that can check or limit the
legislative majority, particularly if the majority is abusing its authority by
encroaching on the rights of individuals or minorities. Locke was the ¬rst
to realize that legislative majorities are capable of abusing their power
in this way. He said that there are natural law limitations on legisla-
tive power: “The Law of Nature stands as an Eternal Rule to all Men,
Legislators as well as others” (nd T: ±µ). The people have entrusted the
legislature with their natural rights, and if a legislative majority (or, for
that matter, a legislative monarchy) acts against that trust, if for exam-
ple “the Legislators endeavour to take away, and destroy the Property
of the People, or to reduce them to Slavery under Arbitrary Power”
(nd T: ), then the whole constitution of the society is in crisis. On
Locke™s account such crises are catastrophic. This sort of abuse amounts
to a dissolution of government and puts the legislature in a state of war
with the people. The legislature immediately forfeits its authority, and
that authority “devolves to the People, who have a Right to resume
their original Liberty, and, by the Establishment of a new Legislative,
(such as they shall think ¬t) provide for their own Safety and Security”
(ibid.). On Locke™s account, then, the remedy for majoritarian abuse
seems to be more majoritarianism: the legislative majority forfeits its
power, and it is now up to the people (acting by majority rule) to set
things aright. And, one could say, this majoritarian motif permeates
Locke™s whole theory of resistance and revolution: revolution “ the re-
placement of one system of government by another “ is only likely to
happen when “these illegal Acts have extended to the majority of the
People” (nd T: °).
 For the theorem (in social choice theory) that majority-decision alone satis¬es elementary con-
ditions of fairness and rationality, see May, ˜A Set of Independent Necessary and Suf¬cient
Conditions for Simple Majority Decision.™ See also Sen, Collective Choice and Social Welfare,
pp. ·± “.
± God, Locke, and Equality
I don™t want to spend time here discussing the adequacy of this as
a remedy for injustice: I have more faith in populist majoritarianism
than most of my friends, and so I am more sympathetically disposed to
Locke™s account. But I do want to ask why Locke did not accept the
need for an extra layer of government “ as I said, a counter-majoritarian
power “ to check legislation that might otherwise undermine people™s
natural rights.
There are two answers. First, inasmuch as he is open to the possibility
of all sorts of mixed constitutions (nd T: ±), Locke does not af¬rma-
tively rule this out: “[T]he Community may make compounded and
mixed Forms of Government, as they think good” (nd T: ±). His view
is that any body with this function has to be regarded as a part of the
legislature, rather than as an extra-legislative body. He speci¬cally did
not associate it with the judiciary,µ but of course that™s no reason why it
should not comprise people who are judges. Insisting that it be regarded
as part of the legislature is not just a matter of labeling. It reminds us,
¬rst, that such a body also may err in its decisions (or be complicit in
the errant decisions of other institutions), and secondly, that the deci-
sions that emerge from the legislative system as a whole (including the
operation of this body) will have to be supreme in the political commu-
nity “whilst the Government subsists” (nd T: ±µ°), so that it will pose
exactly the same quandaries about superordinate control by the people
through resistance and revolution as an untrammeled popular legisla-
ture would pose. Elsewhere I have argued that we should not make the
mistake, when we interpret Locke™s theory, of thinking that natural law
and natural rights are available to Lockean legislators, judges, and other
of¬cials like the clear text of a written constitution, given in advance
of anything they do. Propositions of natural law and natural right are
arrived at by fallible human reason, on Locke™s account. They have an
objective existence, to be sure: from a God™s-eye point of view they are
objective constraints on human political decisions. But objectivity is not
the same as instant availability, nor is it the same as the absence of rea-
sonable controversy. Since Locke rules out innatism, the only basis on
which propositions of natural right become available to us is by our own
reasoning (including reasoning from and about revelation), and that is a
process that has to take place in real time, subject to all the vicissitudes
of moral reasoning in real time by real human beings. I think one of the
 See Waldron, Law and Disagreement, Chs. ±°“±.
µ For Locke™s view of the judiciary, see Waldron, Dignity of Legislation, pp. µ“.
 See the chapter on “Locke™s Legislature,” in Dignity of Legislation, esp. pp. “µ.
Kings, Fathers, Voters, Subjects, and Crooks
places where this reasoning is supposed to take place, in Locke™s theory,
is the legislature. For Locke thinks natural law reasoning carried out on
an individual basis in the state of nature is problematic. Since each in-
dividual has the executive authority of the law of nature, and since each
person™s fallible real-time reasoning may come up with different results,
each will face some chaotic uncertainty about whose idiosyncratic natu-
ral law reasoning they are at the mercy of; “for the Law of Nature being
unwritten, and so no where to be found but in the minds of Men, they
who through Passion or Interest shall miscite, or misapply it, cannot so
easily be convinced of their mistake where there is no establish™d Judge”
(nd T: ±). And so Locke thinks it important that we establish a place
where we do our natural law reasoning together, and come up with de-
terminate (though of course still fallible) results which can stand in the
name of us all. Now, if the suggestion that there should be a counter-
majoritarian power in the legislature were accepted, then this body too
might become one of the places where this collective reasoning takes
place. But what we must understand is that the law of nature is no more
easily available to such a body than to the majoritarian assembly. It is
simply a matter of prudence whether we decide to have an extra layer
of this kind.
The second point to note, however, is that it is not at all clear whether
there is room in Locke™s theory for the idea of special expertise in regard to
natural rights, which counter-majoritarian institutional proposals often
presuppose. (The idea is that we need to have panels of rights-experts as
a check on the majoritarian decisions of ordinary inexpert legislators.)
The tenor of our discussion towards the end of Chapter  was that Locke
rejected the idea of moral experts. He doubted whether there was any
expertise to be found in this ¬eld, at least any expertise that would not
be available more or less as a matter of course to any ordinary person
who turned his mind to natural law. Certainly natural law issues are
sometimes complicated. This is particularly so in the Lockean theory of
property, where one has to balance not only the labor theory, the market
principle, and the operation of the various provisoes,· but also arrive
at a proper distinction between the regulation and takings, which as
Locke concedes in the Second Treatise is not always easy (nd T: ±“°).
Property is a troublesome case, moreover, because it requires people to
adjust the claims on natural resources that they make on the basis of their
own interests for the sake of the interests of others. The prominence of

· See Chapter , pp. ±·°“·.
± God, Locke, and Equality
interests and con¬‚icts of interest is always likely to distort moral thinking
in this area. And so, some may say, an element of technical expertise
in unraveling complex argument, accompanied by a trained ability to
prescind from one™s own interest in such a matter, might be the basis of
a special quali¬cation to act as a legislator (or as a member of a counter-
majoritarian institution checking the activities of legislators). What is
remarkable, however, is that Locke makes no move in this direction at
all. Indeed, his account suggests that if anyone is specially quali¬ed to
make morally reliable decisions in this area, it is the property-owners
themselves (nd T: ±°). Their quali¬cation is certainly not that they
are disinterested, and despite Macpherson™s argument, it is also not that
they have unusual moral expertise. On the contrary, Locke seems to
think that the need for special care in this fraught and complex area is
best served in a system in which decisions are taken by ordinary citizens
in a variable assembly. The capacity for natural law reasoning is widely
dispersed among ordinary folk, and Locke ¬gures, rightly or wrongly
but certainly in an egalitarian spirit, that abuses are “not much to be
fear™d in Governments where the Legislative consists, wholly or in part,
in Assemblies which are variable, whose Members, upon the Dissolution
of the Assembly, are Subjects under the common Laws of their Country,
equally with the rest” (nd T: ±).

I have laid great stress in these last two chapters on the democratic
intellect, on Locke™s faith in the political virtue of the ordinary person.
But in some areas, choices do have to be made. The people have to choose
a king or a president, if they think it desirable to have a monarchical
element in the constitution; certainly executive of¬cers and judges have
to be appointed; and if there is an elective element in the legislature,
then those entrusted with the suffrage have to ¬nd some way of picking
and choosing among candidates for membership of the assembly. Since
we surely aim to choose the better rather than the worse person for
each of these of¬ces, how are we to square the distinctions we draw with
the premise of basic equality. Is equality compatible with distinctions of
political virtue or merit? Are there some who are entitled to authority
by virtue of their merit alone?
In various passages in the Second Treatise, Locke distinguishes between
those who are ¬t to be trusted with the authority of government and those
who are not ¬t to be trusted. He has in mind differences of excellence,
Kings, Fathers, Voters, Subjects, and Crooks
merit, political virtue. In Chapter  I mentioned Locke™s anthropological
speculation about “how easy it was in the ¬rst Ages of the World . . . for
the Father of the Family to become the Prince of it” (nd T: ·). It was
important, he said, that people choose someone they trusted as their ruler
for “without such nursing Fathers tender and careful of the public weal,
all Governments would have sunk under the Weakness and In¬rmities of
Their Infancy” (nd T: ±±°). In the ¬rst ages of the world, tribal patriarchs
presented themselves to their extended families as “¬ttest to be trusted”
(nd T: ±°µ), “¬tter to rule them” (nd T: ·µ), than anyone else in the
group, “unless Negligence, Cruelty, or any other defect of Mind, or Body
made him un¬t for it” (nd T: ±°µ). And Locke goes on:

But when either the Father died, and left his next Heir, for want of Age, Wisdom,
Courage, or any other Qualities, less ¬t for Rule: or where several Families met,
and consented to continue together: there, ™tis not to be doubted, but they used
their natural freedom, to set up him, whom they judged the ablest, and most
likely, to Rule well over them. (nd T: ±°µ)

The people of America, Locke says, “commonly prefer the Heir of their
deceased king; yet if they ¬nd him any way weak, or uncapable, they
pass him by and set up the stoutest and bravest Man for their Ruler”
(nd T: ±°µ). In all these passages, we seem to see Locke taking account
of inequalities of political power predicated on virtue, strength, ¬tness,
and capacity.
How is the signi¬cance of these differences made consistent with basic
equality? It is made consistent in two ways. First, the leadership qualities
in question are de¬ned with reference to the interests of all members of
the group, and those interests are equally considered. Locke is absolutely
insistent on this when he talks in Chapter ± of the Second Treatise about
the leadership qualities exercised in connection with prerogative powers.
Basic equality works here, as it does in many modern arguments about
merit “ not by insisting on equal outcomes, but by de¬ning the range of
interests that have to be consulted and considered equally when we are
deciding what is to count as merit.
Secondly, for Locke it is a matter of crucial importance that the virtues
and qualities in question are connected to differential authority only via
the notion of consent (or of some power of choice, like electoral suffrage,
which has in turn been consented to). Political virtue is not inherently a

 See also Waldron, “The Substance of Equality,” pp. ±± “.
± God, Locke, and Equality
basis for power, and there is no direct inference from merit to authority.
Consent is the indispensable mediator between ability and superior sta-
tus. Now admittedly, Locke says all sorts of things about consent: he talks
about explicit consent, tacit consent, and (in the context of his anthropo-
logical speculations) “easie” and “scarce avoidable consent” (nd T: ·µ).
My point, however, is that whatever consent consists in, the upshot of its
exercise is never directly de¬ned by the qualities it responds to. Superior
virtue and cleverness may be reasons for me to consent to your being
in charge; but your superior virtue and intellect do not mean that my
consent counts for less than yours, or that my consent is redundant in
relation to the legitimacy of your authority. Even though you are my
superior in these respects, and even though that is a reason for me to
trust you with political authority, that reason has to be recognized by me.
(And my recognition of such reasons, or my refusal to recognize them,
counts for as much as yours or anyone else™s.) In general, in Locke™s the-
ory, the fact that I am your inferior in political virtue does not mean that
my consent to your political authority is dispensable. As Locke puts it,
“no one can be . . . subjected to the Political Power of another, without
his own Consent ” (nd T: µ), and that applies to any pair of persons
irrespective of the differences between them. Consent may be a ratio-
nal response to perceived virtue. But so far as legitimacy is concerned,
the moral force of consent itself is not differentiated by virtue “ or by
strength, power, or anything else. Nor is it dispensable in the face of
the manifest differences in virtue or ability to which it is or would be a
rational response.

There is a passage towards the end of the Second Treatise where Locke
seems to concede the legitimacy of something like an aristocratic com-
ponent in a constitution “ speci¬cally the authority of the peerage in
the English constitution, or as he calls it “our old Legislative of King,
Lords and Commons” (nd T: ). A little earlier he talks in more ab-
stract terms about the possibility that a legislature might comprise “[a]n
Assembly of Hereditary Nobility” as well as representatives of the people
(nd T: ±). The self-understanding of the English aristocracy was then,
even if it is not now, directly at odds with the principle of basic equality:

 As we saw in Chapter , however, Locke™s view about the default authority of husbands appears
to be unhappily inconsistent with this.
Kings, Fathers, Voters, Subjects, and Crooks
it was that there are certain lines of noble descent which confer upon
their inheritors intrinsic superiority to all other humans, that this supe-
riority is hierarchically organized with layers of peerage (princes are one
another™s peers, dukes are one another™s peers, barons are one another™s
peers, and so on), and that it culminates in royalty, which is a noble lin-
eage pre-eminently suited for ¬nal executive, maybe legislative, maybe
even sacerdotal authority in a well-ordered community. Now, as I said,
we do not believe this nonsense, and I don™t think Locke did either. Part
of me wants to rest content with noticing Locke™s usage of “king” and
“lord” to describe ordinary people in the state of nature “ each individ-
ual “absolute Lord of his own Person and Possessions . . . subject to no
Body,” but surrounded by other individuals, “all being Kings as much as
he, every Man his Equal” (nd T: ±). This is how an egalitarian should
talk of lordship and kingship. But the passages I have mentioned raise the
possibility that there might be legitimate institutions and practices cor-
responding to this anti-egalitarian ideology of congenital nobility and
royalty. So we need to say a little more about Locke™s views on these
I begin with some comments about the particular passages from the
Second Treatise that I mentioned (nd T: ± and ). First of all, both
passages exemplify a feature of Locke™s political theory that we have
already noticed several times. Locke was not doctrinaire about political
institutions. He thought the people were entitled to choose between a
democracy, an oligarchy, and a monarchy, and if they chose either of
the latter two, they could choose also whether appointment should be
made electively or on an hereditary principle. Or he thought they could
choose between “compounded or mixed Forms of Government, as they
think good” (nd T: ±). The form of government mentioned in the
two passages is clearly a mixed form of government “ that was what
England had and thought of itself as having in Locke™s day (for all that
Englishmen disagreed about the balance of the mixture) “ and for all its
faults and all the abuses of those whom it empowered, it was not a form
of government that Locke thought was in principle illegitimate. What he
insisted on, however, was the point that such a constitution derived its
legitimacy from having been chosen by the people, not from anything
inherent in its character.
Secondly, the context of the particular passage in which Locke talks
about “our old Legislative of King, Lords and Commons” (nd T: )
is an argument about the likely conservation of constitutional forms,
despite their theoretical illegitimacy. The whole passage reads:
± God, Locke, and Equality
People are not so easily got out of their old Forms, as some are apt to suggest.
They are hardly to be prevailed with to amend the acknowledg™d Faults, in the
Frame they have been accustom™d to. And if there be any Original defects, or
adventitious ones introduced by time or corruption, ™tis not an easy thing to get
them changed, even when all the World sees there is an opportunity for it. This
slowness and aversion in the People to quit their old Constitutions, has, in the
many Revolutions which have been seen in this Kingdom, in this and former
Ages, still kept us to, or, after some interval of fruitless attempts, still brought us
back again to, our old Legislative of King, Lords and Commons. (nd T: )

Nothing much can be inferred from this, since it is perfectly possible
that the hereditary principle may be counted among the “acknowledg™d
Faults” in this constitution. Moreover Locke™s conservatism has virtually
no normative ¬‚avor. It is not like Edmund Burke™s affection for prejudice
and tradition. The comment is intended as a reassurance to those who
might be worried about the effects of his radicalism, not a suggestion that
we ought to abandon our radicalism in favor of tried and true principles of
hereditary nobility and royalty. It is an example of something I mentioned
at the very beginning of Chapter ± “ Locke responding to the alarm that
his radicalism was prone to generate, but responding this time not by
¬‚inching from his egalitarian commitments, but by offering real world
reassurance about how the equals, whose authority he recognized, were
likely to exercise that authority in times of crisis.
Thirdly, in the more abstract of the two passages, where we are asked to
“suppose . . . the Legislative placed in the Concurrence of three distinct
persons,” i.e. king, nobility, and representative assembly (nd T: ±),
Locke™s immediate purpose in this passage is actually to show how blame
for a constitutional crisis might be allocated among the various layers of
the legislature. “It is hard to consider it aright, and know at whose door
to lay it, without knowing the Form of Government in which it happens”
(nd T: ±). This is Locke at his analytic best, using a complex example
to show the careful and articulate application of the principles of his
political theory. He mentions hereditary nobility in this passage, it is true.
But one has to work pretty hard to extract from the context anything
which would support the claim that aristocratic heredity is something that
must be taken into account in the design of any well-ordered political
Is there anything anywhere else in Locke™s political theory to support
such a claim? Beyond saying that the people might have a monarchy, even
an hereditary monarchy, if they want one, and that they may constitute
an oligarchy too, if they like, by putting “the power of making Laws
Kings, Fathers, Voters, Subjects, and Crooks
into the hands of a few select Men, and their heirs or successors” (nd
T: ±), does he offer any support to the anti-egalitarian view that there
are royal and noble lineages in the world which any responsible political
theorist must take seriously? Well, he accepts in the First Treatise that
God might constitute a monarchy for some community. This is not just
accepted for the sake of arguing with Filmer. Locke accepts that at various
times God did establish a king in Israel, though he argues strenuously
against Filmer that such kings were not always established on an heredi-
tary basis and that certainly they were never established on the basis that
the divine appointees were appropriately descended by primogeniture
from Adam (±st T: ±µ“). “That Regal Power was Established in the
Kingdoms of the World, I think no body will dispute, but that there should
be Kingdoms in the World, whose several Kings enjoy™d their Crowns, by
right descending to them from Adam, that we think not only Apocrypha, but also
utterly impossible” (±st T: ±). I guess we can™t rule out the possibility
that God might establish an hereditary royal line; but God of all people
understands political theory and Locke thinks it is a mark of His not
having done so that those who believe He has are embroiled in constant
and internecine disputation about the appropriate heir to the divinely
established lineage.°
On lineage generally, Locke™s comments tend to be scathingly decon-
structive. Responding to an assertion by Filmer that most of the civilized
nations of the earth “fetch their Originall from some of the sons or
Nephews of Noah,”± Locke responds ¬rst with the mischievous obser-
vation that this probably doesn™t apply to “the Chinese, a very great and
civil People,” and then goes on to observe that this sort of lineage ped-
dling is mainly the work of “Heralds and Antiquaries” and not really a
preoccupation or even an interest of most people (±st T: ±±). And mostly
it™s just idle boasting:
Whoever, Nations or Races of Men, labour to fetch their Originall from, may be
concluded to be thought by them, Men of Renown, famous to Posterity for
the Greatness of their Virtues and actions; but beyond these they look not, nor
consider who they were Heirs to, but look on them as such as Raised themselves
by their own Virtue to a Degree that would give a Lustre to those, who in future
Ages could pretend to derive themselves from them. (±st T: ±±)
° “But whatever our A. [i.e. Filmer] does, Divine Institution makes no such ridiculous Assignments:
nor can God be supposed to make it a Sacred Law, that one certain Person should have a Right
to something, and yet not to give Rules to mark out, and know that Person by . . . ™Tis rather to
be thought, that an Heir, had no such Right by Divine Institution, than that God should give such
a right to the Heir, but yet leave it doubtful, and undeterminable who such Heir is.” (±st T: ±·)
± Filmer, Patriarcha, p. ·, cited by Locke in ±st T: ±±.
±° God, Locke, and Equality
It is possible, Locke concedes, that we might ¬nd such heroes among us “
“God-like Princes . . . because such Kings partake of [God™s] Wisdom and
Goodness” (nd T: ±). But far from establishing the legitimacy of an
hereditary principle, such paragons are in fact dangerous to their subjects
in the context of hereditary authority, for the subjects tend to allow them
greater latitude than an ordinary of¬cial, and “when their Successors,
managing the Government with different Thoughts . . . draw the Actions
of those good Rulers into Precedent, and make them the Standard
of their Prerogative . . . it has often occasioned . . . publick Disorders, be-
fore the People could . . . get that to be declared not to be Prerogative,
which truly was never so” (nd T: ±). Hence the truth in the paradox
that “the Reigns of good princes have been always most dangerous to
the Liberties of their People” (ibid.).
There is one other set of passages where Locke seems to lend a scintilla
of credence to the suggestion that kings may be in some sense special, a
different sort of breed from their subjects. At the end of Second Treatise,
he says this: “[I]n some Countries the Person of the Prince by the Law is
Sacred, and so whatever he commands or does, his Person is still free from
all Question or Violence, not liable to Force, or any Judicial Censure or
Condemnation” (nd T: °µ). The reason for this, he says, is to preserve
“the security of the Government” as long as possible, “[i]t being safer
for the Body that some few private Men should be sometimes in danger
to suffer than that the head of the Republick should be easily and upon
slight occasions exposed” (nd T: °µ). That this is not a case of Locke
¬nally recognizing the principle of royalty is indicated not just by the
mischievous insertion of “Republick” in the passage just quoted, but by
the generally pragmatic way in which this practice is defended. The most
that Locke is prepared to say about the sanctity of monarchy is that, in a
certain sort of mixed constitution, the king may be thought to embody
the legitimacy of the popularly established constitution, not vice versa.
The king, for example, may be the recipient of “Oaths of Allegiance and
Fealty” (nd T: ±µ±). Still, as Locke puts it,

 Obviously if the whole constitution collapses, then all bets are off so far as the sacredness of the
prince™s person is concerned.
 “In some Commonwealths, where the Legislative is not always in being, and the Executive is vested
in a single Person, who has also a share in the legislative; there that single person in a very
tolerable sense may also be called Supream: not that he has in himself all the Supream Power,
which is that of Law-making: But because he has in him the Supream Execution, from whom all
inferior Magistrates derive all their several subordinate Powers . . . having also no Legislative
superior to him, there being no Law to be made without his consent . . . he is properly enough in
this sense Supream.” (nd T: ±µ±)
Kings, Fathers, Voters, Subjects, and Crooks
he has no right to Obedience, nor can claim it otherwise than as the publick
Person vested with the Power of the Law, and so is to be considered as the Image,
Phantom, or Representative of the Common-wealth, acted by the will of the
Society, declared in its Laws; and thus he has no Will, no Power, but that of the
Law. (nd T: ±µ±)
In the end, the king is just a man, and if he violates the laws, his will
is not entitled to any obedience. It may not be necessary to physically
resist him, “the harm he can do in his own Person not being likely to
happen often, nor to extend itself far, nor being able by his single strength
to subvert the Laws nor oppress the Body of the People” (nd T: °µ).
But even there Locke has his doubts, and as the Second Treatise comes
to an end, we ¬nd him making fun of, rather than subscribing to, the
traditional monarchists™ view that even in extremis the king is to be resisted
“with Reverence” (nd T: µ).

Finally in this chapter, I want to say something about criminals. In the
work of John Locke, the transition from kings to criminals is not per-
haps as abrupt as it might be in other contexts. Any comments we make
about his theory of punishment should be framed with the reminder that,
historically, most of what he wrote about criminality was oriented to the
speci¬c crimes associated with the establishment of or with attempts to
establish absolute power. To put it another way, the crimes that particu-
larly interested Locke were crimes against equality. I will return to this point
at the very end of the chapter. But, for now, let™s approach the discussion
of Locke on punishment by considering his views about the forfeiture of
I began this chapter with a discussion of the status of children. We saw
that the relation of a child to the full condition of equality with all other
persons is one of normative destiny (the child is “born to” equality, even
though he is not “born in” it) and development and education. Now,
once we recognize from the case of children that equality is not quite
a matter of moral stasis and that an individual may stand in a dynamic
relation to equality, we have to ask about whether a person™s status as
the bearer of rights is also something that the person in question can
lose. There are two possibilities: renunciation and forfeiture. As to the
¬rst, Locke is adamant that one may not performatively renounce one™s
moral standing, by agreeing (say) to become another person™s slave: “For
a Man, not having the Power of his own Life, cannot, by Compact, or his
± God, Locke, and Equality
own Consent, enslave himself to any one” (nd T: ). The argument for
this stems directly from the God-given nature of our moral status. Our
rights against others, to freedom, non-aggression, and mutual aid, are a
re¬‚ection of the fact that having been “sent into the World by [God™s]
order, and about his business, [we] are his Property, whose Workmanship
[we] are, made to last during his, not one anothers Pleasure” (nd T: ).
Now exactly the same reasoning establishes that I am not made to last
during my own pleasure, so that I do not have moral authority over my
own life; having been made for God™s pleasure I have no jurisdiction
to upset that arrangement by electing to live at the pleasure of any
human being, myself included. Alienability of life, liberty, and equality
is of course the basis on which Locke erects his most powerful argument
against absolutism. Political absolutism admits of no such contractarian
defense as certain sixteenth-century thinkers imagined: “For no Body
can transfer to another more power than he has in himself; and no
Body has an absolute Arbitrary Power over himself ” (nd T: ±µ). It™s
important also, as we shall see in Chapter , in Locke™s argument about
property: need cannot be the basis of slavery, for the necessitous man
does not have any arbitrary right over his freedom to sell, not even for
food (±st T: “).µ
But although Locke is adamant that one cannot performatively re-
nounce one™s moral status, he does toy with the idea that there are certain
wrong things one can deliberately do which will have the moral effect
that one™s status is degraded. If done with that intention, they are wrong
on that account; but they may still have the degrading effect. Locke plays
the casuist a little with this position when he talks about an effective way
by which a conquered aggressor, justly enslaved, may commit suicide,
though he has no legitimate power over his own life: “For, whenever he
¬nds the hardship of his Slavery out-weigh the value of his Life, ™tis in his
Power, by resisting the Will of his Master, to draw on himself the Death
he desires” (nd T: ). But this is not an endorsement of such forms of
suicide, nor is it in any sense a recognition that the person in question
does after all have the moral power to alienate life or liberty.
 µ See below, p. ±·.
Tuck, Natural Rights Theory, pp. “µ.
 For a particularly stringent version of this point, see Dunn, Political Thought of John Locke, p. ±°.
Dunn says that justly enslaved aggressors “are at liberty to terminate their slavery by death, not as
a human moral right but as a behaviourial option “ in the same way as an animal, kept obedient
by fear, could be said to be at liberty to ˜choose™ death by behaving in such a way as to get killed.”
But if Dunn thinks this is the only way of reconciling the possibility Locke envisages “ the slave™s
drawing on himself the death he desires by resisting the will of his master “ with a normative
natural law prohibition on suicide, I think he is mistaken.
Kings, Fathers, Voters, Subjects, and Crooks
This brings us to the issue of forfeiture. In his remarks about punish-
ment Locke sometimes suggests that a person who violates a principle
of natural law thereby forfeits his moral status of freedom and equality.
This position of Locke™s is highly problematic and in my view it is not
carefully thought out. It is moreover inconsistent with some of the other
things Locke says about punishment, particularly in his remarks about
the prerogative power of pardon.· I am not sure I know how to deal
with this tangle of issues; I certainly don™t know how to reconcile it with
the background theory of basic equality.
Let™s consider ¬rst how a Lockean theory of violation and punishment
would work in the absence of a theory of forfeiture and degradation.
Let™s investigate, in other words, what Locke™s theory of violation and
punishment would look like if he were to reject the inegalitarian theory
that aggressors lose their human status. It would go something like this.
Suppose X violates the natural rights of Y, and does so in a way that
indicates that he might commit further violations against Y or against
others in the future. It is fundamental to Locke™s position that Y or
anyone sympathetic to Y or anyone alarmed about the more general
danger is entitled to respond punitively to this transgression, “[a]nd thus
in the State of nature, one Man comes by a Power over another” (nd T: ). But
it is
no Absolute or Arbitrary Power, to use a Criminal, when he has got him in his
hands, according to the passionate heats, or boundless extravagancy of his own
Will; but only to retribute to him, so far as calm reason and conscience dictates,
what is proportionate to his Transgression, which is so much as may serve for
Reparation and Restraint: for these two are the only reasons, why one Man may
lawfully do harm to another, which is that we call punishment. (nd T: )
This is a strong principle of limitation, and it is of course unintelligible
unless associated with the view that X continues to have rights in the
matter subsequent to his transgression. X™s moral rights don™t disappear
from the picture, entitling Y or anyone else to treat X as though he
mattered no more than an animal. True, Locke sometimes says that
we can™t even kill an animal “but where some nobler use, than its bare
Preservation calls for it” (nd T: ), but the position about punishment
goes well beyond that, in at least three respects. First, Locke insists on a
principle of proportionality: X has the right, which an animal does not
have, to be punished to no greater extent than is proportionate to his
offence. Secondly, Locke insists that a legitimate aim of punishment is to
· There is an excellent discussion in Simmons, The Lockean Theory of Rights, pp. ± ff.
± God, Locke, and Equality
make the criminal “repent” of his wrongdoing (nd T:  and ±). And
thirdly, and remarkably, Locke recognizes a power of pardon “to mitigate
the severity of the Law . . . for the end of Government being the preservation of
all, as much as may be, even the guilty are to be spared, where it can
prove no prejudice to the innocent” (nd T: ±µ).
These conditions “ particularly the possibility of pardon “ indicate that
a theory of when to punish and how much to punish is to be guided by
some sort of moral calculation that continues to include the violator, X, as
a focus of concern. The passage just quoted is unintelligible unless “the
preservation of all” includes X, as it included him before he became
a transgressor. Now we may ask: must this calculation include X in
exactly the same way that it included him before, or is X™s standing in
the equation now different from that of the other persons entitled to
concern? Well, it is surely different in this respect: we are recalibrating
our account of what people may do to one another in light of the fact
that X unjustly attacked Y. X is now part of the problem, for all that his
interests must continue to be borne in mind as we calculate the solution.
But I don™t think that point necessarily converts the situation into one of
forfeiture of natural rights. For consider this: on Locke™s account people
do not have natural rights to unlimited liberty or any speci¬ed quantum
of liberty (which they might then have to forfeit when they become bad
guys). Liberty is not license (nd T:  and µ·), and even under the most
favorable circumstances the extent to which each person is free to do as
he wants must be determined systematically by a calculation that pays
attention to the situation of each other person. We see this in the theory
of property (e.g. nd T: ); we see it in the theory of religious liberty
(e.g. LCT: ); we see it in regard to parents™ rights (±st T: ±°°); we even
see it in regard to free speech and freedom of the press. Always, the
extent of one™s liberty is an artifact of a calculation that pays attention to
the equal interest in liberty of others. The criminal, X, has a right to be
treated as an equal in conducting this calculation; but he does not have
the right that it be conducted without reference to the sort of person his
violations have shown him to be; nor necessarily does he have a right
to an equal share of liberty in the upshot of the calculation. I am not
saying that Locke™s argument here is a utilitarianism of libertyµ° “ i.e.
that we are equals as inputs into the liberty equation, but there are no
 See Locke, “Liberty of the Press,” p. °.
 Once again, for the distinction between getting an equal share and being considered as an equal
in the process by which shares are determined, see Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously, p. ·.
µ° Cf. the discussion of “a utilitarianism of rights” in Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, p. .
Kings, Fathers, Voters, Subjects, and Crooks
distributive constraints on the outputs that emerge. As well as an absolute
insistence that we all be treated as equals in the process that allocates
liberty, there may be a rough presumption that we will all end up with
the same quantum of liberty, unless we have done something to defeat
the presumption or unless some other peculiar circumstances obtain.µ±
But defeat of that presumption is not the same as forfeiture of basic
equality. The criminal retains the right, on this account, to be treated by
all others as an equal in determining the particular demands of social
That™s the version of Locke™s theory of punishment most congenial
to his underlying egalitarianism. By our lights, it is not necessarily an
attractive account in Locke™s hands. It provides for the possibility of
capital punishment. The basic principle of the calculus is that as many
persons as possible are to be preserved, and Locke reads this as permitting
not just the restriction of some people™s freedom, but the taking of some
people™s lives. It is also associated with a particularly ferocious account
of self-defense. I am entitled to resist anyone who assaults me or robs me,
and resist him with deadly force even if he has not offered deadly force,
because “I have no reason to suppose that he, who would take away my
Liberty, would not when he had me in his Power, take away everything
else” (nd T: ±).
What I have given so far is one side of Locke™s account. Undeniably,
however, there are also strands of much harder-line forfeiture theory in
the Second Treatise. The harder-line theory presents itself in two versions.
In the ¬rst or general version, it is an account of expulsion from the
natural community. By the law of nature, says Locke, “Mankind are one
Community . . . one Society, distinct from all other Creatures. And were it
not for the corruption, and vitiousness of degenerate Men, there would
be no need of any other; no necessity that Men should separate from this,
and by positive agreements combine into smaller and divided associa-
tions” (nd T: ±).µ This “great and natural Community” (nd T: ±)
comprises initially the whole species, or “ to put it in the language we
developed in Chapter  “ it comprises all those who can recognize in
one another the special relation to God of which their capacity for ab-
stract thought is a token. This is a community of people who understand
µ± I have in mind Locke™s remarks about whether we may “pull down an innocent Man™s House to
stop the Fire, when the next to it is burning” (nd T: ±µ).
µ Compare natural community, in this sense, with Locke™s conception of political community:
“Since then those, who liked one another so well as to join into Society, cannot but be supposed
to have some Acquaintance and Friendship together, and some Trust one in another: they could
not but have greater Apprehensions of others, than of one another” (Second Treatise, ±°·).
± God, Locke, and Equality
that each of them has been “sent into the World by [God™s] order, and
about his business” and that they are “made to last during [God™s], not
one another™s Pleasure” (nd T: ). As such, it is a community dedi-
cated by natural law to mutual recognition, mutual respect, and mutual
aid among equals. On any account of serious or endemic criminality,
the criminal has distanced himself from the constitutive principles of
this community, whether we see those principles as the norms of social
peace or the values of equality and mutual respect that underlie those
In transgressing the Law of Nature, the Offender declares himself to live by
another Rule, than that of reason and common Equity, which is that measure
God has set to the actions of Men, for their mutual security: and so he becomes
dangerous to Mankind, the tye, which is to secure them from injury and violence,
being slighted and broken by him. (nd T: )

Almost by de¬nition, then, the offender is no longer a member (or now
only problematically a member) of the natural community, for member-
ship is de¬ned by common acceptance of these rules and values. But
Locke goes further and puts a bestial gloss on this loss of membership
in natural community. By violating the natural law, “a Man so far be-
comes degenerate, and declares himself to quit the Principles of Human
Nature, and to be a noxious Creature” (nd T: ±°).
[H]aving renounced Reason, the common Rule and Measure God hath given
to Mankind, hath, by the unjust Violence and Slaughter he hath committed
upon one, declared War against all Mankind, and therefore may be destroyed
as a Lyon or a Tyger, one of those wild Savage Beasts, with whom Men can
have no Society nor Security. (nd T: ±±)

It is this bestialization of offenders, and the consequent insistence that
they “may be treated as beasts of prey,” that is the most dif¬cult to recon-
cile with Locke™s commitment to basic equality. Now, John Dunn believes
that this need not be conceived as a literal or ontological bestialization,
and I hope he is right. Dunn says:
Those who by their aggression quit the law of reason do not of course by this
behavior cease to be voluntary agents responsible to God for their misdeeds. But
they become liable to be treated by other men, as though they were dangerous
animals, as though they were no longer voluntary agents and hence had no
rights against other men.µ

µ Dunn, Political Thought of John Locke, p. ±°·.
Kings, Fathers, Voters, Subjects, and Crooks
This may help a little bit in reconciling the two positions. For it seems to
suggest that in an extreme case, even though X is a person, the way we are
entitled to treat him may turn out to be indistinguishable from the way
we are entitled to treat a beast of prey. We treat X, the person, as though
he were (what he is not) a beast of prey. Still, the ontological point “
that X really is a person, notwithstanding his transgressions “ cannot
be entirely irrelevant for us. For, ¬rst, we have to be very careful in our
determination of whether it is appropriate to treat X in this way; we must
not do so hastily or arbitrarily, or out of hostility to X. Furthermore, not
all offending has this consequence: all offending may make a difference
to how it is appropriate to treat the offender, but only in an extreme case
will the appropriate way to treat him be like the appropriate way to treat
a beast of prey. (Of course, opinions may differ as to where the threshold
is drawn; and Locke “ as I said in my comments about whether you are
entitled to resist a robber with deadly force “ holds very ¬rm views about
that. But that™s another matter.) And so it is very important that care be
taken in making this determination, and my point is of course that part
of that care is oriented to X™s moral standing. We take this care for the
sake of X; it is partly for offenders™ sakes that we are concerned “that
Ill Nature, Passion and Revenge will carry [men] too far in punishing
others” (nd T: ±). Moreover, in deciding what is the appropriate level
of response to X, we must consult again the calculus of concern for the
whole species, and at that stage X™s good must be included as an input
along with the good of everyone else. It is not a case of X being expelled
from the natural community ¬rst, and then the rest of us consulting our
interests (exclusive of X™s interests) in deciding how to treat X. We don™t
bestialize X ¬rst, and then decide how the rest of us are to respond to
this animal. On Dunn™s interpretation, we decide how it is appropriate
to treat X and notice that, in an extreme case, this is tantamount to
expulsion from the natural community. We decide how to respond to
this being who is in fact a person, and then notice (again, in an extreme
case) that the appropriate response is barely distinguishable from the
appropriate response to a noxious animal.
The second strand of Locke™s hard-line forfeiture theory has to do
with the very speci¬c relation between conqueror and aggressor in a
just war; and this is where Locke™s forfeiture thesis hooks up with what
little there is in his political philosophy in the way of a theory of justi¬ed
slavery. We are to imagine that X has mounted an attack on Y which
may legitimately be responded to with deadly force, and now Y has X
at the point of his sword. Locke says that X™s situation is as follows:
± God, Locke, and Equality
having by his fault forfeited his own Life, by some Act that deserves Death; he,
to whom he has forfeited it, may (when he has him in his Power) delay to take
it, and make use of him to his own Service . . . This is the perfect condition of
slavery, which is nothing else, but the state of war continued, between a lawful
conqueror and a captive. (nd T: “)
The forfeiture here is in personam. It is a forfeiture to somebody in par-
ticular. Later in the Second Treatise, Locke goes to extraordinary pains to
ensure that the “X” term of this relation “ the captive “ is strictly de¬ned.
The person who may be enslaved in this way is the actual aggressor, not
his wife, not his children, not his descendants, not his co-nationals, often
not even his accomplices, if they were conscripts (nd T: ±· and ±).
I shall argue in Chapter · that the effect of these restrictions is to place
a huge distance between Locke™s account of legitimate slavery and the
institution of slavery as it actually existed in the seventeenth century. He
is not quite as fastidious about the “Y” term. Is it only the intended
victim of the aggressor to whom the aggressor™s life and liberty is forfeit
if he is conquered?µ Or is it forfeit to anyone who has, justly, taken it on
himself to resist the aggression? The answer depends a little bit on how
tightly the forfeiture argument is tied to self-defense. If it is tied tightly to
self-defense “ my enslaving him is an aspect of my justly resisting him “
then the furthest it can extend is to those that “joyn with [the intended
victim of the aggressor], and espouses his Quarrel” (nd T: ±). But if
it is tied to punishment, then the provision that any man may treat an
aggressor as he might treat a captured beast of prey would legitimize a
more far-reaching doctrine of enslavement. I don™t think Locke is in a
position to extend it this far. For once the offender is subdued enough
for there to be any question of punishment, the point-of-a-sword aspect
of the situation has come to an end. “[W]hen the actual force is over,
the state of war ceases” (nd T: °), and with its cessation, the particular
forfeiture rights of the just conqueror come to an end as well. The same
is true of virtually any attempt on the captor™s part to regularize his rela-
tion with his slave, beyond merely delaying to take his life (nd T: ). As
soon as the captor accords any rights to the conquered aggressor, then
normal interaction between persons resumes:
if he be once allowed to be Master of his own Life, the Despotical, Arbitrary Power
of his Master ceases. He that is Master of himself, and his own Life, has a right
too to the means of preserving it; so that as soon as Compact enters, Slavery ceases,
and he so far quits his Absolute Power, and puts an end to the State of War, who
enters into Conditions with his Captive. (nd T: ±·)
µ See nd T: ±·, for Locke™s account of the inheritability of just grievance against an aggressor.
Kings, Fathers, Voters, Subjects, and Crooks
I said before that there is a huge gap between Locke™s very tight conditions
for legitimate slavery and the way the institution actually operated in his
time. And now we are starting to see a huge gap also between Locke™s
very tight conditions and the prospect of any stable or regularized system
of slavery. And that of course was precisely what Locke intended, for
remember his overarching intention was to defeat the claim that the
“vile and miserable condition of slavery” could be the normal basis
for organizing a political system (± st T: ±). I think we should read the
connection between the theory of legitimate resistance to aggression
and the theory of slavery as an attempt on Locke™s part to minimize the
scope that slavery would have for its legitimate operation in the world.
Certainly, that is the tenor of Chapter ± of the Second Treatise. For that
reason alone, then, there is some merit in not exaggerating the hard-line
tendencies of Locke™s doctrine of forfeiture.
Clearly, this area of crime and punishment is a delicate terrain for
the Lockean theory of equality. And there is always a temptation to
sell the basic premise short at this stage in the heat of one™s passionate
indignation. It is, I think, worth remarking though that Locke™s particular
interest in this aspect of the argument is related to equality in another
way. To the extent that Locke had a political interest in persuading people
to bestialize offenders against the law of nature, his intended targets were
not the idle poor, or the working class, or native Americans. His targets
were absolutist kings and princes “ those who in their actions and their
politics violated (precisely) the principle of basic equality, and treated
their subjects like slaves. These are the real animals, said Locke, and (in
the words of the motto he chose for the Two Treatises) “placari nequeant, nisi
hauriendum sanguinem laniandaque viscera nostra praebuerimus.”µµ Slavery does
¬gure in Locke™s argument about self-defense, but not merely as a fate
that may befall the conquered aggressor. Slavery is often the aggressor™s
aim, “for no body can desire to have me in his absolute power, unless it be
to compel me by force to that which is against the right of my freedom,
i.e. make me a slave” (nd T: ±·). The point is pervasive in the Second
Treatise. The violations of the law of nature from which we have most to
fear are violations of the principle of basic equality; they are violations
by people who treat other men, not as their equals, but as animals to be
subjected and enslaved. And of course one of the reasons Locke has to
spend time thinking about how crime is properly dealt with outside the
µµ The quotation is from Livy and was translated by Laslett as follows: “They are not to be placated
unless we yield to them our blood to drink and our entrails to tear out” (Locke, Two Treatises,
p. ±).
±µ° God, Locke, and Equality
framework of politics and positive law is that often the criminals are in
control of the positive legal apparatus, and those who are resisting them
have no choice but to work outside it (nd T: °). The argument turns on
itself in an intriguing way, when Locke notices that absolute monarchs
in effect degrade their subjects, by denying them any redress:
the Subject, or rather Slave of an Absolute Prince . . . has not only no Appeal,
as those in Society ought to have, but as if he were degraded from the common
state of Rational Creatures, is denied a liberty to judge of, or to defend his Right;
and so is exposed to all the Misery and Inconveniencies, that a Man can fear
from one, who being in the unrestrained State of Nature, is yet corrupted with
Flattery, and armed with Power. (nd T: ±)
I am not saying that Locke™s unfortunate tendency towards the bestial-
ization of criminals is mitigated by the fact that the criminals he had in
mind were mainly anti-egalitarian enslavers; but it is worth remembering
that the overall drift of even this part of his argument is towards a ro-
bust vindication of equality against those who would act on the opposite

“Disproportionate and Unequal Possession”

My aim in this book is not just to establish that Locke held a position on
human equality, and that that position was held on theological grounds;
I also want to show that this commitment to basic equality is an impor-
tant working premise of his whole political theory, and that its in¬‚uence
is pervasive in his arguments about property, family, slavery, government,
politics, and toleration. It is not just a piece of religiously inspired egal-
itarian rhetoric wheeled out up front as a sort of edifying decoration;
if it were, its religious cast would be much less troubling. Basic equality
operates for Locke as a premise and as a constraint. It is a premise for
everything he says about authority, and it is also a premise for everything
he says about our relations to each other, our concern for each other,
and the extent to which our awareness of others™ interests should affect
our sense of what is reasonable in the pursuit of our own. And equality
operates also in Locke™s political philosophy as an on-going theoretical
constraint, patrolling our derivations from the premises of the theory,
checking not only that they are grounded in equality but also that their
implications are broadly consistent with the idea that corporeal rational
creatures are basically one another™s equals. Both of these functions are
apparent in the theory of property, and that is the subject of the present
I thought I should set aside a whole chapter to address the relation
between Locke™s argument about equality and his argument about
property. Partly it is for personal reasons, for this is where I came in so
far as my own particular interest in Locke™s political philosophy is con-
cerned.± But also it is because in the theory of property “ in Chapter µ of
the Second Treatise “ we really do see Locke™s style of natural law argument
at work. This is the chapter where he shows us, rather than just telling
± See Waldron, “Enough and as Good Left for Others”; “Two Worries About Mixing One™s
Labour”; “Locke, Tully and the Regulation of Property”; and especially Right to Private Property,
pp. ±·“µ.

±µ God, Locke, and Equality
us, how a natural law argument would proceed from, and under the
discipline of, a principle of basic equality.

The argument about property is a challenging case from the point of view
of Locke™s egalitarianism, because the aim of Chapter µ of the Second
Treatise seems patently inegalitarian. Locke is not only arguing for
the legitimacy of private property; he is attempting to justify its
“disproportionate and unequal” distribution (nd T: µ°). One gets a
sense that his argument in this chapter would be a failure if inequality
were not the outcome; and this makes all the more challenging the in-
terpretive heuristic I am using “ that a commitment to equality pervades
Locke™s work, and that it works throughout the theory as a premise and
a constraint.
We should not exaggerate the problem, however. Though Locke™s
argument aims to explain and justify “disproportionate and unequal
possession of the earth” (nd T: µ°), it is certainly not intended as a de-
fense of the seventeenth-century status quo. Richard Ashcraft has drawn
our attention to the contrast between Locke™s work and that of his friend
James Tyrrell in this regard. Tyrrell was so eager to avoid any imputa-
tion of advocating a change in the system of property as it was already
established that his argument amounted to a wholesale endorsement of
existing property relations, whatever their form, distribution, or utility.
Locke on the other hand was quite critical of contemporary property
arrangements, especially in the argument about inheritance and pri-
mogeniture in the First Treatise “ an attack, by the way, which is very
clearly grounded on principles of equality, and which was well known
in Locke™s circle to lead in the direction of smaller estates, more equitably
My aim in this chapter is to show that something like this egalitarianism
pervades Locke™s theory of property. It pervades the theory, in the story
that Locke tells about the generation of private property rights by labor,
and in his account of the limits on acquisition and the constraints on
property, particularly in the controversial doctrine of charity in the First
 Ashcraft, Revolutionary Politics, pp. “.
 See, for example, Tyrrell, Of the Law of Nature, Ch. , para. , pp. ±“.
 Locke rejects as irrational the priority accorded to an eldest male child over the needs of his
younger siblings: see First Treatise, paras. ·, ±, and especially . See also Waldron, “Locke™s
Account of Inheritance and Bequest,” and Ashcraft, Locke™s Two Treatises, pp. “.
µ Ashcraft, Revolutionary Politics, pp. .
“Disproportionate and Unequal Possession”
Treatise. Now to say that it is egalitarian is not to say that it leads to
equal outcomes: we have seen that disparity often enough. Nor is it
necessarily to say that the resulting theory is nice or congenial to our
intuitions, for our intuitions are schooled also in other principles besides
basic equality. When we look at the aspersions Locke casts on the mode
of subsistence of aboriginal Americans, for example, and when we look
at the way he modi¬es his doctrine of charity to accommodate some
quite savage ideas about the best way to enforce the God-given duties
of the poor, we see him taking positions that are unpleasant as well as
unfamiliar. And it may seem a point against the more general thesis about
a religious grounding for equality that I introduced in Chapter ±, and to
which I will return at the end of Chapter , that the unpleasantness of
Locke™s position in these two regards is directly traceable to the particular
religious conception that he accepted. But it is part of the aim of my book
to caution against the reduction of religious argumentation in politics to
cheerful anodyne positions that could be supported any way on any
number of other grounds. In this chapter, we will see Locke™s Protestant
Christianity making contributions to his account of the implications of
equality which are not only distinctive, but also quite counter-intuitive
from the perspective of modern liberal egalitarianism.

If we say that Locke™s aim is to defend unequal economic outcomes, we
must remember the standpoint from which he is trying to defend that
inequality. In the chapter on property, John Locke was responding to the
very powerful critique put forward by Robert Filmer against those who
claimed that all men were originally equal. On the egalitarian assump-
tion that God gave the world to the whole human species (and not just
to Adam), how was it possible, asked Filmer, that anyone could come
to have private property in land or resources distinct from the claims
of the rest of mankind? It seems strange, he said, that common prop-
erty instituted by God should give way to private property instituted by
man: “Doth it not derogate from the providence of God Almighty to
ordain a community which could not continue? . . . [D]oth it not make
the act of our forefathers, in abrogating the natural law of community
by introducing that of property, to be a sin of high presumption?” It
was to answer this challenge “ felt by politicians in his circle as dif¬cult
 Filmer, “Observations Concerning the Originall of Government,” p. ±.
±µ God, Locke, and Equality
and dangerous “ that Locke produced the elaborate argument about
initial acquisition in the Second Treatise. And the point I am making is
that he would not have had to do so unless he had had what (in his
opponents™ eyes at least) was the foolish presumption to begin from a
strong af¬rmative premise of equality: namely, the recognition that all
men have initially “an equal Right to the use of the inferior Creatures,
for the comfortable preservation of their Beings” (±st T: ·).
Indeed, Locke™s premise is not just original equality, it is original
communism “ it is “very clear, that God, as King David says, Psalm. CXV.
xvj. has given the Earth to the Children of Men; given it to Mankind in common”
(nd T: µ) “ and even original community. By the law of nature, says
Locke, “Mankind are one Community . . . one Society, distinct from all other
Creatures. And were it not for the corruption, and vitiousness of de-
generate Men, there would be no need of any other; no necessity that
Men should separate from this, and by positive agreements combine into
smaller and divided associations” (nd T: ±).· That “great and natural
Community” (nd T: ±), whose margins we explored in our discussion
of criminality at the end of Chapter µ, is a society dedicated by natural law
to mutual aid and preservation among equals. The connection between
equality and the mutual concern which is supposed to pervade such a
natural community is developed by Locke very early in the Second Treatise
with an argument he takes from his great sixteenth-century predeces-
sor Richard Hooker. The argument is developed immediately following
Locke™s initial statement of egalitarian principle:
To understand Political Power right, and derive it from its Original, we must
consider, what State all Men are naturally in, and that is, a State of perfect
Freedom . . . A State also of Equality, wherein all the Power and Jurisdiction is re-
ciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident,
than that Creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all
the same advantages of Nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also
be equal one amongst another without Subordination or Subjection, unless the
Lord and Master of them all should, by any manifest Declaration of his Will, set
one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment,
an undoubted Right to Dominion and Sovereignty. (nd T: )
We are then told that “the Judicious Hooker” regarded this natural human
equality “as so evident in it self, and beyond all question, that he makes
· For Locke on natural versus political community, see nd T: ±°·, and Ch. µ, fn µ above.
 Spellman says that Locke cites Hooker in nd T: µ to support the premise of equality (Spellman,
John Locke, p. ±±). Actually that™s not true. What Locke does is cite the argument that Hooker
built upon juridical equality “ an argument from equal authority to equal concern.
“Disproportionate and Unequal Possession”
it the Foundation of that Obligation to mutual Love amongst men, on
which he Builds the Duties they owe one another” (nd T: µ). This
invocation of Hooker™s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity is also not just window-
dressing on Locke™s part: he reads Hooker™s argument as a way of getting
from basic equality of authority to what we call a principle of equal
One way of understanding this is to say that Locke (with Hooker™s help)
is trying to unpack the case that may be made for the Golden Rule: “Love
thy neighbor as thyself ” or “Do unto others as you would have them do
unto you.” In the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, in the course of
his attack on innate moral ideas, Locke posed the following question.
Let™s say that “that most unshaken Rule of Morality and Foundation of
all social Virtue, That one should do as he would be done unto, be propos™d to
one, who never heard of it before, but yet is of capacity to understand
its meaning; Might he not without any absurdity ask a Reason why?”
(E: ±..). Well, Richard Hooker™s argument cited by Locke in section µ
of the Second Treatise is supposed to be the line of reasoning that would
respond to that question. It is supposed to show that once we acknowledge
that no human has a superior status, we have no choice but to treat the
needs and desires of others as on a par with our own. Hooker says this:
[I]f I cannot but wish to receive all good, even as much at every Man™s hands, as
any Man can wish unto his own Soul, how should I look to have any part of my
desire herein satis¬ed, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire, which is
undoubtedly in other Men, we all being of one and the same nature? To have
any thing offered them repugnant to this desire, must needs in all respects grieve
them as much as me; so that if I do harm, I must look to suffer, there being
no reason that others should shew greater measure of love to me, than they
have by me shewed unto them. My desire therefore to be loved of my equals in
nature as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing
to them-ward fully the like affection; from which relation of equality between
ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several Rules and Canons natural
Reason hath drawn, for direction of Life, no Man is ignorant.±°
There are several things going on here. One line of argument is simply
instrumental: if I do not help others, I make it less likely that they will
help me.±± Or it might be an argument like that implicit in Kant™s fourth

 See Harris, The Mind of John Locke, p. °, for the signi¬cance of this in Locke™s later moral theory.
±° Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Bk. I, sect. , p. °.
±± This depends of course on the others being aware of my sel¬shness. But as Thomas Hobbes
remarked in a similar argument, it is foolish for anyone to rely on others™ imperceptiveness in
this regard: see Hobbes™s response to “[t]he Foole” in Leviathan, Ch. ±µ, pp. ±°± “.
±µ God, Locke, and Equality
example of the categorical imperative.± Each person, P, knows that he
is in various ways dependent on others™ goodwill towards his interests,
and so he cannot but accept that this goodwill must be reciprocated by
him. Since there is no relevant difference between the call that another
person, Q , might make on P™s goodwill, and the call that P might make
on Q™s goodwill, the price of P™s refusing any concern for others is that he
cannot reasonably expect others to show any concern for him. Certainly
the argument is supposed to turn on something like universalizability,
and on there not being any relevant difference from the moral point
of view between P™s interest and Q™s interest, or P™s preference and Q™s
preference. Locke™s premise rules out any inherent superiority for P, and
since P must acknowledge Q as his equal, he must recognize Q™s interests
and preferences too as the equals of his own.
But someone might say in response:
P™s preferences have priority for P (over what P recognizes as Q™s preferences) just
because they are P™s preferences. Preferences don™t ¬‚oat free of persons looking for
satisfaction, in a way that certain utilitarian conceptions suppose. A preference
is an orientation of a particular person to a state of affairs in the world, and we
cannot build an ethical theory on the assumption that the particularity of such
orientations is irrelevant.
How would Locke respond? I think he would say that the point is fair
so far as the primal psychology of preferences is concerned.± But the
Hooker argument kicks in as soon as one takes a step beyond that in the
direction of a moral theory of the reasonableness of seeking to satisfy
one™s preferences. Morality has to do with the explanations one offers
to others, and with what they might reasonably be expected to accept
in a situation where their interests too are at stake.± As a moral matter,
P can hardly say to Q , “It is reasonable for me to pursue this interest of
mine, even at the expense of yours, just because it is mine.” And again for
Locke, the religious dimension is important. What validates P™s appetitive
behavior and his seeking for the satisfaction of any of his desires is not the
bare fact that he has preferences which move him, but that his obtaining
satisfaction of at least some of his desires is in accordance with God™s
purpose in creating him. But then P can recognize also that this is exactly
true of Q™s desires; they have their moral signi¬cance in the very scheme
that P™s preferences have their signi¬cance in. So, for example, when
± Cf. Kant, Grounding, p.  (: ). This is how Ian Harris reads the passage: see Harris, The Mind
of John Locke, p. .
± Cf. Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, p. ··.
± Scanlon, What We Owe to Each Other, pp. ±· ff.
“Disproportionate and Unequal Possession”
Locke says (in a passage we will examine in more detail in a moment)
that someone taking resources from nature to feed himself is assured by
reason that in “pursuing that natural Inclination . . . he followed the Will
of his Maker” (±st T: ), that person is not only given something to say
to anyone who challenges him, but he is also given a basis on which he
may recognize the importance, the equal importance “ no, the identical
importance “ of others taking resources from nature to feed themselves.
He cannot profess indifference to their endeavor and yet claim reason
in support of his own.
Or suppose P gives priority to his own wishes, not because he thinks
he is superior to Q , and not just because the wishes are his, but sim-
ply because he wills his own preservation in a situation of danger or
scarcity. Locke actually recognizes a principle of self-preservation and
he always conditions what he says about our duty to others with a self-
preservation proviso: everyone ought as much as he can to preserve the
rest of mankind, “when his own Preservation comes not in competition”
(nd T: ). Doesn™t this indicate that P need not always take others™ inter-
ests as seriously as his own? Well, not quite. The ¬rst thing to note is that
Lockean self-preservation is as much a duty as a right: “Every one . . . is
bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his Station wilfully” (nd T: ). It is
not a discretionary entitlement to give preference to self. P acknowledges
that he owes a duty in respect of himself to his Creator. He knows that he
has, in Locke™s phrase, been “sent into the World by [God™s] order and
about [God™s] business” (nd T: ), and that that is why he is entitled
and required to preserve himself. Now, when he recognizes Q also as
a being capable of apprehending the idea of God and His commands,
P will see that Q also grasps this duty of self-preservation. Though the
duty owed to God is owed uniquely by each of them “ “the care of each
man™s salvation belongs only to himself ” (LCT: ·) “ each understands
that their respective agent-relative duties have a common source. And
that™s important for Locke, for it goes to the basis of normativity in his
moral theory. Part of the work done by the initial premise of equality
is to establish, for each person, that there is nothing peculiar about his
God-given moral status. God does not appear to have a purpose for him
which is utterly different in character from His purposes for His other
human creatures. Compare the moral situation here with the egoism of
someone like Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes™s theory treats P™s survival as a
sui generis source of normativity for P, something which is normatively
quite opaque to Q , and it treats Q™s interest as a sui generis source of nor-
mativity for Q , which is normatively quite opaque to P. The Lockean
±µ God, Locke, and Equality
moral world, by contrast, involves not only a recognition that the
source of the normativity of self-preservation in your case is similar to
the source of the normativity of self-preservation in my case, but also a
recognition of the fact that the source in the two cases is literally the same.
This affects how one views situations of scarcity, danger, and con¬‚ict.
On Hobbes™s scheme, there is nothing more natural than a competitive
posture among rival interests.±µ For there is nothing about Q™s interests
that has any inherent interest to P except in the way of dif¬dence and
competition. (Maybe it is sometimes instrumentally worthwhile for P to
offer Q some satisfactions, but Q™s satisfactions in themselves are quite
alien to P.) Locke™s scheme, by contrast, provides a basis for seeing com-
petition as morally problematic: though the priority of self-preservation
is agent-relative, and though sometimes this priority will require P to be-
have in ways in which a perfect altruist would not behave, still P™s recog-
nition of a common source for the normativity of P™s self-preservation
and Q™s self-preservation means that both of them also have a duty to
orient themselves if possible to a reconciliation of their interests in any
circumstance where they tend to con¬‚ict. This, as we shall see, is the
basis on which Locke requires individuals to form their conceptions of
various constraints and limits on appropriation, imposed speci¬cally in
the interest of others.

I am not going to engage in any lengthy exposition or critique of Locke™s
labor theory “ that is, his account of the generation of private property
out of our original common endowment by people “mixing their labor”
with natural resources. I did that ad nauseam in The Right to Private Property,
and others have done it better in books published before and since.± But
I want to make one or two observations about it, which will help us see
the role of equality in the argument.
In modern philosophy it is tempting to treat Locke™s labor theory
as a secular piece of argumentation about entitlements accruing from
labor.±· It may be embellished up front with a bit of religious decoration
(nd T: µ“), but it is tempting to say the main case could as easily be

±µ See also Waldron, “Self Defense,” comparing Hobbes and Locke on self-preservation.
± Waldron, Right to Private Property, pp. ±·“µ; Ryan, Property and Political Theory, pp. ±“; Kramer,
John Locke and the Origins of Private Property; Sreenivasan, Limits of Lockean Rights.
±· Cf. Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, pp. ±· ff. See Waldron, “Religious Contributions,” pp. “,
for a discussion of the signi¬cance of this choice as to how to interpret Locke™s theory.
“Disproportionate and Unequal Possession”
developed by an atheist. The argument may be treated simply as a sug-
gestion about what happens morally speaking when you mix something
you own (your labor) with something you don™t own (a natural resource).
Thus Robert Nozick asks the following question: “If I own a can of
tomato juice and spill it in the sea so that its molecules (made radioac-
tive, so I can check this) mingle evenly throughout the sea, do I thereby
come to own the sea, or have I foolishly dissipated my tomato juice?”±
And, in The Right to Private Property, I ask something similar: suppose there
is a vat of wet cement that belongs to no one in particular, and I drop
a diamond that I own into the vat just before the cement hardens; do I
get to own the cement?± On this sort of approach, mixing my juice with
the ocean or dropping my diamond into the cement is just something I
happen to do, and we want to explore the moral difference that it makes.
Now naturally I don™t doubt the interest of this discussion, but whether
it helps us understand Locke™s account of appropriation depends on our
being able to relate it to two aspects of his concerns that might not apply
so easily to juice-in-the-ocean or diamond-in-the-vat. The ¬rst aspect
is the teleology of the creation of natural resources, and the second is
the special signi¬cance of labor in relation to that teleology. Both are
essential to Locke™s theory of property, and neither can be understood
apart from his theological concerns.
The ¬rst aspect “ the teleology of natural resources “ reminds us that
the argument about mixing one™s labor is intended as a speci¬c solution
to a more general problem about humans™ ¬nding some way of satisfying
their individual needs out of the material basis that God has provided.
The Earth, and all that is therein, is given to Men for the Support and Comfort
of their being. And tho™ all the Fruits it naturally produces, and Beasts it feeds,
belong to Mankind in common, as they are produced by the spontaneous hand
of Nature . . . yet being given for the use of Men, there must of necessity be a
means to appropriate them some way or other, before they can be of any use, or
at all bene¬cial to any particular Man. (nd T: )
The “must” here is not merely a hypothetical imperative. It is driven by
the teleology of our creation and that of the creation of the resources with
which we ¬nd ourselves surrounded. That teleology is stated explicitly
in an important passage in the First Treatise:
God having made Man, and planted in him, as in all other Animals, a strong
desire of Self-preservation, and furnished the World with things ¬t for Food
and Rayment and other Necessaries of Life, subservient to his design, that
± ±
Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, p. ±·µ. Waldron, Right to Private Property, p. ±.
±° God, Locke, and Equality
Man should live and abide for sometime upon the Face of the Earth, and not
that so curious and wonderful a piece of Workmanship by its own Negligence,
or want of Necessaries, should perish again, presently after a few moments
continuance: God, I say, having made Man and the World thus, spoke to him,
(that is) directed him by his Senses and Reason . . . to the use of those things,
which were serviceable for his Subsistence, and given him as means of his
Preservation . . . And thus Man™s Property in the Creatures, was founded upon the
right he had, to make use of those things, that were necessary or useful to his
Being. (±st T: )°
The passage talks of our right to make use of things that are useful or
necessary to our being. But the right is one of those Lockean rights that
is also a duty.± Each person is directed “to the use of those things, which
[are] serviceable for his Subsistence” (±st T: ). Each is required to help
himself. And so his having the right to help himself to natural resources
is intelligible not just in the light of his own purposes for himself, but in
the light of God™s purposes for him. We shall see in a moment that this
also provides a theological context for the particular mode of helping
oneself “ labor “ that Locke thinks God has commanded. Laboring is
not just something we happen to do to resources (like happening to drop
a diamond in a vat of cement); it is the appropriate mode of helping
oneself to resources given what resources are for. Being permitted to help
oneself is not a divine indulgence of the self-interested inclination of
an acquisitive being. It is the naturally requisite next step following our
creation once we accept that we were created subservient to God™s design
“that Man should live and abide for sometime upon the Face of the Earth,
and not that so curious and wonderful a piece of Workmanship by its
own Negligence, or want of Necessaries, should perish again, presently
after a few moments continuance” (±st T: ).
In a footnote to his critical edition of the Two Treatises, Peter Laslett
cites this paragraph as an example of inconsistency between Locke™s
political theory and the philosophical position set out in the Essay. The
Essay repudiates the idea of innate practical principles, but here we have
Locke apparently saying that self-preservation is a principle implanted
in man by God.
° See Taylor, Sources of the Self, p. , for helpful discussion of this passage.
± See Ryan, “Locke and the Dictatorship of the Bourgeoisie,” p. .
 Locke, Two Treatises, p. °µ.
 Another similar example might be Locke™s account of the inclination to procreate: “God planted
in Men a strong desire also of propagating their Kind, and continuing themselves in their
Posterity” (±st T: ).
“Disproportionate and Unequal Possession”
For the desire, strong desire of Preserving his Life and Being having been Planted
in him, as a Principle of Action by God himself, Reason, which was the Voice of
God in him, could not but teach him and assure him, that pursuing that natural
Inclination he had to preserve his Being, he followed the Will of his Maker.
(±st T: )
Unfortunately Laslett has not read the passage (±st T: ) carefully
enough. Locke does not infer rightness directly from the existence of
a natural inclination. He says humans ¬nd themselves with all sorts of
inclinations: some of them nice, some of them nasty: “Nor can it be oth-
erwise in a Creature, whose thoughts are more than the Sands, and wider
than the ocean” (±st T: µ). As beings endowed with reason, we have to
sort through our impulses and relate them to some rational understand-
ing of our being and some experiential knowledge of our nature. Then
and only then are we in a position to draw normative conclusions from
the fact of their existence. Far from any inconsistency with Locke™s philo-
sophical argument, this is more or less exactly the point that is made in
the discussion of innate ideas in the Essay. That discussion acknowledges
the existence of natural inclinations:
I deny not that there are natural tendencies imprinted on the Minds of Men,
and that from the very ¬rst instances of Sense and Perception, there are some
things that are grateful and others that are unwelcome to them, some things
that they incline to, and others that they ¬‚y: but this makes nothing for innate
Characters on the Mind, which are to be principles of knowledge, regulating our
practice . . . Principles of Actions indeed there are lodged in Men™s Appetites,
but these are so far from being innate Moral Principles that, if they were left
to their full swing, they would carry Men to the over-turning of all Morality.
(E: ±.. and ±)
What we need, before we think it right to follow such an innate appetite,
is some assurance that it guides us as we ought to be guided, and that
assurance can only come from the exercise of our intellect. In the present
context, we ¬nd that it is safe (and indeed requisite) to rely on our survival
instinct only by relating it rationally to ideas like God, creation, and
purpose. These are not given in the inclination themselves; they have to
be brought to it by reason.

A little later in this chapter, we will return to the First Treatise passage
about the inclination to survive and therefore to appropriate. We will
± God, Locke, and Equality
¬nd that this line of argument about the teleology of appropriation is
also key to Locke™s doctrine of charity. But before I turn to that, I want to
address the other aspect of Locke™s account of initial acquisition that has,
in my view, a theological signi¬cance not captured in the conventional
philosophical treatment of these matters. I want to say a word or two
about Locke™s emphasis on labor, his insistence “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 labor of it) had still in
himself the great Foundation of Property” (nd T: ). I believe that this
too has an important theological aspect, though I believe that aspect is
often misunderstood.
It is sometimes argued that human labor is valued by Locke and
accorded the signi¬cance he gives it because it is God-like in its creativ-
ity. God is our maker and that is why we are his property: “being all
the Workmanship of one Omnipotent, and in¬nitely wise Maker . . . [we]
are his Property, whose Workmanship [we] are, made to last during his,
not one anothers Pleasure” (nd T: ).µ And we are the makers of the
things we produce, and that is why they are our property. Labor or pro-
duction confers on man a God-like authority over the thing that he
makes. I have said that equality is fundamental in Locke™s theory, but
this line of thought seems to suggest that ideas associated with owner-
ship may be even more fundamental than that. Since our relation to God
(the relation which grounds our equality) is to be understood in terms
of our being owned by Him, our being objects in which He has invested
His labor, it looks as though the workmanship model is more funda-
mental than the basis we have identi¬ed for equality. But a moment™s
re¬‚ection reveals that that won™t do. The lower animals are God™s work-
manship also, yet they are not our equals. Our equality stems not from
our equally being God™s workmanship but (in Locke™s words) from “the
Idea of ourselves, as understanding, rational Beings” (E: ..±) capable
of responding consciously, and recognizing in each other the ability to
respond consciously, to God™s will. Still even if it does not ground equal-
ity, the image of divine workmanship might still be thought of as the
prototype for human ownership. A number of commentators have taken
this view “ and what a view it is! The normativity of the laborer™s control
 Tully, Discourse on Property, pp. µ“ and ±±“. Cf. Ashcraft™s comment Revolutionary Politics,
p. µ: “the Deity is the Great Property Owner.”
µ As Locke put it in the early Essays on the Law of Nature, “who will deny that the clay is subject to
the potter™s will?” Locke, Essays on the Law of Nature, IV, p. ±°µ.
“Disproportionate and Unequal Possession”
of his product is awesomely grounded on this interpretation: it is on a par
with the primal normativity of God™s command of his creation. On the
basis of this, one might even be in a position to make an end-run around
the constraints of equality. Though “different degrees of Industry were
apt to give men Possessions in different Proportions” (nd T: ), that
is not objectionable since the rights of industry are more fundamental
than the basis of equality!
I believe the importance of this analogy in Locke™s thought has been
exaggerated. On the one hand, Locke makes it pretty clear that the fact
of our being God™s workmanship matters less for His authority than the
fact that we are dependent on Him for our being. In the Essay, he seems
to back both horses, saying that “[t]he Idea of a supreme Being . . . whose
Workmanship we are, and on whom we depend” is one of the founda-
tions of morality (E: ..). But in a fragment on “Law” dated ±,
Locke said that “[t]he originall & foundation of all Law is dependence.
A dependent intelligent being is under the power & direction & domin-
ion of him on whom he depends . . . If man were independent he could
have noe law but his own will . . . He would be a god to himself.” On
the other hand, it is simply not true that human labor is characterized
as God-like in the Two Treatises. It does not give us God-like authority
over what we produce: there are restrictions on our ability to destroy the
products of our labor (nd T: ) or even to let it perish uselessly in our pos-
session (nd T: ±). And labor itself, though commanded of us, is seen as
a burden, not a God-like privilege. Locke may not have held an orthodox
position on original sin, but he accepted some association between labor
and man™s fallen condition. Refusing to infer any authority for Adam
over Eve in their respective punishments at the Fall, Locke says of Adam
that “God sets him to work for his living, and seems rather to give him a
Spade into his hand, to subdue the Earth, than a Scepter to Rule over
its Inhabitants” (±st T: µ). Nothing very God-like there, in the “toil”
and “drudgery” to which Adam and his line are condemned. True, he
insists in the Second Treatise that it is “Labor . . . that puts the difference of value
on everything” (nd T: °) and that / or / of the value of the things
±° ±°°
useful to man “ even land “ “must all be charged on the account of Labor,
and received as an effect of that: Nature and the Earth furnished only the
almost worthless Materials, as in themselves” (nd T: ). Human labor
 Locke, Political Essays, p. . See also Colman, John Locke™s Moral Philosophy, p. µ: “God is said not
merely to initiate our existence: our continued existence is said to depend upon God™s constantly
preserving us.”
± God, Locke, and Equality
is therefore quite appropriately the basis of property. But this is not be-
cause it has a God-like character.· This is not to deny the importance of
labor. It is rather because labor is the appropriate mode of our partici-
pation in the creation and sustenance of our being. It is conceivable that
rational beings could have been created without the need for nutrition
and other material resources; or they could have been created in a way
that secured the satisfaction of their material needs directly without any
need for action on their part. Humans could have been created in a
way that did not require constant human effort to keep humanity alive.
And perhaps that was our situation before the Fall. (Locke™s view is that
what humans lost in the Fall was their immortality (RC: ±°), and he as-
sociates this with God™s injunction speci¬cally to labor: “In the Sweat of thy
Face thou shalt eat thy Bread, says God” (±st T: ±).) There are also hints in
some of Locke™s writings of a more narrowly ethical valorization of labor,
in which the good thing about labor is taken to be the fact that it keeps
us active and prevents us falling into idleness.° As we shall see, some
hints of this come through also in Locke™s attitude to the idle poor.± But
it would be wrong to put too much weight on this. Labor is important
for Locke not because it is activity but because of the sort of activity it
is. God has commanded us not just to do something but to do something
that will make use of His endowment and make it capable of supporting
even greater numbers of the beings He might create (nd T: ).

Breaking down the analogy between human labor and divine creation
helps put in perspective some of the things that Locke says about
America “ particularly about the modes of subsistence of its native in-
habitants, which in Locke™s opinion were not based on labor at all in the
sense appropriate to the founding of private property.
· Divine workmanship would be conscious and insightful all the way down and it would understand
every detail of its creation. In human labor by contrast, “what most of us do is to intervene in
or originate processes whose complete operation we do not understand, yielding a response we
could not completely design.” Cf. Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, p. , responding to Locke™s
point in the First Treatise about the non-Godlike character of the “creation” of a child by its
parents (±st T: µ).
 Cf. Locke™s comments on the relation between nutrition and action in nd T: .
 Citing Genesis :±. On the other hand, the injunction “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish
the earth and subdue it” (Genesis ±:), of which Locke seems to make so much in his theory of
property (nd T: µ), is pre-lapsarian.
° See Locke, Essays on the Law of Nature (“God intends man to do something”), p. ±°µ, cited by
Ashcraft, Revolutionary Politics, at pp.  and .
± See below, pp. ±“·.
“Disproportionate and Unequal Possession”
Labor begins life as a quite general category for Locke, including the
work of hunters, gatherers, deep-sea ¬shermen, ploughmen, bakers and
artisans. It seems to refer to any human means whereby objects are
altered for the better satisfaction of human needs or wants. However,
when the discussion turns to the basis of property in land, labor takes on
a new spin and a new signi¬cance. It is now speci¬cally associated with
cultivation: “As much Land as a man Tills, Plants, Improves, Cultivates,
and can use the Product of, so much is his Property” (nd T: ). Locke
concludes that if a man simply roams over unimproved land, hunting and
gathering, or if he does nothing but pasture his ¬‚ock on an unimproved
meadow, he secures no property in the land that he uses.
The Canadian political philosopher James Tully has written an im-
portant article entitled, “Rediscovering America: The Two Treatises and
Aboriginal Rights.” I don™t always see eye to eye with Tully on matters
Lockean, but I think he is right in this essay to draw our attention


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