. 6
( 9)


to the enormous signi¬cance of the distinction between cultivation and
other modes of subsistence so far as seventeenth- and eighteenth-century
thought about European settlement in the Americas is concerned. There
is no doubt that something like the Lockean distinction was used to jus-
tify the displacement of native Americans; and I think Tully is absolutely
right to insist that Locke was aware of this and may even have written
Chapter µ of the Second Treatise partly with this in mind. (He had inter-
ests of his own in America, and he was involved also in the plantation
enterprises of others “ something we will consider in Chapter ·, when
we examine Locke™s views about slavery.) Certainly nothing else can ex-
plain Locke™s strident and repetitive insistence that uncultivated land is
to be looked on as waste land, and may be the property of anyone with
initiative enough to cultivate it.
How does this hostility to aboriginal Americans stand with the premise
of Christian equality? Does it mean that native Americans are less than
our equals, on the Lockean account, because their mode of subsistence
is dismissed and legitimately displaced in this way? Tully thinks the

 In one notorious passage, Locke even refers to the employment of labor as labor: “the Turfs
my Servant has cut . . . become my property . . . The labor that was mine, removing them out of
that common state they were in, hath ¬xed my property in them” (nd T: ). For rival views
on the signi¬cance of this passage, see Tully, Discourse on Property, pp. ±µ ff. and Waldron, Right
to Private Property, pp. “.
 See Waldron, Right to Private Property, pp. ±“°°, °“, and µ“±.
 However, it may be a little far-fetched for Tully to argue also that Locke™s chapter is intended
to vindicate English agriculture in America against French fur-trading (Tully, “Rediscovering
America,” pp. ±µ“). That really is pushing the Qu´becois line too far!
± God, Locke, and Equality
answer is “Yes.”µ He thinks Locke™s aim in these passages is to put
native Americans beyond the pale of the great natural human commu-
nity I mentioned earlier, designating them as “wild Savage Beasts, with
whom Men can have no Society nor Security” (nd T: ±±). The perhaps
understandable attempts of native Americans to defend their traditional
ways of life against European encroachment are seen as violent attacks on
the very principle of property (which of course gives priority to a differ-
ent mode of subsistence); “Indians” feature in one of Locke™s paragraphs
discussing the natural right of punishment (nd T: ); and even in the
First Treatise Locke refers to the right of “a Planter in the West Indies” to
muster up his friends and family “and lead them out against the Indians,
to seek Reparation upon any Injury received from them” (±st T: ±°).
Tully is also quite right when he says that Locke is unacceptably offhand
about the modes of subsistence which he envisages being displaced by
European cultivation. In Tully™s words:
Locke sets up cultivation as the standard of industrious and rational use, in
contrast to the “waste” and lack of cultivation in Amerindian hunting and gath-
ering, thus eliminating any title they might claim. The planning, coordination,
skills, and activities involved in native hunting, gathering, trapping, ¬shing, and
non-sedentary agriculture, which took thousands of years to develop and take
a lifetime for each generation to acquire and pass on, are not counted as labor
at all, except for the very last individual step (such as picking or killing), but are
glossed as “unassisted nature” and “spontaneous provisions” when Locke makes
his comparisons, whereas European activities, such as manufacturing bread are
described in depth.
He has in mind the long passages in paragraphs °“ of the Second Treatise,
where Locke attempts to show in detail how much the value of a loaf
of bread is due to the labor invested not only in cultivating the soil and
planting and harvesting the wheat, but also in mining the metal to fashion
the plough, and manufacturing and transporting all the implements of
farming and baking and shipping and so on.
Certainly, it would seem that if anything like Lockean equality survives
here, it is a concept of equality uncontaminated by what we would call
respect for ethnic identity. For us, equal respect for individuals is some-
times seen as requiring equal respect for their diverse established ways
of life. And Locke does not seem to be particularly sympathetic to that.
However, the picture may be more complicated than Tully allows.
For there are passages in his later works where Locke comes close to a
µ 
Tully, “Rediscovering America,” pp. ± ff. Ibid., p. ±µ.
“Disproportionate and Unequal Possession”
norm of universal respect for ways of life, at least for those ways of life
that do not impinge on others. These passages are to be found, as one
would expect, in his writings on toleration and not only are they tolerant
of difference, they are actually quite hostile to colonial or missionary
imposition: “Not even Americans,” Locke says, “are to be punished
either in body or goods, for not embracing our faith and worship. If
they are persuaded that they please God in observing the rites of their
own country . . . they are to be left unto God and themselves” (LCT: ).
Then he adds this remarkable passage, which is hardly the epitome of
colonial insensitivity:
Let us trace this matter to the bottom . . . [A]n inconsiderable and weak number
of Christians, destitute of everything, arrive in a Pagan Country; these Foreign-
ers beseech the Inhabitants, by the bowels of Humanity, that they would succor
them with the necessaries of life; Those necessaries are given them, Habitations
are granted, and they all join together, and grow up into one Body of People.
The Christian Religion by this means takes root in that Countrey, and spreads
itself; but does not suddenly grow the strongest. While things are in this condi-
tion, Peace, Friendship, Faith, and equal Justice, are preserved amongst them.
At length the Magistrate becomes a Christian, and by that means their Party
becomes the most powerful. Then immediately all Compacts are to be broken,
all Civil Rights to be violated, that Idolatry may be extirpated: and unless these
innocent Pagans, strict Observers of the Rules of Equity and the Law of Nature,
and no ways offending against the Laws of the Society, I say unless they will
forsake their ancient Religion, and embrace a new and strange one, they are to
be turned out of the Lands and Possessions of their Forefathers, and perhaps
deprived of Life it self. Then, at last, it appears what Zeal for the Church, joined
with the desire of Dominion, is capable to produce; and how easily the pretence
of Religion, and of the care of Souls, serves for a Cloak to Covetousness, Rapine,
and Ambition. (LCT: )
In my opinion it is impossible to read that passage and say that Locke™s
aim in his mature work was to dehumanize the native Americans.
In fact, his position is quite complicated. The extent to which human
equality requires equal respect for different ways of life is dominated
(as everything in Locke™s theory of equality is dominated) by his theo-
logical conception of natural law. So far as their religious practices are
concerned, native Americans are to bene¬t from the same toleration as
everyone else, for their pagan practices in matters of worship and rit-
ual are of no prejudice to anybody else™s salvation. “[S]eeing one man
does not violate the right of another by his erroneous opinions and un-
due manner of worship, nor is his perdition any prejudice to another
man™s affairs, therefore, the care of each man™s salvation belongs only
± God, Locke, and Equality
to himself ” (LCT: ). Of course, practices like cannibalism or child
sacri¬ce are to be prohibited in whatever cultural or religious context
they occur: Locke is a straightforward natural law universalist so far as
murder and infanticide are concerned.· And he was a connoisseur of
contemporary anthropological stories about the various disgusting prac-
tices reported by travelers from America and Africa and Asia: the Essay
offers some particularly choice examples, illustrating not just the ab-
sence of innate moral principles but also, as Locke says elsewhere, how
“far . . . the busie mind of Man [can] carry him to a Brutality below the
level of Beasts,” particularly where “Fashion hath once Established” and
custom made sacred “what Folly or craft began” (±st T: µ). Locke™s
opposition to innatism does not lead him to relativism. He believed it
was possible to use human reason “ ordinary human reason “ to sift
through the customs of the world and determine at least for some of
them whether or not they were in conformity with the requirements of
natural law. And indeed, as we saw in Chapter , there are places in the
First Treatise where Locke turns the universalist critique against European
customs, and conjectures “that the Woods and Forests, where the irra-
tional untaught Inhabitants keep right by following Nature, are ¬tter to
give us Rules, than Cities and Palaces, where those that call themselves
Civil and Rational, go out of their way, by the Authority of Example”
(±st T: µ). So we cannot accept any simplistic version of Tully™s hypoth-
esis that has Locke re¬‚exively investing the practices of his own culture
with an aura of moral universalism, and nor I think can we accept any
depiction of him as complicit in a deliberate attempt to dehumanize the
peoples and practices that the colonists faced in the new world.
Even in his assertion that America is an unappropriated wilderness,
Locke does not rest on European prejudice. He offers an extensive
argument for this assertion, an argument which purports to take seriously
both the commandments of God and the interests of all the humans
affected. He relies on what he thinks we can ¬gure out concerning the
purposes of God in His original donation: “God gave the World to Men
in Common; but since he gave it them for their bene¬t, and the greatest
Conveniencies of Life they were capable to draw from it, it cannot be
· LCT: : “You will say, by this rule, if some congregations should have a mind to sacri¬ce infants,
or (as the primitive Christians were falsely accused) lustfully pollute themselves in promiscuous
uncleanness, or practise any other such heinous enormities, is the magistrate obliged to tolerate
them, because they are committed in a religious assembly? I answer: No. These things are not
lawful in the ordinary course of life, nor in any private house; and therefore neither are they so
in the worship of God, or in any religious meeting.”
 See E: ±...
“Disproportionate and Unequal Possession”
supposed he meant it should always remain common and uncultivated”
(nd T: ). God has commanded us to work hard and subdue the earth,
making it bring forth just as much plenty and enabling it to sustain just as
many people as it possibly can. “[T]he great Design of God, Increase and
Multiply” (±st T: ±) and “the main intention of Nature, which willeth the
increase of Mankind” (±st T: µ) are what drive Locke™s sense of the im-
portance of labor and cultivation. And he believes that these commands
must be taken at face value, not ¬ltered through any sort of independent
principle of respect for existing cultures and practices. (If our response
to divine command were modi¬ed by a principle of respect for existing
culture or ethnicity, it would soon become impossible to use it as a basis
for the critical evaluation of human societies.) The Americans, Locke
says, live on top of the raw “materials of Plenty, i.e. a fruitful Soil, apt to
produce in abundance, what might serve for food, raiment, and delight;
yet for want of improving it by labor, have not one hundredth part of
the conveniencies we enjoy” (nd T: ±). Their lands are underpopulated
and the lives of its few inhabitants are “needy and wretched” (nd T: ·).
Now if they really want to persevere in their mode of subsistence despite
its wretched poverty, they can withdraw to some vacant inland place, or
even coexist side-by-side with European agriculture (as Abel coexisted
with Cain “ a rather unfortunate analogy, perhaps, for Locke to use),
or they can take their chances in an economy dominated by agriculture,
cognizant of the fact that, as things stood, even a landless day-laborer
in England was fed, lodged, and clad better in a privatized economy
than “a king of a large and fruitful [uncultivated] Territory” in America
(nd T: ±). But they are not entitled, Locke insists, to simply tie up in
unproductive occupancy productive resources whose industrious culti-
vation could improve both their own prospects and those of a much
greater population. This is in fact an application of something like his
spoilation proviso (nd T: ±), which we will discuss in a moment.
I am not saying that we “ or the native Americans “ should be con-
vinced by this argument. (Tully may be right to reproach Locke for his
failure to see that the native Americans also used land in ef¬cient and
ecologically benign ways.)° Often when Locke sees the need for an ar-
gument he produces a bad argument. And in our haste to refute it, we
are wrongly tempted to say that his producing a bad argument is as good
 nd T: : “Thus, at the beginning, Cain might take as much Ground as he could till, and make
it his own Land, and yet leave enough to Abel™s Sheep to feed on; a few Acres would serve for
both their Possessions.”
° Tully, “Rediscovering America,” pp. ± ff. and the passage quoted, above, at p. ±.
±·° God, Locke, and Equality
as thinking that no argument respecting equality needs to be produced
at all. That is a mistake, certainly in this context. For an argument which
purports to respect equality has been produced “ an argument which
purports to pay attention to the interests of all, not just the colonists,
but also not just the native Americans and which claims that cultivation
makes everyone better off. We are not entitled to infer from the fact
that Locke produced a universalist argument purporting to favor modes
of subsistence familiar to us over modes of subsistence familiar to the
native Americans that therefore he intended to have them treated as
non-persons. If that were the case, he would not have felt the need for
an argument at all, any more than one needs an argument to justify the
killing of a deer or the extirpation of mosquitoes.

Appropriation, Locke says, is necessary to consummate the usefulness
of God™s bounty, and labor is the natural mode of appropriation: “God
commanded, and [man™s] Wants forced him to labor” (nd T: µ). But
appropriation by labor is con¬ned within a framework dictated by the
overall teleology of Locke™s account, and that con¬nement is represented
by the provisos and quali¬cations with which his account of appropriation
is hedged: the spoilation limitation, the so-called suf¬ciency limitation,
and the doctrine of charity.± These conditions are the shadows cast by
the principle of basic equality on the whole apparatus of property and
economy. They are the medium through which the principle of basic
equality patrols and disciplines the account.
Let™s begin with the spoilation proviso: “Nothing was made by God
for Man to spoil or destroy” (nd T: ±). It is widely believed “ following
C. B. Macpherson™s interpretation “ that Locke set up the spoilation
proviso in the name of equality only to abandon it in order to vindicate
the inegalitarian effects of a money economy. But this is based on a
mistaken account of the way in which the proviso is supposed to operate.
The best way to understand the spoilation proviso is as a reason for con-
demning any acquisition that has the effect of an appropriated resource
“perishing uselessly” in the possession of the appropriator (nd T: ±
± The terms “spoilation limitation” “ “As much as any one can make use of to any advantage of
life before it spoils, so much he may by his labor ¬x a Property in” (nd T: ±) “ and “suf¬ciency
limitation” “ “at least where there is enough, and as good left in common for others” (nd T: ·) “
were coined, I believe, by C. B. Macpherson in Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, pp. °
and ±±. My phrase “the doctrine of charity” refers to the doctrine set out in ±st T: .
 Macpherson, Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, pp. ° ff.
“Disproportionate and Unequal Possession”
and ). Clearly, this represents the continuing importance for Locke™s
property theory of the basic teleology of nature I spoke about in section
IV. Since “[t]he Earth, and all that is therein, is given to Men for the
Support and Comfort of their being” (nd T: ), our use of it is at all
times “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 contin-
uance” (±st T: ). To appropriate resources surplus to one™s needs in a
way that prevents their being used by anyone else runs directly counter
to this principle, for “[n]othing was made by God for Man to spoil or
destroy” (nd T: ±). So understood, this principle respects basic equality
in the most elementary sense: the natural resources are there for human
use, where human use means use by any human “ by someone or anyone
who can use them. For everyone to be denied the use of them by someone
who has no use for them himself, or does not propose to put them to
human use, is a direct affront to the teleological relation in which each of
us stands to the bounty provided by God. In those circumstances, the va-
lidity of their appropriation by labor (or by any other means) evaporates
and the resources become common again.
Locke insists, however, that this is not what happens when the goods
are sold in the market. If a man “bartered away Plumbs, that would have
rotted in a Week, for Nuts that would last good for his eating a whole
Year, he did no injury; he wasted not the common Stock; destroyed no
part of the portion of Goods that belonged to others, so long as nothing
perished uselessly in his hands” (nd T: ). It is no part of the spoila-
tion proviso that appropriated goods must be used by the particular person
who appropriated them. The proviso is imposed in the interests of every-
one, and their direct interest in the matter is simply that the humanly
useful not be made humanly useless by human action. Locke does say
that in the early ages of the world before the invention of money, the
operation of this proviso had the effect of limiting each person™s pos-
sessions to a (very) rough equality: “No man™s Labor could subdue, or
appropriate all; nor could his Enjoyment consume more than a small
part” (nd T: µ). But this was a super¬cial equality “ what we might
call “equality of outcome” “ and not necessarily or in all circumstances
a distributive pattern required by the deeper principle of equal concern
 Indeed there™s no basis in the theory on which that could sensibly be required (as though con-
sumption were a sort of liability that one took on in presumptuous act of appropriation “ “You
must eat up all the pudding that you took, every last spoonful!”).
±· God, Locke, and Equality
which generated the spoilation proviso. It is a super¬cial consequence of
the operation of the spoilation proviso in circumstances where there is no
systematic basis for allocating appropriated goods to the use of anyone
other than the appropriator. But once such a basis becomes available, the
super¬cial equality of outcomes vanishes. Macpherson thinks this means
that the proviso has evaporated. But it hasn™t. The proviso is served now
by the market processes that allocate appropriated objects to human use.
But if for some reason market processes didn™t work to that effect, then
the proviso would remain available as a basis for reproaching them.
Locke is commonly said to have imposed a second condition on ac-
quisition: it is sometimes called the “suf¬ciency proviso,” after Locke™s
suggestion that unilateral appropriation is legitimate “at least where there
is enough, and as good left in common for others” (nd T: ·). In an
article published more than twenty years ago, I suggested that this was
not intended as a necessary condition on legitimate acquisition: after
all, Locke could not possibly have meant that no one should appropriate
any resources if there were not enough for everyone.µ I believed then,
and I still believe, that the suf¬ciency proviso is better understood as a
suf¬cient condition “ no pun intended! “ highlighting the point that
there is certainly no dif¬culty with unilateral acquisition (which satis¬es
the other provisos) in circumstances of plenty, but leaving open the possi-
bility that some other basis might have to be found to regulate acquisition
in circumstances of scarcity. The former point already pays tribute to the
underlying principle of equality by indicating that if the interests of oth-
ers are not prejudiced by my acquisition then there can be no objection
to it: “[H]e that leaves as much as another can make use of, does as good
as take nothing at all . . . He that had as good left for his improvement, as
was already taken up, needed not complain, ought not to meddle with
what was already improved by another™s labor” (nd T: “). The im-
plication is informal, but clear: prejudice to others™ interests is the main
heading under which objections to acquisition can reasonably be lodged.
Apart from that, there is no legitimate ground for complaint.
But suppose now that resources do become scarce and that land, espe-
cially, is no longer available for appropriation in such generous supply.·
 This is the force of my example in Waldron, Right to Private Property, p. °, of the large-scale
destruction of oranges to sustain market prices taken from Chapter µ of John Steinbeck™s The
Grapes of Wrath.
µ See Waldron, “Enough and as Good” and also Right to Private Property, pp. °“± and °“.
 Hence Locke™s phrasing: “at least where there is enough, and as good . . . for others” (nd T: · “ my
· See Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, p. ±· and Waldron, Right to Private Property, p. ±.
“Disproportionate and Unequal Possession”
The suf¬ciency proviso, as formulated, does not tell us what to do. It
doesn™t tell us that appropriation in these circumstances is illegitimate.
But it suggests that there is a problem, and it tells us why: the interests
of others are now in danger of being prejudiced by acts of individual
acquisition, and the principle of equal concern, dominating the whole
picture, requires that those interests should not simply be brushed aside
for the sake of the interests, such as they are, of the appropriator.
But C. B. Macpherson seems to think that this is exactly what Locke
does: he brushes their interests aside. He says that the sort of economy
Locke favors tends to foster inequality and propertylessness among a
large section of society, and to put people more or less completely at the
mercy of those who are now in possession of the majority of society™s
resources. Their relation to the economy and to the basis of their subsis-
tence is now through the wage relation, and Macpherson believes that
Locke™s understanding of the wage relation makes it incompatible with
any thesis (of the sort that I have been pursuing) that the waged laborer
is the equal of the man who pays his wages. In Chapter , we considered
Macpherson™s argument that Locke attributed different levels of ratio-
nality to the members of different classes, and different political rights on
the basis of this differential rationality; I criticized, and I hope refuted,
the main premise of that interpretation. But now we are considering
Macpherson™s more inferential argument for the differential rationality
reading “ namely, that only this reading can salvage Locke™s account
of property and economy from manifest inconsistency. He says we can
make no sense of Locke™s theory of property except by supposing that
those who end up with nothing are less than rational and therefore count
as less than full moral members of the community. What else, he asks,
could justify their being treated (as he thinks they are treated in Locke™s
account) as just “a commodity out of which riches and dominion might
be derived, a raw material to be worked up and disposed of by the po-
litical authority?” For Locke, free and equal individuals are owners of
themselves (nd T: ·); but wage laborers lack self-ownership, for they
have alienated their labor. For Locke, the resources of the earth are given
for the sustenance of all, and “Men, being once born, have a right to
their Preservation” (nd T; µ); but there cannot be a capitalist economy
without the sustenance of millions being precarious enough to allow the
wage relation to come into existence. So the potential laborers cannot
 For my criticism of Macpherson™s take on the important passage from the Essay concerning the
intellectual resources available to the day-laborer (E: .°.) see, above, pp. “.
 Macpherson, Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, p. .
±· God, Locke, and Equality
be among those to whom God dedicated His largesse. Locke says that
“God gave the World to . . . the Use of the Industrious and rational”
(nd T: ), and Macpherson concludes that “those who are left with no
land cannot be industrious and rational in the original sense.”µ° And so
on. The gist of the inference boils down to this: what Locke says about
economic inequality implies that he cannot really take seriously the equal
humanity of those whose position is prejudiced by the inequality that he
Macpherson™s inference is riddled with mistakes, and it is hard to know
where to begin.µ± We may start with what he says about labor and the
position of the laborer. One point which relates to Locke™s saying that
“God gave the World to . . . the Use of the Industrious and Rational”
(nd T: ) is that he never hesitates to call the poor day-laborer in-
dustrious. Consider his listing of the various factors that go into the
production of a loaf of bread:
the Plough-man™s Pains, the Reaper™s and Thresher™s Toil, and the Baker™s
Sweat, is to be counted into the Bread we eat; the Labor of those who broke the
Oxen, who digged and wrought the Iron and Stones, who felled and framed the
Timber employed about the Plough, Mill, Oven, or any other Utensils, which
are a vast Number, requisite to this Corn, from its being feed to be sown to its
being made Bread, must all be charged on the account of Labor. (nd T: )
There may be an economic sense in which the labor mentioned here is
owned by those who employ the baker and the ploughman, etc.µ But
the pains, the toil and the sweat remain attributable to the laborer, and
so is the attendant rationality and virtue (or at least that part of it that
has to do with actual performance of and attention to the task, even if
some aspect of the planning is attributed to a manager or entrepreneur).
Macpherson thinks that all the rationality associated with labor must
be imputed necessarily, on Locke™s account, to the person who gets the
bene¬t of the acquisitions or pro¬ts that accrue from its exercise. But
there is no reason to suppose that Locke thought this. On the contrary

µ° Ibid., p. .
µ± In an effective early critique, Alan Ryan made this observation: “Although Macpherson™s theory
about Locke™s doctrine is thus falsi¬ed in so many details, it still presents a challenge to any
critic. For its overall coherence and interest is extremely impressive.” See Ryan, ˜Locke and the
Dictatorship of the Bourgeoisie,” p. ·.
µ Compare Tully, Discourse on Property, pp. ±µ“µ and Waldron, Right to Private Property, pp. “.
See also Wood, John Locke and Agrarian Capitalism, pp. µ“°. (Part of this has to do with the way
we read nd T: µ “ “[A] Free-man makes himself a Servant to another, by selling him, for a
certain time, the Service he undertakes to do, in exchange for Wages he is to receive” “ and how
much weight we put on its particular phraseology.)
“Disproportionate and Unequal Possession”
he makes it plain that labor™s association with rationality is separable
from labor as a process of acquisition. “[T]he Turfs my Servant has cut”
(nd T: ) may be my property, but the cutting of them “ which on
Locke™s account makes up the overwhelming proportion of their value “
is an action attributed to the servant. It does not cease to be the servant™s
action or to be industrious and rational as an action by the servant
simply by virtue of the fact that the servant works for hire and both the
raw materials and the ¬nished product of his labor belong to someone
Nor is Locke anywhere near being driven to such a pass in order to
rationalize the inequality and deprivation of members of the laboring
class. On the contrary, he is at pains to show that they are among the
bene¬ciaries of the sort of unequal money economy that he envisages.
The day-laborer may own no property except his wages and the bread
and rented housing that he buys with them; but still, compared to a
person living as a free man in an undeveloped (and largely egalitarian)
economy, he is better off. This is the gist of the famous passage compar-
ing the agricultural economy of England with subsistence economies of
the native Americans:
There cannot be a clearer demonstration of any thing, than several Nations of
the Americans are of this, who are rich in Land, and poor in all the Comforts of
Life; whom Nature having furnished as liberally as any other people, with the
materials of Plenty, i.e. a fruitful Soil, apt to produce in abundance, what might
serve for food, raiment, and delight; yet for want of improving it by labor, have
not one hundredth part of the Conveniencies we enjoy: and a King of a large
and fruitful Territory there, feeds, lodges, and is clad worse than a day Laborer
in England. (nd T: ±)
Far from treating the laborer as a commodity, this passage seeks to justify
the Lockean economy with reference to the laborer™s own interest. Notice
also that although what is being justi¬ed here is an unequal outcome “
“disproportionate and unequal Possession” (nd T: µ°) of land in England
as opposed to somewhat more equal common rights in America “ the
form of the justi¬cation uses a particularly strong version of the egal-
itarian principle of maximin.µ Locke actually seeks to show that the
poorest participant in the English economy is better off than the best-off
participant in the native American economy, from which it certainly
follows that the poorest participant in the English economy is better

µ See also Ashcraft, Revolutionary Politics, pp. “·°.
µ See Rawls, Theory of Justice, pp. ±µ“·, for a defense of the maximin principle.
±· God, Locke, and Equality
off than the worst-off participant in the native American economy. Again,
it™s a familiar contrast between equal outcomes, on the one hand, and
an egalitarian argument, from a deeper premise of equal concern and
respect, on the other. Maximin may not be palatable to all egalitarians;
but it is hard to deny that it is fundamentally an egalitarian approach to
The maximin argument of nd T: ± is not the only way in which we
see Locke taking seriously the interests of members of the laboring class
in his argument about economic inequality. We see him doing some-
thing similar in his argument about money (nd T: µ“µ°). There too
Locke feels the need to constrain his account of “disproportionate and
unequal Possession” (nd T: µ°) with an extra layer of argument to vin-
dicate the claims of basic equality. He sees that it is not enough to show
that the introduction of money makes the accumulation of more than
one can use compatible with the spoilation proviso. The extra accumu-
lation that this permits does adversely affect others™ interests; others are
now “straitened” by one™s larger possessions (nd T: ). And he argues
therefore that in addition to the maximin argument that I discussed in
the previous paragraph, the resulting equality also needs to be rati¬ed
by consent. Now this is a remarkable move in the context of the Lockean
theory of property, for early on in the chapter on property the whole
tendency of his approach was to set his face against consent as a basis for
legitimate acquisition: “If such a consent as that was necessary, Man had
starved, notwithstanding the plenty God had given him” (nd T: ).
Nevertheless, consent is demanded at this point precisely to vindicate
the interests of those whom Macpherson believes Locke has an interest
in marginalizing. Locke discerns their consent in the conventional basis
of the assignment of value to money: “[S]ince Gold and Silver . . . has its
value only from the consent of Men . . . it is plain, that Men have agreed
to a disproportionate and unequal Possession of the earth, they having
by a tacit and voluntary consent found out a way how a man may fairly
possess more land than he himself can use the product of ” (nd T: µ°).
Now I am not saying this is a convincing argument. In my opinion, it is one
of the worst arguments in the Second Treatise, for this reason: those who are
likely to be most prejudiced by the inequality are those who (on account
of their poverty) will be participating least in monetary conventions, and
so least likely to be involved as tacit consenters in assigning conventional
value to gold and silver.µµ Still, as I said a moment ago, the production of

µµ See Waldron, “Property, Justi¬cation and Need,” pp. ±“°.
“Disproportionate and Unequal Possession”
a bad argument purporting to respect equality is not the same as Locke™s
thinking that equality does not need to be respected at all. I believe he
was quite proud of this argument “ it is not presented casually or dismis-
sively “ and the impulse to base the argument at this point on consent, an
idea that only makes sense for free and equal individuals, is already at
odds with the tenor of Macpherson™s interpretation.

Beyond all these arguments about suf¬ciency, spoilation, money, and
maximin, there is also a much more fundamental condition on Locke™s
theory of property. This is a principle of charity, a principle which requires
property-owners in every economy to cede control of some of their sur-
plus possessions, so that they can be used to satisfy the pressing needs
of the very poor, when the latter have no way of surviving otherwise.
In this section, I want to focus on the work that this principle does
explicitly for the idea that the rich and the poor are fundamentally
one another™s equals in spite of their disparities of wealth. As we shall
see, charity introduces further religious and indeed speci¬cally Christian
considerations into the picture in a quite striking and still largely unex-
plored way.
The principle of charity is not introduced in the Second Treatise chap-
ter on property. It is introduced in paragraph  of Locke™s argument
against Filmer in the First Treatise. There Locke insists that anyone who
is in desperate need has “a Title to so much out of another™s Plenty, as
will keep him from extreme want, where he has no means to subsist
otherwise” (±st T: ). It is not an original doctrine: there are versions
of it in Aquinas and in most natural law theories.µ But if it is taken at
face value, it changes the complexion of Locke™s theory of property quite
signi¬cantly. As I said earlier, the theory in the Second Treatise appears to
be aimed at a legitimation of inequality, of the “disproportionate and
unequal Possession of the Earth” which a labor theory “ or at least an
historical entitlement version of a labor theoryµ· “ generates once money
is introduced. But the First Treatise doctrine mitigates that inequality by
providing in effect a right to a “safety net” for the poorest members of
µ See Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II. q. ; Waldron, “Enough and as Good,” p. ·; Finnis, Aquinas,
pp. ±± “. For the reception of these ideas in early modern England, see Horne, Property Rights
and Poverty, pp. “·.
µ· See Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, pp. ±µ°“ for the structure; but see Dunn, Political Thought
of John Locke, p. , for a discussion of the (until recently) quite common socialist interpretation of
Locke™s labor theory.
±· God, Locke, and Equality
society, if they have no other means of subsistence. The theory in the
Second Treatise appears to be intended, like Robert Nozick™s theory, as a
hard-headed (hard-hearted?) defense of private property against redis-
tribution by the state.µ But if poor people have the rights which the
First Treatise says they have, then in order to uphold all property entitle-
ments a Lockean government may have to be continually interfering to
redistribute surplus goods from the rich to the most needy.µ
The immediate context of Locke™s introduction of the principle is his
attack on the claim made by Robert Filmer that God™s donation of the
world and everything in it to Adam and his male heirs entitled Adam™s
heirs to absolute political authority (which the Filmerites rather ingen-
uously thought included the later Stuarts “ Charles II and his brother
James, Duke of York). Now Locke, as we have seen, denied that there
was any such speci¬c donation to some humans at the expense of others
(±st T: °). But his strategy in the First Treatise is that of a lawyer “ resisting
each step in his opponent™s argument, by showing successively that even
if the previous step is conceded, the next step does not follow, and so on.°
So even were he willing to concede the donation, he insists nevertheless
that there is a difference between property and sovereignty: “[I]f after all,
any one will needs have it so, that . . . Adam was made sole Proprietor of
the whole Earth, what will this be to his Sovereignty? . . . [H]ow will the
Possession even of the whole Earth, give any one a Sovereign Arbitrary
Authority over the Persons of Men?” (±st T: ±). Property could become
sovereignty only if the proprietor were able to exploit his position to co-
erce obedience. But Locke dismisses this out of hand: “The most specious
thing to be said, is, that he that is Proprietor of the whole World, may
deny all the rest of Mankind Food, and so at his pleasure starve them, if
they will not acknowledge his Soveraignty and Obey his Will” (±st T: ±).
We will examine Locke™s reasons for calling this specious in a moment.
But it is worth noting that a paragraph or two later, he argues that even
if Adam could use his rights in this way, even this, he insists, would not
show what Filmer wanted to show:
µ Cf. Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, p. : “The major objection to speaking of everyone™s
having a right to various things such as . . . life, and so on, and enforcing this right, is that these
˜rights™ require a substructure of things and materials and actions; and other people may have
rights and entitlements over these . . . There are particular rights over particular things held by
particular persons . . . No rights exist in con¬‚ict with this substructure of particular rights. Since
no neatly contoured right to achieve a goal will avoid incompatibility with this substructure, no
such rights exist. The particular rights over things ¬ll the space of rights, leaving no room for
general rights to be in a certain material condition.”
µ See Waldron, Right to Private Property, pp. “.
° See especially nd T: ± for a summary of his use of this strategy in the First Treatise.
“Disproportionate and Unequal Possession”
Should anyone make so perverse a use of God™s Blessings poured on him with
a liberal Hand; should anyone be Cruel and Uncharitable to that extremity,
yet all this would not prove that Propriety in Land, even in this Case, gave
any Authority over the Persons of Men, but only that Compact might; since
the Authority of the Rich Proprietor, and the Subjection of the Needy Beggar
began not from the Possession of the Lord, but the Consent of the poor Man,
who preferr™d being his Subject to starving.
In other words, this argument of Filmer™s fails to dislodge political au-
thority from its basis in the consent of the governed. It simply rests on
a Hobbesian view of consent;± and it leaves as free as before the man
who refuses (even suicidally) to be humbled by his needs in this way.
In fact, Locke is insistent that property rights cannot be exploited in the
way we have been discussing. What are his reasons? Why does he think it
is “specious” to say that the owner of the world may let others starve if they
will not acknowledge his authority? He offers two connected arguments.
The ¬rst is a rather weak utilitarian argument. Locke suggests that the
inclusion of this power in the right of property would tend in practice to
lead to economic stagnation rather than “to promote the great Design of
God, Increase and Multiply” (±st T: ±). A man with this sort of dominion,
Locke implies, is likely to exploit it inef¬ciently with all men as his slaves,
rather than promoting a liberal economy: “He that doubts this, let him
look into the Absolute Monarchies of the World, and see what becomes
of the Conveniences of Life and the Multitudes of People” (±st T: ±).
The second argument, by contrast, is based on elementary natural right.
Instead of saying that absolute rights of property are economically and
demographically counter-productive, Locke now invokes the doctrine of
charity directly:
God the Lord and Father of all, has given no one of his Children such a Property,
in his peculiar Portion of the things of this World, but that he has given his needy
Brother a Right to the Surplusage of his Goods; so that it cannot justly be denyed
him, when his pressing Wants call for it. As Justice gives every Man a Title to
the product of his honest Industry, and the fair Acquisitions of his Ancestors
descended to him; so Charity gives every Man a Title to so much out of another™s
Plenty, as will keep him from extream want, where he has no means to subsist
otherwise. (±st T: )
This is something, Locke says, that “we know.” How we know it, we are
not told. In a footnote to his edition Laslett suggests Locke has biblical
authorization in mind here “ Luke ±±.±: “But rather give ye alms of such
± Hobbes, Leviathan, pp. ·“ (Ch. ±) and ±± “ (Ch. °).
±° God, Locke, and Equality
things as ye have; and behold, all things are clear unto you.” There
is, however, no textual basis for this attribution; and we must remember
that in the First Treatise Locke is in a mood to actually cite chapter and
verse whenever he feels the need to do so.
The language of this passage is extremely interesting. In modern liberal
theory, charity is usually seen as a duty, but not a matter of right: to
give of one™s wealth to the poor is something one ought to do, but not
something one owes to any assignable individual. It is often presented as
a paradigm of a moral duty that ought not to be enforced. Poor people
should be grateful for charity, but they may not demand it or claim it
or justify it as rightfully theirs. Some of what Locke says is suggestive
of this tradition. He says that God requires us to attend to the wants of
others and that it would be a sin to let a poor man perish for want of
necessities. (In a moment or two I want to say something about this in
relation to Locke™s views about law and the speci¬cally Christian virtues.)
He distinguishes the demands of charity from those of justice, drawing
at least at a verbal level the distinction that libertarians have made so
much of. But it is clear that subscription to that position will not get
him what he wants in this argument. For his argument against Filmer to
succeed, he needs to be able to show not only that it is wrong to withhold
charitable assistance but that the rich man has no right to do so, no right
even to offer it subject to conditions like political submission. For the
most part, then, his language is emphatically stronger than the liberal
tradition on this subject. Though charity is contrasted with justice, still
charity “cannot justly be denyed.” If it cannot justly be denied, then
anyone who denies it cannot claim to be exercising his property rights.
The sin of uncharitableness simply vitiates the exercise of the rights in
question. A man in need has “a Right” to another™s surplus goods: indeed
Locke twice talks of his having “a Title,” in a way that suggests that this
too is to be regarded as a property entitlement.
It is also noteworthy that Locke goes out of his way to present this as
a quite general doctrine. To answer the Filmer position, he needed to
establish no more than that Adam could not exercise the property rights
given speci¬cally to him by God in this way. But Locke generalizes and
says it is always wrong for the rich to withhold goods from the poor, and
 Locke, Two Treatises, p. ±·° n.
 An imperfect duty at that: for a discussion of imperfect duties, see Buchanan, “Justice and
Charity,” pp. µ ff.
 For a discussion, see Waldron, “Welfare and the Images of Charity,” pp. “°, and “On the
Road,” pp. ±°“.
“Disproportionate and Unequal Possession”
that “Charity gives every man a title” to the surplus goods of another
when he is desperately in need of them (±st T: ). The doctrine of
rights generated by need, then, is set out as explicitly and as generally as
could be.
The fact that charity is regarded as a speci¬cally Christian virtue is
for Locke no reason for thinking that it is unenforceable, or anything
less than a duty. In the Reasonableness of Christianity, Locke argues that one
of the things that Jesus Christ clari¬ed was the imperative nature of his
commandments (and responding to the needs of others was certainly
one of those). Philosophers, he said, might be able to show that a virtue
like charity is a rather good idea; but only the commandments of Christ the
lawgiver can present it as directly obligatory (RC: ±± “). Admittedly, not
all commandments by Jesus can or should be enforced by the state. His
most fundamental commandment is to believe in him as the Messiah.µ
But the central argument of the Letter Concerning Toleration is that such
belief cannot be enforced. But there we have a speci¬c reason (or pair
of reasons) for non-enforcement: (±) belief is not subject to the will, and
coercion works only through the will; and () what I believe (e.g. about
Jesus being the Messiah) does not affect the well-being of anyone else.·
Neither of these applies to charity, and it is noteworthy that when Locke
talks in The Reasonableness of Christianity about the difference between what
Christ requires us to believe (where uncoerced sincerity is of the essence)
and what he requires us simply to do, it is charity he mentions. He cites
the charitable requirements of the sheep and goats story in Matthew
µ:± “ “ feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, shelter the homeless,
and visit those who are in prison “ as his prime examples of what we
are commanded to do as opposed to what we are expected to believe
(RC: ±·). However, there are passages in the Letters Concerning Toleration,
and in the Reasonableness of Christianity, which hint at the possibility that
charity may be a virtue that state power could be used to uphold but
shouldn™t. Thus for example, Locke presents Jesus™ commandment to
the rich young man “sell all you have and give to the poor” (Matthew
±:±) as a test only. It is Christ™s test to see whether the young man
µ Locke spends most of The Reasonableness of Christianity arguing that nothing else is necessary for
salvation (RC: ±·“±±).
 LCT: ±: “[T]he care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists
only in outward force; but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind,
without which nothing can be acceptable to God. And such is the nature of the understanding,
that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force.” (See also Waldron,
“Locke, Toleration and the Rationality of Persecution.”)
· LCT: : “[O]ne man does not violate the right of another by his erroneous opinions.”
± God, Locke, and Equality
in question really would be willing to follow his commandments, not a
genuine imperative addressed to all of us:
[O]ur Saviour, to try whether in earnest [the young man] believed him to be
the Messiah, and resolved to take him to be his king, and to obey him as such;
bids him give all that he has to the poor, and come and follow him; and he
should have treasure in heaven. This I look on to be the meaning of the place;
this, of selling all he had, and giving it to the poor, not being a standing law of
his kingdom; but a probationary command to this young man; to try whether
he truly believed him to be the Messiah, and was ready to obey his commands,
and relinquish all to follow him, when he, his prince, required it. (RC: ±°)
Selling all you have and giving it to the poor would be a form of what
I want to call radical charity “ giving away what you actually have a
moral right to keep, giving away enough to impoverish yourself. This
is not what Locke is arguing for; it goes way beyond the charity which
he argues for in the First Treatise “ the charity that he thinks should be
enforced. Radical charity may be a particular requirement imposed on
particular people, but it is not intended as a general command.
Certainly, too, there is a strand of argument in the later Letters Concerning
Toleration from the ±°s which insists, against Locke™s opponent Jonas
Proast, that the mere fact that something morally good could be enforced
is not itself a reason for saying that it ought to be enforced by the state.
Locke uses the example of lying: “[I]f it be his duty to punish all offen-
ces against God; why does the magistrate never punish lying, which is
an offence against God, and is an offence capable of being judicially
proved?” The answer Locke gives to his own question is that a state
enforcement of lying is not necessary for any of its recognized functions.
That may not be an entirely satisfactory answer, but it is suf¬cient to
establish a contrast with the principle of charity. For Locke is convinced
that charity “ in the ±st T:  sense “ is necessary, for the proper limitation
of property, and for the prevention of economic inequality turning into
political inequality. So it is the proper business of the commonwealth.
The doctrine we have been discussing “ the doctrine of charity “ is not
mentioned explicitly in the Second Treatise. We know that the Two Treatises
were written at different times and for somewhat different purposes.·°
Is there any reason to believe that the author of the chapter on property
 It seems the young man failed the test: “[W]hen the young man heard that saying, he went away
sorrowful: for he had great possessions” (Matthew ±:). (Note that Locke cites the version of
the story told in Luke ±:±“°.)
 Locke, Third Letter, p. µ.
·° For a cross-reference from the discussion of property in the First Treatise to the theory of property
in the Second, see ±st T: ·.
“Disproportionate and Unequal Possession”
intended the theory he set out there to be quali¬ed by the doctrine we
have been discussing? The strongest evidence for the independence of
the two Treatises in this regard is Locke™s silence on the matter in the
chapter on property. There are several places where one would expect
him to mention such a proviso (if he believed in it); and he doesn™t, or at
least not in so many words. When he is defending unequal possessions,
he mentions that people in the ¬rst ages of the world had enough in the
way of land and natural resources for their own acquisitions. And a little
later, he writes
This I dare boldly af¬rm, That the same Rule of Propriety, (viz.) that every Man
should have as much as he could make use of, would hold still in the World,
without straitning any body, since there is Land enough in the World to suf¬ce
double the Inhabitants had not the Invention of Money . . . introduced (by Consent)
larger Possessions, and a Right to them. (nd T: )
The clear implication is that some people are “straitned” by the inequality
that money introduced. If so, it seems odd not to mention the natural law
doctrine of charity by which such straitening might be mitigated. Sure,
this does not actually contradict the charity doctrine; but the passage is
remarkable for the omission of the doctrine, if we assume it was one that
Locke had in mind when he wrote it.
I used to think there was a more substantial dif¬culty in accommo-
dating the charity doctrine.·± The basis on which Locke argues for in-
dividual acquisition is the idea of mixing one™s labor with resources or
land “ “joyn[ing] to it something that is his own, and thereby making
it his Property” (nd T: ·). On a literal interpretation of this argument,
the laborer transfers to the object the inviolable right he has in his own
person. If this is so, it is hard to see how that right can be overridden by
the mere fact of another™s need. Either the object contains the owner™s
labor or it does not: the other™s need cannot as it were drive the labor, and
the entitlement, out. The objection poses a substantial dif¬culty for the
doctrine of charity; but it is worth noting that it also would pose a dif¬-
culty for the other restriction on property rights that Locke does mention
explicitly in the Second Treatise “ namely, the spoilation proviso.· This
equally implies the defeasibility of the title conferred by labor on natural
law grounds that have a lot to do with respect for the equal interests
of others. I used to think that what was going on here was that Locke
·± I am grateful to G. A. Cohen for helpful discussion of this question. See also Cohen, Self-Ownership,
Freedom, and Equality, pp. ±“°.
· nd T: ± and ·“.
± God, Locke, and Equality
was running two different lines of argument to justify private property
in the Second Treatise: one which was entitlement-based, deriving from
the exclusive right one has in one™s person and one™s labor (nd T: ·),
and the other based broadly on the notion of human need and what
must happen in order for mankind to prosper. The provisions and limi-
tations imposed in the name of equality make sense primarily in relation
to the second of these arguments; and the same is true of the principle
of charity. But I am no longer convinced that it makes sense to see the
mixing of labor as a separate line of argument, less hospitable to modi-
¬cation by charity or the other provisos. For as we saw in section III, the
labor theory works only against the background of labor™s signi¬cance in
God™s plan for the survival of the human beings He has created. If labor
were not presented against that background, if it were just something
I happen to own, there would be no answer to Nozick™s embarrassing
question, “Why isn™t mixing what I own with what I don™t own a way
of losing what I own rather than a way of gaining what I don™t?”· Any
account of the signi¬cance of labor rich enough to answer this question
will hook up easily with the account based on need, and will be naturally
subject to the principle of charity.
Bearing all that in mind, I think we can say that the substantive case
for importing the First Treatise doctrine of charity into the Second Treatise
theory of property revolves around the premises of Lockean natural
law. Locke was emphatic about the basic principle of the law of nature
being the preservation of as many people as possible: “Everyone as he is
bound to preserve himself . . . so by the like reason when his own Preservation
comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest
of Mankind” (nd T: ). What are the implications of this fundamental
requirement? It sounds like an active and positive duty to do whatever will
promote the preservation of as many people as possible. True, in some
passages it is discussed as though Locke has in mind only negative duties
of non-aggression. For example, the passage just quoted continues: “and
may not unless it be to do Justice on an Offender, take away, or impair the
life, or what tends to the Preservation of the Life, the Liberty, Health, or
Good of another” (nd T: ). But elsewhere in the Second Treatise, Locke
makes it clear that the duty goes far beyond this. It includes the power
to pardon offenders and to save them from their deserved punishment “
“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

· Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, p. ±·µ.
“Disproportionate and Unequal Possession”
the innocent” (nd T: ±µ). And it may even include a duty to infringe
property rights in an emergency, like “pull[ing] down an innocent Man™s
House to stop the Fire, when the next to it is burning (nd T: ±µ).
Anyway, it has never been clear to me that the duty of charity “ at least
as Locke presents it “ is a purely positive as opposed to a negative duty. I
think it is extremely signi¬cant that Locke™s language in paragraph  of
the First Treatise involves a denial that property-owners have the right to
withhold their surplus goods from the poor. In other words, he seems to
be committed not to a view about giving but to the view that neither the
rich nor civil society on their behalf is entitled to resist the poor when
the poor attempt to seize their surplus goods for themselves. It is not
a question of forcing the rich to do anything: it is enough that they be
compelled simply to stand back and let the poor take what (on account
of their “pressing Needs”) is rightfully theirs.· The needy have a right
to surplus goods, and the rich have no right to withhold them. Though
Locke does not talk at this stage of the role of the state in these matters, it
is clear that what he has in mind are not so much af¬rmative charitable
obligations (which, once introduced into the picture, might have to be
enforced) but unjust and uncharitable withholding and denying (which
may have to be prevented by the state).·µ
More speci¬cally, at the beginning of the chapter on property, we
are told in very general terms that “[m]en, being once born, have a
right to their Preservation, and consequently to Meat and Drink, and
such other things, as Nature affords for their subsistence” (nd T: µ).
Now, that might be construed as mere meaningless rhetoric, except that
Locke quickly puts it in play to do some rather important work. For
when he defends the legitimacy of unilateral appropriation, he raises the
specter of starvation as a basis for his rebuttal of any consent require-
ment: “[W]ill any one say [that a man] had no right to those Acorns or
· See generally Waldron, “Welfare and the Images of Charity.”
·µ Though it implies all this, it is worth noting what Locke™s doctrine of charity does not imply.
James Tully uses the passage as a basis for attributing to Locke the view that “property is not only
conditional on the owner™s performance of a social function, but is held speci¬cally for the sake
of the performance of a social function: to preserve mankind” (Tully, Discourse on Property, p. ).
This is a suspect interpretation. Locke is insisting that goods surplus to an owner™s needs be
made available to the pressing needs of others. He is not setting up any theory of social function
to govern property in goods in general. If there is no surplus or no desperate need there is no
requirement in this passage or anywhere else in Locke that individual property should serve a
social function. Indeed in other passages he contradicts Tully™s interpretation directly, saying in
±st T: , for example, that “Property is for the Bene¬t and sole Advantage of the Proprietor.”
In the enthusiasm of discovering that Locke held something less than a Nozickian theory of
absolute entitlement, we must beware of interpreting him out of all recognition as some sort of
social democrat. (See also Waldron, Right to Private Property, pp. ±µ·“.)
± God, Locke, and Equality
Apples he thus appropriated, because he had not the consent of all
Mankind to make them his? . . . If such a consent as that was neces-
sary, Man had starved, notwithstanding the Plenty God had given him”
(nd T: ). The prospect of starvation and the straightforward need
to take care of it simply short-circuit any complaint based on the ille-
gitimacy of appropriation without consent. Since the rights which are
rebutted in this way are real rights “ each person™s right to partake in
God™s original donation “ Locke is saying, in effect, that the right to
consent or withhold consent can be trumped by desperate need. And he
cannot consistently maintain that without also maintaining what I have
called the doctrine of charity.
One last hurdle. Those who want to portray an uncharitable Locke
are fond of telling us about the John Locke who was the author of an
essay on the Poor Law “ a draft of a representation concerning methods
of employing the poor. That is not early Locke; it is dated ±·, from
the period of our interest. And it certainly seems to be devoid of the sort
of compassion that one would associate with a generous spirit of charity.
Locke talks about “begging drones” and “super¬‚uous brandy shops,”·
and he suggests that the idle poor should be whipped and mutilated if
they go begging, instead of doing the work assigned to them.·· Even little
children should be given two or three hours of labor useful to the parish
per day.·
There are four things I want to say about this. First, as a matter of
personality, we should observe that Locke actually had a reputation for
being charitable (though those who mention it also mention its limits):
He was very charitable to the Poor, except such Persons as were Idle or Prophane,
and spent the Sunday in the Alehouses, and went not to Church. But above all he
did compassionate those, who after they had labour™d as long as their Strength
wou™d hold, were reduced to Poverty. he said it was not enough to keep them
from starving, but that such a Provision ought to be made for them, that they
might live comfortably.·
Secondly, moving now to Locke™s political position, we must bear ¬rmly
in mind that the paper on the Poor Law does assume that the poor have a
right to subsistence. Locke insists that “everyone must have meat, drink,
clothing, and ¬ring.”° And he says that “if any person die for want of due
relief in any parish in which he ought to be relieved, the said parish [must]
· ·· Ibid., pp. ±“·. · Ibid., p. ±°“.
Locke, “An Essay on the Poor Law,” p. ±.
· Masham, “The Life and Character of Mr Locke,” p. µ°. The bequests in his will bear this out:
see Locke, “Last Will and Testament,” pp. µµ“.
° “Essay on the Poor Law,” p. ±.
“Disproportionate and Unequal Possession”
be ¬ned according to the circumstances of the fact and the heinousness
of the crime.”± Thirdly, we have already seen that Locke is in favor of
charity being enforced, but not radical charity. Well, now we may think
of a second form of radical charity that Locke is not prepared to enforce.
This would be charity to someone who refuses to work when he could
work, charity to someone who does not make any efforts to provide for
himself or work to subsidize the cost of his provision. And Locke is no
more in favor of enforcing this than he is of enforcing the other sense of
radical charity “ “sell all thou hast and give to the poor.”
A ¬nal point returns us to the issue of labor. Locke really took seri-
ously the injunction to labor “ and a poor man with an offer of gainful
employment was not a person who had no means to subsist (within the
meaning of ±st T: ). His view that the “true and proper relief of the
poor . . . consists in ¬nding work for them” is not contrary to the egali-
tarian premise of the doctrine of charity. Quite the reverse: it is what that
premise amounts to against the background of what he regards as God™s
manifest purpose for man, and what reason reveals as the bene¬t to all
of labor.

±  
Ibid., p. ±. See above, p. ±. “Essay on the Poor Law,” p. ±.

“By Our Saviour™s Interpretation”

Anyone who reads the Two Treatises of Government, alert to their religious
and theological character, will ¬nd it quite striking how much is made of
Old Testament sources and how little of any teaching or doctrine from
the Christian Gospels and Epistles. I mentioned at the very beginning of
this book John Dunn™s claim that Locke™s whole frame of discussion in
the Two Treatises is “saturated with Christian assumptions “ and those of a
Christianity in which the New Testament counted very much more than
the Old.”± Well, if Dunn is right, the saturation is so complete as to be
virtually invisible. Jesus and St. Paul may be there in the background of
Locke™s theory of equality. Maybe. But they are well in the background,
and their speci¬c teachings are not appealed to at all, not even to resolve
any of the conundrums which, in Chapter , we found associated with
what Dunn calls “the normative creaturely equality of all men in virtue
of their shared species-membership.”
By contrast, the Old Testament is all over the Two Treatises, the First
Treatise especially. Actually, it may be a mistake to phrase this as a simple
contrast between Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament or
Hebrew Scriptures “ what Locke calls “the sacred ancient writings of the
Jewish nation allowed by the Christians to be of divine original” (P&N:
ii.) “ there is a considerable amount of legal, social, and political
material (in the Mosaic law) that can safely be disregarded by non-Jews,
as it was intended for the governance of the nation of Israel alone: “For
no positive law whatsoever can oblige any people but those to whom
it is given. ˜Hear, O Israel,™ suf¬ciently restrains the obligations of the
law of Moses only to that people” (LCT: ). This, however, does not
apply to the natural law material in Genesis and to a lesser extent the
± Dunn, Political Thought of John Locke, p. . He writes: “Jesus Christ (and Saint Paul) may not appear
in person in the text of the Two Treatises but their presence can hardly be missed when we come
upon the normative creaturely equality of all men in virtue of their shared species-membership.”
 Ibid.

“By Our Saviour™s Interpretation”
Psalms “ that™s of general application. And it™s mainly that which I have
in mind when I talk about the imbalance of Old Testament over New
Testament material “ the teachings of general application in the Hebrew
scriptures and the Christian scriptures respectively.

The imbalance is most apparent of course in the First Treatise, where
Locke is tracing “Sir Robert [Filmer] . . . through all the Windings and Obscu-
rities which are to be met with in the several Branches of his wonderful System,” and
taking “pains to shew his mistakes, Inconsistencies, and want of (what he so much
boasts of, and pretends wholly to build on) Scripture-proofs.” In fact the balance
between Old and New Testament-based arguments is somewhat more
even in Filmer™s Patriarcha than it is in Locke™s First Treatise,µ as is the bal-
ance between biblical citation and theoretical argument more generally.
Indeed, anyone who took their view of Filmer™s work from Locke™s First
Treatise would get quite a wrong impression. In the blue Cambridge edi-
tion of Filmer™s writings, the argument from Genesis is found on just six of
the sixty-eight pages that Patriarcha comprises, and the history of Israel
apart from Genesis is cited on only two or three pages beyond that. Filmer
mentions Aristotle more than Adam, and Bellarmine, Bodin, and Suarez
are discussed in much greater detail than Noah or Abraham. A lot of
the time, Filmer is simply doing political philosophy in his own voice, to
refute the propositions of Grotius, Milton, and Hobbes. Perhaps we can
read the Two Treatises as a whole as responding to the different kinds of
argument in Filmer™s writing. The Second Treatise may be read as a reply
to Filmer™s theoretical arguments (and to the use that was being made
of them around the Exclusion Crisis), while the First Treatise disposes of
Filmer™s biblical arguments. Even so, it is intriguing that Locke chose to
devote ±° pages of biblical refutation to Filmer™s six pages of biblical
argument; and even that estimate of Locke™s ±° pages takes no account
 Locke thinks there™s also a distinction to be drawn within the New Testament: he insists that the
Epistles are of secondary importance since “[t]hey were to those who were in the faith and true
christians already: and so could not be designed to teach them the fundamental articles and points
necessary to salvation” (RC: ±µ). As a result Locke was accused of contempt for the Epistles: for
his rebuttal of this charge see Locke, Second Vindication, “µ°.
 Locke, Two Treatises, Preface.
µ Here are some examples of Filmer™s use of New Testament material. He cites St. Paul concerning
submission to the powers that be (and the similar injunctions in the Epistle general of St. Peter)
and he also cites the equivalent Gospel passage about rendering to Caesar the things that are
Caesar™s (Matthew : ±). See Filmer, Patriarcha, pp. , , , °, and .
 Indeed the only sustained passage of the First Treatise that is not scriptural in focus is the core
passage on inheritance in Chapter IX, about ten pages at most.
±° God, Locke, and Equality
of the amount of Old Testament argument that ¬gured in the pages that
were lost, “and were more than all the rest,” i.e. more than the Second
Treatise and First Treatise put together.·
To be sure, these crude quantitative measures tell us little about the
substance or character of Locke™s scriptural argument. He says again
and again that he is having to take time and space out of all proportion
to Filmer™s provocation simply to expose the fallacies of Filmer™s exegesis.
Paragraph ° of the First Treatise is typical. Concerning a passage from
Filmer on Adam™s title to sovereignty by creation, Locke writes:
I fear I have tired my Reader™s Patience, by dwelling longer on this Passage than
the weightiness of any Argument in it, seems to require: but I have unavoidably
been engaged in it by our A ™s [Filmer™s] way of writing, who hudling several
Suppositions together, and that in doubtful and general terms makes such a
medley and confusion, that it is impossible to shew his Mistakes, without exam-
ining the several Senses, wherein his Words may be taken, and without seeing
how, in any of these various Meanings, they will consist together and have any
Truth in them. (±st T: °)
The point, says Locke, is to show the difference between genuine argu-
ment and the mere accumulation of biblical verses. For though Filmer™s
assertion, that Adam was king of the world from the time of his creation,
is patently false, yet, says Locke, Filmer presents it
as an evident Conclusion drawn from preceding words, though in truth it be but
a bare assertion joyn™d to other assertions of the same kind, which con¬dently
put together in words of undetermined and dubious meaning, look like a sort
of arguing, when there is indeed neither Proof nor Connection: A way very
familiar with our A , of which having given the Reader a taste here, I shall,
as much as the Argument will permit me, avoid touching on hereafter, and
should not have done it here, were it not to let the World see, how Incoherencies
in Matter, and Suppositions without Proofs put handsomely together in good
Words and a plausible Style, are apt to pass for strong Reason and good Sense,
till they come to be look™d into with Attention. (±st T: °)
It is noticeable that Peter Laslett™s Cambridge edition is quite silent on
this passage “ no footnotes, no historical references, no bibliographi-
cal apparatus. I think Locke™s insistence here that he is having to take
time in this passage to show the difference between rigorous and fake
argument is really quite an embarrassment to those historians who try
to bully us into reading the Two Treatises as purely political pamphlets,
having nothing to do with philosophical rigor. Philosophical rigor in the
· Locke, Two Treatises, Preface, p. ±·.
“By Our Saviour™s Interpretation”
context of “Scripture-proofs” “ or in Filmer™s case, the lack of it “ is ex-
actly what the First Treatise is about. The scriptural character of Locke™s
writing might suggest that he is doing something different from philo-
sophical argumentation. In fact Locke is trying to give the world a lesson
in the difference between arguing from scriptural revelation and simply
assembling various verses and catch-phrases in an opportunistic political
tract. Much of Locke™s philosophical argument in the First Treatise is
hermeneutical in character: he is wrestling philosophically with the prob-
lem of interpreting biblical texts. The fact that it is about scripture doesn™t
make it any the less philosophical, any more opportunistic or occasional.
Indeed, Locke™s observations on interpretation are, I think, of enormous
interest to us “ for whom hermeneutics, the problem of interpretation,
looms almost as large in theology, in jurisprudence, and in philosophy
generally as it did in Locke™s day. I don™t know whether these lessons
were of much interest to Locke™s patron, Anthony Ashley Cooper, and his
political cronies. They might perhaps have been satis¬ed with “counter-
arguments” as philosophically disreputable as Filmer™s, if they would do
the political trick. But it evidently mattered to the historical author John
Locke. His claims about good and bad reasoning in the First Treatise show
very little sign of any concession to political exigency.
I emphasize these points about the difference between political philos-
ophy (even scripturally based political philosophy) on the one hand, and
the publication of a mere political pamphlet on the other, because again
and again in the First Treatise Locke rails against the tricks and sloppiness
that are exactly what one would expect as the characteristics of a political
tract. For the purposes of his “scripture-proofs,” says Locke, Sir Robert
Filmer just seizes on words, without any consideration of their context or
their logical role in argument. “Let the words Rule and Subject be but found
in the Text or Margent, and it immediately signi¬es the Duty of a Subject
to his Prince, the Relation is changed, and though God says Husband, Sir
Robert will have it King” (±st T: ). And people do this all the time, Locke
says, even when they are reading him or other contemporary authors.
(He is constantly testy about such insensitive readings of his own works
by his own critics.) But it is a particular sin in the context of revelation:
 I particularly recommend the disquisition on interpretation in the Preface to Locke™s Paraphrase
and Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul (P&N: i.±°“±). Some of this material is also pre¬gured in The
Reasonableness of Christianity (RC: ±µ).
 See, for example, Locke™s comments on Thomas Burnet™s “Third Remarks” in Burnet, Remarks
on John Locke, pp. µ·, ± and . He attempted to head off such criticism in his Preface to the
Two Treatises, p. ±: “Cavilling here and there, at some Expression, or little incident of my Discourse, is not an
answer to my Book.”
± God, Locke, and Equality
God, I believe, speaks differently from Men, because he speaks with more Truth,
more Certainty: but when he vouchsafes to speak to Men, I do not think, he
speaks differently from them, in crossing the Rules of language in use amongst
them. This would not be to condescend to their Capacities, when he humbles
himself to speak to them, but to lose his design in speaking, what thus spoken,
they could not understand. (±st T: )±°
If an understanding of revelation required us to assume that the words
meant something other than what they ordinarily mean, then we might
as well not have the revelation at all, for we would then be at the mercy
of interpreters whose own credentials may be much more of an issue
than anything they might try to convince us of on the basis of the gloss
they impose on scripture.
Nowhere, by the way, is this point about directness more important
than in Locke™s view of the speci¬cally Christian revelation. It is con-
nected to the points about ordinary intelligence and “the democratic in-
tellect” that I made towards the end of Chapter . The whole purpose of
Christ™s teachings was to clarify the moral law “ in Locke™s words, “clear-
ing it from the corrupt glosses of the scribes and pharisees” (RC: ±),
and “giving plain and direct rules of morality and obedience” (RC: ±).
To this end, Jesus chose as his apostles and messengers not a company of
learned doctors and scholars “ “abler men of higher birth or thoughts,”
or “men of letters, more studied in their rabbins” (RC: ) “ but (as Locke
puts it) “a college made up, for the most part, of ignorant, but inspired
¬shermen” (RC: ±°), “poor, ignorant, illiterate men” (RC: ), who
could be relied upon simply to report what they were told. This is con-
sistent with Locke™s general suspicion of learned commentary “ “What
have the greatest part of the comments and disputes upon the laws of
God and man served for, but to make the meaning more doubtful, and
perplex the sense?” (E: .±°.±) “ including the cautions he registered
for himself in the Preface to the Paraphrase, a caution against reading the
Bible through philosophical eyes.±± If anything, Locke suggests, we are
±° At the beginning of The Reasonableness of Christianity, Locke describes the New Testament as
“a collection of writings, designed by God, for the instruction of the illiterate bulk of mankind, in
the way to salvation; and therefore generally to be understood in the plain and direct meaning of
the words and phrases: such as they may be supposed to have had in the mouths of the speakers,
who used them according to the language of that time and country wherein they lived; without
such learned, arti¬cial, and forced senses of them, as are sought out, and put upon them, in most
of the systems of divinity, according to the notions that each one has been bred up in” (RC: µ).
±± “Tis plain that the teaching of Men Philosophy, was no part of the Design of Divine Revelation; but
that the Expressions of Scripture are commonly suited in those Matters to Vulgar Apprehensions
and Conceptions of the Place and People where they were delivered” (P&N: i.±±).
“By Our Saviour™s Interpretation”
to read our philosophy in the light of the direct words of scripture, rather
than the other way round.±
What I want to emphasize, then, is Locke™s insistence on the integrity
of textual argument, an integrity which rises above political and historical
occasion. Think back to our discussion of Locke™s views on women in
Chapter . Filmer cites the Fifth Commandment “Honor thy Father,”
as a basis for patriarchal authority. But Locke complains that the words
“and Mother, as Apocriphal Words, are always left out” (±st T: °). And he
cites chapter and verse to refute Filmer on this. “Had our A. set down this
Command without garbling, as God gave it, and joyned Mother to father,
every Reader would have seen that . . . it was so far from establishing
the Monarchical Power of the Father, that it set up the Mother equal
with him” (±st T: ±). This is actually one of the rare occasions in the
First Treatise when Locke also cites the New Testament, in references
to Ephesians :± and Matthew ±µ:.± And the correction of Filmer on
this particular point goes on and on.± The point is to criticize the poor
intellectual standards that Filmer displays in his exegesis: Filmer seems
to have thought, says Locke, that the goodness of the royalist political
cause was suf¬cient to justify “warp[ing] the Sacred Rule of God, to
make it comply with his present occasion” (±st T: °); and Locke wants
to resist that. Once again I am unable to resist a kick at the Cambridge
school: historians of ideas do their students no favors at all by ignoring
the signi¬cance of these passages, and by teaching them to read the
Two Treatises as though Locke himself were uninterested in the difference
± However, Harris, “The Politics of Christianity” suggests that Lockean political theory might also
provide a basis for the intelligent theology. In the seventeenth century, the usual line on original
sin was that Adam™s fall rendered his descendants liable to punishment, either by analogy with
corruption of the blood in cases of treason, or on the basis of some theory of representation.
Harris says that Locke™s political theory made both analogies impossible. Locke insisted on each
person™s individual responsibility for their own salvation: “every one™s sin is charged upon himself
only” (RC: ·), “none are truly punished, but for their own deeds” (RC: ). He said the sins of
the father were not to be visited on their children (nd T: ±), which “ as we shall see “ led
him to condemn certain justi¬cations of slavery. And he was quite scathing about theories of
representation which “would have all Adam™s posterity doomed to eternal, in¬nite punishment,
for the transgression of Adam, whom millions had never heard of, and no one had authorized
to transact for him, or be his representative” (RC: ). Representation in Locke is always based
on consent; hence his insistence in nd T: ±µ± that the king represents the whole society only in
the sense that they agree to have him as executive of what is ultimately their will, declared in the
laws they have enacted.
± The verse from Matthew, ±µ:, to which Locke refers, but which he does not quote, is: “For God
commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let
him die the death.” That passage is quoted again in ±st T: . The verse from Ephesians :± is:
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord . . . ”
± See ±st T: °, ±, , , µ, , and ·; nd T: µ, µ, , and .
± God, Locke, and Equality
between a good argument and a merely partisan one, as though he
too were merely trying to make political argument comply with the
exigencies of the present occasion.

Let us return now to this question of the balance between Old Testament
and New Testament passages in Locke™s political writings. There is, as
I have said, precious little mention in the Two Treatises of anything from
the teachings of Jesus Christ. Even in the more argumentative and less
biblical Second Treatise the balance is between about twenty-¬ve citations
from the Hebrew scriptures and just two from the New Testament. Those
two consist of a rather vacuous observation from ± Timothy in support
of the spoilation proviso (in nd T: ±), and again some New Testament
material (in nd T: µ) on honoring your mother as well as your father.
How are we to explain this paucity?
One promising clue is Locke™s well-attested opinion that the coming
of Jesus Christ made no difference to the content of natural law,±µ and
that indeed Christ “prescribed unto His followers no new and peculiar
form of government” (LCT: ).
[T]here is absolutely no such thing under the Gospel as a Christian common-
wealth . . . There are, indeed, many cities and kingdoms that have embraced the
faith of Christ, but they have retained their ancient form of government, with
which the law of Christ hath not at all meddled. He, indeed, hath taught men
how, by faith and good works, they may obtain eternal life; but He instituted no
commonwealth. He prescribed unto His followers no new and peculiar form of
government, nor put He the sword into any magistrate™s hand, with commission
to make use of it in forcing men to forsake their former religion and receive His.
(LCT: )

This is reinforced too in The Reasonableness of Christianity, where one of
the major themes is the non-political nature of Christ™s mission and the
great care taken by Jesus to avoid until the very end of his ministry any
preaching or self-proclamation that could be construed as subversive of

±µ “[T]hat eternal law of right, which is holy, just, and good; of which no one precept or rule is
abrogated or repealed; nor indeed can be, whilst God is a holy, just, and righteous God, and man
a rational creature. The duties of that law, arising from the constitution of his very nature, are of
eternal obligation; nor can it be taken away or dispensed with, without changing the nature of
things, overturning the measures of right and wrong, and thereby introducing and authorizing
irregularity, confusion, and disorder into the world. Christ™s coming into the world was not for
such an end as that; but, on the contrary, to reform the corrupt state of degenerate man.” (RC: ±±)
“By Our Saviour™s Interpretation”
Roman or Jewish secular authority.± In fact, this silence of the Gospels
on matters political is an insistent theme in Locke™s political theory from
start to ¬nish. In an early work, the First Tract on Government, written
around ±°, Locke wrote:
The Scripture speaks very little of polities anywhere (except only the govern-
ment of the Jews constituted by God himself over which he had a particular
care) and God doth nowhere by distinct and particular prescriptions set down
rules of governments and bounds to the magistrate™s authority, since one form
of government was not like to ¬t all people, and mankind was by the light
of nature and their own conveniences suf¬ciently instructed in the necessity of
The magistrate, Locke said, needed no “commission from Scripture,”
any more “than a Master is to examine by Scripture what power he hath
over his servant.”±
Now, in response to this, someone versed in the New Testament might
say: “Well, whether or not the magistrate needs a commission from God,
he surely gets one in the Epistles.” Consider this well-known passage
from St. Paul™s Epistle to the Romans:
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For . . . the powers that be
are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the
ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
For [the ruler is] not a terror to good works, but to the evil . . . [H]e is the
minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for
he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to
execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject,
not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake . . . For this cause pay ye tribute
also: for they are God™s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to
whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.±
At ¬rst glance this certainly appears to represent a Pauline endorsement
of existing political authority. But Locke goes beyond ¬rst glance. His note
on this passage in the Paraphrases and Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul is quite
complicated and, I think, very signi¬cant for the theoretical enterprise.
He says this:
Whither we take powers here in the abstract for political authority, or in the
concrete for persons de facto exercising political power and jurisdiction, the
sense will be the same (viz) that Christians by virtue of being Christians are
± See esp. RC: ±; also more generally RC: µ“±°°.
±· ± Ibid. ±
Locke, First Tract on Government, p. µ±. Romans ±:± “µ.
± God, Locke, and Equality
not any way exempt from obedience to the civil magistrates, nor ought by
any means to resist them, though by what is said ver.  it seems that St Paul
meant here magistrates having and exercising a lawfull power. But whither the
magistrates in being were or were not such, and consequently were or were
not to be obeyed, that Christianity gave them no peculiar power to examine.
They had the common right of others their fellow citizens, but had no distinct
priviledg as Christians. And therefore we see ver. · where he enjoyns the paying
of tribute and custome etc It is in these words. Render to all their dues; Tribute
to whom tribute is due; honor to whom honor etc. but who it was to whom any
of these or any other dues of right belonged he decides not, for that he leaves
them to be determined by the laws and constitutions of their country. (P&N:

In other words, Locke reads St. Paul as saying something genuinely
neutral, non-committal so far as the tasks of political philosophy are
concerned. If it has a point, says Locke, the passage from Romans is
directed against the Jews “ Locke tends to make the Epistles a little more
anti-Semitic in ¬‚avor than they need to be “ since above all others
the Jews were apt to have an inward reluctancy and indignation against the
power of any heathen over them, takeing it to be an unjust and tyrannical
usurpation upon them, who were the people of god, and their betters . . . The
doctrine of Christianity was a doctrine of liberty . . . from the Mosaical law.
Hence corrupt and mistakeing men espetialy Jewish converts impatient, as we
have observed, of any heathen dominion might be ready to infer that Christians
were exempt from subjection to the laws of heathen governments. (P&N: ii.µ)

This is the inference which Locke says St. Paul is anxious to resist. The
idea is that opposition to Mosaic law is not opposition to law as such.
More generally, though, Locke does not gloss the passage from Romans
as requiring Christian support for de facto authority. On the contrary, he
reads it as requiring support for whatever authority is legitimate in the
world. “Obey the powers that be,” therefore, is not to be interpreted as
a commission for magistrates, on Locke™s view; it is to be interpreted
instead as an assertion of the autonomy of at least the political part of
political theory from the teachings of the New Testament. The theology
tells us nothing af¬rmative about the substance of political theory.
Let me repeat this, for it is important to grasp what St. Paul™s teaching
in Romans entails on Locke™s reading. It does not entail that existing political
power is to be treated as legitimate. Whether the powers that be are exercising
legitimate authority, and consequently whether we ought to obey them,
is something that our Christian faith gives us no particular basis for
examining. We must examine it using other resources “ like ordinary
“By Our Saviour™s Interpretation”
reason, as encapsulated in good political theory.° If reason shows that
some de facto ruler is not exercising legitimate authority, then Romans ±
gives the ruler no support. But if reason shows that a de facto ruler is
exercising legitimate authority, then the fact that some of his subjects
are Christians (while the ruler perhaps is not) does not detract from his
In the long and inutterably tedious Third Letter for Toleration, Locke puts
a slightly different spin on the text “The powers that be are ordained
of God.” But it™s a different spin which if anything reinforces the main
point. People set up governments by consent to avoid the inconveniences
of the state of nature. These governments, Locke says, “may very ¬tly
be called powers ordained of God,” in the following indirect sense: they
are “chosen and appointed by those who had the authority from God
so to do” “ i.e. ordinary consenting people “ “for he that receives com-
mission, limited according to the discretion of him that gives it, from
another who had authority from his prince to do so, may truly be said,
so far as his commission reaches, to be appointed or ordained by the
prince himself.”± Again, this is a clear indication that the passage from
Romans ± is to be read in the light of Locke™s theoretical (indeed his
contractarian) argument, rather than the other way round.

Locke uses exactly the same interpretive maneuver in the Paraphrases so
far as St. Paul™s comments on slavery are concerned. This might be as
good a time as any to say something about Locke™s problematic relation
to slavery and his personal involvement in the slave trade and the slave
economies of some of the American colonies.
The New Testament passage on slavery, on which Locke is comment-
ing, is ± Corinthians ·:°“, where Paul says (in Locke™s paraphrase)
Wert thou called being a slave, think thy self not the less a Christian for being
a slave: but prefer freedom to slavery if thou canst obtein it. For he that is
converted to Christianity being a bond-man is Christs freed-man. And he that
is converted being a free man, is Christ™s bond-man under his command and
dominion. (P&N: i.°± “)
John Dunn sees here the presence in Locke™s thought of something like
the Protestant doctrine of the calling: a theological basis on which everyone
° Hence there is no substitute for good political theory: see nd T:  and ±±±.
± Locke, Third Letter, p. .
± God, Locke, and Equality
is to be reconciled to his given position in life. “Men are put into the world
in particular social situations and with particular individual talents. They
are called by God to ¬ll a particular role.” I am not sure about this
as a general theme in Locke™s work, but I am certain there is nothing
at all of that ¬‚avor in his note on the passage from ± Corinthians. For
what Locke says there is the exact equivalent of what he said about the
passage from Romans ±: civil slavery, he says, was “not dissolved by a
mans becomeing a Christian” (P&N: i.°n). And in general, Locke goes
on, Paul tells us that “noething in any man™s civil estate or rights is altered
by his becoming a Christian” (ibid.). This is quite different from the idea
of a calling; indeed it does not even amount to a recommendation of
quietism or acceptance. It is a pure negative. If slavery is legitimate, then
Christians may be slaves; and then they should obey their masters on
account of its legitimacy, not on account of Christian quietism. But if
slavery is illegitimate, then Christians, like everyone else, may not be
slaves and need not and probably should not obey their de facto masters.
That is the gist of what Locke wrote at the end of his life. And that
is exactly what he wrote also some thirty years earlier in the “Second
Tract on Government”: “[B]ondservants, even though they were made
subject to Christ . . . owe the same obedience as before to their masters.”
If moral and political theory could establish that they already owed no
obedience to their masters, then that would remain their position after
the coming of, or their conversion to, Christianity.
So the Christianity of the alleged slave (or of the society in which
slavery purports to exist) makes no difference. Now, it™s important to see
that this does not mean theology is irrelevant to the issue of the legitimacy
of slavery. On the contrary, Locke is adamant that it is because we are,
each of us, responsible to God for our own freedom that we are not
entitled to sell ourselves into slavery, i.e. to alienate the stewardship of
our freedom to anybody else. “A man . . . cannot, by compact, or his own
Consent, enslave himself to any one” (nd T: ). In the same passage, he
goes to considerable lengths to show that a practice among the Jews that
looks like people selling themselves into slavery was in fact not that at
all, but instead a rather oppressive form of employment. And of course
this position “ against the possibility of alienating one™s freedom “ is
crucial to Locke™s argument against political absolutism: “[N]o Body
can transfer to another more power than he has in himself; and no

 
Dunn, Political Thought of John Locke, p. . Locke, “Second Tract on Government,” p. ·.
“By Our Saviour™s Interpretation”
Body has an absolute Arbitrary Power over himself . . . A Man, as has
been proved, cannot subject himself to the Arbitrary Power of another”
(nd T: ±µ). Thus the legislature, which is constituted by nothing more


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