Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government


Chapter 5: Of Property

Summary Chapter 5: Of Property

We have already seen how money transcends the rule of subsistence. It also transcends labor. For example, if I own a massive amount of land, and I pay people money to work the land, all the fruit on that land is still mine. I have mixed my labor with it, or rather, my labor translated into my property--I can then sell the fruit from that land for a profit, and I can own as I need, since I waste none of it. I then can sell all of my goods, my property, for money. Since everyone has agreed to the use of money, and everyone can benefit from trading with me, I violate no natural agreements by following this example. This process occurs in the state of nature, prior to any social agreement. In the next section, we will see that people enter into society to protect these unlimited rights of property, and any society or leadership that fails to protect these individual property rights becomes subject to overthrow.

Locke repeats himself often in this section. He also refers to God frequently, which is somewhat uncommon for him. His arguments are similar, based in natural logic, and a very sensible progression of arguments, but he clothes them here in scripture.

A note about Locke and America. First of all, when he talks about America, he appears to mean South America as much as North--Locke was writing only shortly after the period of Spanish world domination by its wealth of gold from the New World. Secondly, Locke's America is the ideal model of a world ripe with God's gifts but lacking human resources. He compares it unfavorably to England, noting that, despite all its natural gifts, it is less pleasant since less labor has been put into its development. Locke's historical context is illuminated in these sections, and becomes ironic in hindsight--he refers disparagingly to the same country that would go on to use his arguments to fight and win independence from England.

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