John Locke: Political Thought On Essay

Length: 15 pages Sources: 15 Subject: Business - Law Type: Essay Paper: #77049742 Related Topics: King John, Political Parties, Discourse Community, Louisiana Purchase
Excerpt from Essay :

S. Constitution as offering much protection but instead view it as being the responsibility of the states to provide protection for private property owners. In the event that the courts "...continue to abdicate their role as the protector of individuals rights, then big government and powerful corporations will continue to run roughshod over the property interest of small landowners." (Liles, 2006, p.372)

Liles holds that the legislature being allowed a leeway that is so constitutionally broad in defining the protections afforded to private property effectively "...defies the necessary checks and balances implicit in our system of government." (p.372) Part of the problem appears to be that the definition applied to 'public use' has become quite lenient over the years and while it in the beginning meant that "the public must own property" it now has been construed to mean that "private parties can own the land so long as the land serves a controlling governmental purpose." (Liles, 2006, p.373)

Hansen states: "Locke's impact on the definition and conceptualization of property in the modern age has been tremendous. Prior to Locke, property had been viewed as a state-created institution; without government, property did not exist. The Locke position essentially turns that view on its head, and proposes that property is the source of government. His claim is that property exists independent of government. Locke imagines a pre-government world in a "state of nature," where property exists only as the result of a mixture of a man's labor with nature. Government exists, according to Locke, only to support and police the rights which belong to its citizens." (p.4)

According to Hansen (2007) it was recognized by the French Physicocrats, who were the "forerunners to modern economic thought...that 'natural laws governed the operation of the economy and that although these laws were independent of human will, humans could objectively discover them -- as they could the laws of the natural sciences." (p.4) This position on property is stated by Hansen to nearly fall "in line with the constitutional concept that government is obligated to protect those natural, fundamental human rights, regardless of any specific enumeration of which rights require that protection." (Hansen, 2007, p.4) In other words social institutions including that such as property are not created by humans but instead are such that natural law governs them and these laws are not dependent upon the acknowledgement of humans. Government was founded for the purpose of upholding these laws and by "protect (ing) the corresponding rights." (Hansen, 2007, p.4) The government as such serves as a type of trustee for the citizens of that government.


John Locke writes in the Second Treatise that "Adam had not, either by natural right of fatherhood, or by positive donation from God, any such authority over his children or dominion over the world as is pretended." (1794) Locke goes on to state that rulers on earth should not use this as a source of power or authority. Locke states that in order to understand "political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending on the will of any other man." (1794) Locke goes on to state that all men should be

"...restrained from invading others rights, and from doing hurt to one another, and the law of nature be observed, which willeth the peace and preservation of all mankind, the execution of the law of nature is, in that state, put into every man's hands, whereby every...


(Locke, 1794)


In 2004 the Michigan Supreme Court reversed unanimously the Poletown decision in the case of Wayne County v. Hathcock and in a decision written by Justice Robert R. Young which stated: "(W)e must overrule Poletown in order to vindicate our Constitution (and) protect the people's property rights. & #8230;" (Cornell Law School, Supreme Court Collection, 2006) The Mackenzie Center for Public Policy states in the work entitled: "Restoring Our Heritage of Property Rights" the following:

"When eminent domain is used to tear down communities for private development, compensation is cold comfort. And when government officials cite higher tax revenue as a public purpose, they imply that property owners exist to serve the government. In truth, the government exists to serve property owners." (Mackenzie Center for Public Policy, 2006)

It was noted by Justice O'Connor in her Kelo dissent that abuse of eminent domain generally serves to benefit "...those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process. ..." (Mackenzie Center for Public Policy, 2006) The Mackenzie Center for Public Policy states that the result "...whether in Poletown or New London, is an almost aristocratic advantage for those who are exceptionally successful and likely to pay more taxes than the current property owners." (Mackenzie Center for Public Policy, 2006)

This power can be used against most U.S. citizens and this includes those who are middle-income citizens in cases where " are suddenly declared "blighted" or lower-income homeowners who live respectably in struggling neighborhoods. Eminent domain abuse means those who are lower on society's ladder will not receive equal treatment under the law." (Mackenzie Center for Public Policy, 2006)

John Locke's thought on this is communicated in his 'Second Treaty' which states that in view of natural reason, or the principle of men "being once born, have a right to their preservation, and consequently to meat and drink, and other such things as nature affords for their subsistence: or revelation...." And states that since God is exampled in the work of king David, and specifically in Psalms csv. 16 that as having "given the earth to the children of men" or given the earth "to mankind in common."

In fact, according to John Locke it is not understandable within the realm of this principle how man could ever suppose to be in ownership of any property and therefore how anyone could 'take' this property from them by force. Locke states in regards to man's property rights that the "labor of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his." (Second Treatise, 1794)

The example provided by Locke is one in which an individual upon finding acorns underneath an oak and then takes the acorns for nourishment cannot be said as denied "but the nourishment is his." (Second Treatise, 1794) The question then, according to Locke is "when did they begin to be his?" (Second Treatise, 1794) It is the 'labour' according to Locke that has placed " a distinction between them and common: that added something to them more than nature, the common mother of all, had done; and so they became his private right." (Second Treatise, 1794)


It is stated in the work of Hansen (2007) that the National Conferences of State Legislatures has related that more than 31 U.S. states have passed laws that place limitation on eminent domain for the purpose of economic development and that the "degree of the reactions range from state constitutional amendments to defining 'public use' to requiring greater public notice." (p.5) It is stated to be reported in the Saint Louis Federal Reserve's 'The Regional Economist' that the opposition to the ruling of eminent domain is quite large and that the greatest majority of Americans "disagree with the courts ruling." (p. 5) Furthermore, Hansen states that if by chance there is "large support in favor or the ruling, it is relatively silent." (p.4)

Hansen relates that one of the "most fundamental attacks on Lockean property rights comes from Jeremy Bentham who holds that natural rights "were dangerous metaphors ('nonsense on stilts') based upon capricious and subjective feelings." (West, 2003, p.29 in Hansen, 2007, p.6) It was Bentham's proposition that it was government that not only "created" but also that "maintained property." (Hansen, 2007, p.6)

In the work entitled: "Policy for Land" Caldwell and Schrader-Frechette "give a moderated view, calling for more responsible land use, which they conclude comes most easily by regulation and reformulating public sentiments towards land." (Hansen, 2007, p.6) This is portrayed as policy in regards to "public rights vs. private needs" instead of "private rights vs. public needs." (Hansen, 2007, p.7) John Locke states on this subject, in the Second Treatise,…

Sources Used in Documents:


Restoring Our Heritage of Property Rights (2006) Mackenzie Center for Public Policy. Online available at:

Hansen, David (2007) Kelo v. New London: Economics and Ethics. 2007. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte North Carolina. Online available at:

Liles, Brett D. (2007) Reconsidering Poletown: In the Wake of Kelo, States Should Move to Restore Private Property Rights. Arizona Law Review. Vol. 48:369. Online available at:

Kelo, et. Al v. City of New London, Connecticut, et al. In the Supreme Court of the United States. No. 04-108. Washington DC 22 Feb 2005. Online available at:

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