Sunday, October 02, 2005

Hobbes, Locke, and the origins of liberalism

First, a practical matter--I've been informed that the bookstore ran out of Ball and Dagger's Ideals and Ideologies. I've been assured that they've got a couple dozen more books on order. The guy at the bookstore suggested I "go easy" on you since some of you won't have the book in time, but that's no fun at all! So here's where you can get the reading for Tuesday.

Hobbes. We're reading Leviathan (1651), slightly shortened versions of chapters 13 and 14. Here's an alternate version of those chapters. Here's a link to chapters 13-18; just read the first two chapters.

Locke. We're reading selections from "A Letter Concerning Toleration" (1689) and "Second Treatise on Government" (1690). Don't worry too much about tracking down and reading the selections from the LCT, but do try to read the relevant sections of the 2nd Treatise. Here's a link to the second treatise. Read chapter 2 (except paragraph 5), chapter 5 (all) and chapter 19 (paragraph 222-225 only).

So that's that.


This Tuesday, you're reading some excerpts from two theorists who are often associated with the beginnings of classical liberalism as a political ideology. This can be confusing, because Hobbes was most definitely not a liberal in his political views (he was a liberal, or at least a quasi-liberal, in his views on the nature of individuals, and the individual/society relationship.

Hobbes and Locke both use a theoretical device in the readings you'll be doing called "The State of Nature (SoN)". The SoN is what the theorist imagines life and the social world would be like if we were to remove all political power and authority.

Discussion question: What do Hobbes and Locke's visions of the SoN look like? How are they similar? How are they different? Why do they disagree?

Hobbes and Locke look to the SoN to determine what sort of government might be legitimate (that is, might have a rightful moral claim on our obedience). The presumption here is that legitimacy isn't just a given. Power isn't just to be accepted. "Might makes right" might occasionally be correct as a practical slogan, but alone it doesn't a moral point. Furthermore, both Hobbes and Locke use the state of nature to demonstrate that political power isn't legitimate without the consent of the people. While it's important to remember this doesn't lead to democracy, necessarily (not at all for Hobbes, to a very limited extent for Locke), this is a core liberal concept. Our rights, our liberty, begin with us. This starting point, oddly, doesn't prevent Hobbes from reaching positive conclusions about authoritarianism.

Discussion question: Does it make sense to say legitimate political authority relies on the consent of the people? Does consent need to be explicit, or can it be tacit? In your view, have you consented to be governed? Why or why not?

A couple more topics of discussion revolving around the readings from Locke.

In parts of this text we don't read, Locke suggests that the executive branch of government (King, President) needn't be democratically elected, but the legislative branch (Congress, Parliament) should and must be. Based on what you did read from Locke, can you figure out why he would reach that conclusion?

Locke's theory of property is among the most famous defenses of private property from a liberal perspective. It's surprisingly complicated; a good exercise would be to try to chart the steps in the argument. We'll go over some of them in class.

Discussion questions: Why does Locke conclude private property is legitimate, even though "God Gave the earth to men in common" (26)? What limits does Locke place on property acquisition? Why does the invention of currency (37) change those limits?

A student once said to me (regarding Locke's theory of property) "this is the theory of capitalism in a nutshell!" Do you agree? Why or why not?

4 Comments:

At 8:35 PM, Blogger Brennan Stanfield said...

I believe that legitimate political authority definetly relies on consent of the people who are governed by it. This consent does not have to be explicit it only must be a majority. As long as the majority of the area you live in does so consent your only option is to give tacit consent or to move to an area that you wish to give consent to. I believe that I have given consent. I vote and by so doing I consent to the system. I think that it is a good system and therefore give my consent even if I do not agree with the decisions made.

 
At 8:53 PM, Blogger gena said...

Yes, political legitimate authority is debated, voted on and discussed by the people. However, private authority as Hobbes states, in a Letter Concerning Toleration, regarding religion and beliefs, "consists in the inward persuasion of the mind" (80).
2.Private property is legitimate because the value of land is in its improvement, which is obtained through labor. Ownership is limited to that which one can make use of without spoilage. The invention of money, expanded the limits of ownership because it is a lasting and could be saved without spoiling. "Nothing was made by God for man to spoil" (88).

 
At 8:53 PM, Blogger gena said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 9:05 AM, Blogger gena said...

correction: as Locke stated, In a Letter Concerning Toleration.

 

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