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John Locke’s State of Nature

One of the prime attributes of the state of nature is that anyone is an executioner of the law of reason.  This reason, found among all men who choose not to rebel against that which they know by design, justifies each person becoming his own unit of government: judge, jury, and executioner. 

While instinctively we create a fantasy world in our minds in which our ideas on politics would be carried out, the theoretical, or hypothetical bonded with a warrant for this theoretical thought, is a warrant for study of what the Universe/God has already fundamentally instituted without our input.  This investigation of what is de facto in our current, common environment has been carried out in a variety of angles and subjects: most relevantly, what is referred to as the “state of nature” by John Locke.

The default system (or non-system) of anarchy is the chronological beginning of the law under which man resided; understanding the state of nature is applicable in all politics to the degree in which our instincts cause us to fall back into it. Although we may not entirely fall back into it every time, we must observe that we all tend to revert to primitivism now and again. Not only may the state of nature be brought about in contrast to a more formal system, but any formal system was brought about in evolution from the state of nature. Thus, the state of nature is where all of our political systems are derived from.

One of the prime attributes of the state of nature is that anyone is an executioner of the law of reason. This reason, found among all men who choose not to rebel against that which they know by design, justifies each person becoming his own unit of government: judge, jury, and executioner. In his book “The Second Treatise on Government,” Locke elaborates on this idea:

“Every man, in the state of nature, has a power to kill a murderer, both to deter others from doing the like injury, which no reparation can compensate, by the example of the punishment that attends it from everybody, and also to secure men from the attempts of a criminal, who having renounced reason, the common rule and measure God hath given to mankind, hath, by the unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind, and therefore may be destroyed as a lion or a tyger, one of those wild savage beasts, with whom men can have no society nor security: and upon this is grounded that great law of nature”.

The idea that those who transgress reason have “declared war against all mankind” is an intriguing suggestion by Locke (also found similarly in other noteworthy texts such as the Quran) and is the justification for punishment. If we are to commit what would be considered heinous acts of injustice by themselves, we must justify these acts by identifying the prosecuted as an enemy of all mankind.

In Locke’s blistering critique of monarchy, which is central to his work, he uses the idea of the state of nature to make an argument against monarchy. This argument summarily states that any evolution from the state of nature ought to help avoid the “inconveniences” the state brings upon us. Furthermore, he argues that a monarchy does not solve the fundamental inconsistency of man being a judge in his own case. Perhaps alluding to the thought of Aristotle, Locke then uses the all-important family unit to express the backwardness of monarchy: “if it (a family) must be thought a monarchy, and the paterfamilias the absolute monarch in it, absolute monarchy will have but a very shattered and short power, when it is plain, by what has been said before, that the master of the family has a very distinct and differently limited power, both as to time and extent, over those several persons that are in it.”

In the context of Lockean individual rights, the most basic objection to monarchy and broad totalitarianism is that they do nothing to preserve critical property rights. I believe it is also aptly extended, by Hayek and many others, to the notion of a wealth-redistribution scheme. Such a project of civil society seems to confuse its most fundamental purpose and then works to aim civil society in a direction which will destroy its reason for being. Locke even appears to know of these schemes when he says, “The power of the society, or legislative constituted by them, can never be supposed to extend farther, than the common good; but is obliged to secure every one’s property.”

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