GOVT 244 Lecture Notes - Lecture 23: Wage Labour, Free Range, Proletariat

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22 Jun 2016
Locke and Marx: A Political View on Nature and Property
Throughout the course of history, men have sought to find the truth of human nature and
how it creates society in its different forms. Philosophers have reached different conclusions,
some involving the relationship between man and his property. John Locke’s Second Treatise
of Government speaks of the state of nature, a condition in which all men are entitled to perfect
freedom and equality and the full ability to order their naturally given possessions. This lends to
the government being held under a social contract in which the people consent to live under the
power of a government for their protection and convenience. In Karl Marx’s works, he sees
private property as a result of creative labor in an individual; when a person is put into a
capitalistic society as a laborer he is estranged from this property and this creates the power
struggle between people and the government. While Locke relies more on political concerns
and Marx works more with economic concerns, the two converge in opinion when it comes to
man’s right to freedom and ability to rebel if their freedom is threatened. While Locke’s idea of
government works more with the natural state of people and Marx’s works with the distortion of
man’s natural state, both philosophers believe that individuals should live under a government
that allows them liberty to their property and the ability to live without violation to their rights.
John Locke’s ideas pertaining to the extent and limits of government stem from his
beliefs about private property. Locke proposes that property is naturally given to the people,
starting from a deity and moving down generations. The state of nature gives men “perfect
freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons…” and of
“equality, wherein… no one having more than another” (Locke 8). In an anarchical society under
the state of nature, individuals must deal with disputes among themselves, giving the stronger
men advantage over weaker people. This sort of uninstitutionalized society is inconvenient for
the masses, so a social contract is formed where the majority gives consent to be governed,
creating “the original right and rise of both the legislative and executive power” (Locke 67).
Consent is given verbally by those who constitute the state, and generations after give consent
by being born into the state (Locke 53). This consent allows the government to protect natural
rights and allow for people to live under a set of regulations for securing justice and prosperity.
While government can cooperate with the rights given in the state of nature, there are
times when a state can become overbearing and oppress the people. If a government attempts
to tax the citizens without their consent, this violates the social contract and descends society
into the state of war (
). If a government continues to wrong the people as a whole over time, the masses have the
right to rebel and reform the state.
Locke proclaims that “great mistakes in the ruling part, many wrong and inconvenient laws…
they should rouse themselves…” showing that a minority cannot rebel properly, nor can a group
that has been wronged in a less violent way (Locke 113). The people will not give up their ability
to own property and use it as they wish even under a frame of government, and in this Locke
shows that the way to get citizens and their sovereign to cooperate is to create a consensual
contract for all to agree on and make concession for security and order.
Marx’s idea of the origin of private property takes a radical turn from Locke’s. While
Locke finds that property comes from a state of nature where people are given the right to own
property, Marx looks at ownership as a result of productivity. He claims that “the mode of
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