Monday, February 10, 2014

Book 17: The Second Treatise of Government

I read this as part of my masters class on "Social Contract, Class and Wealth."  While it was shorter than some of our other selections so far, I am not entirely made up about my feelings on Locke.  He has become such an important corner stone of what founded our government that it is hard to see things through the appropriate lens.  Instead of being awed and shocked by his view of things, I had more of a "yep, that's how we do things" reaction.  I know I'm being a bit blase.  Actually, he quoted a philosopher named Hooker quite a bit so I'm surprised we don't hear about the guy that influenced Locke more often.
Before this we read Hobbes, and though Leviathan is longer and denser, something about Hobbes just appeals to me more.  Hobbes has a pessimistic view of society, and thinks we need someone strong in control.  Locke has a much more positive view of the people and their ability maintain the peace and do the right thing.  However, it is hard to buy Locke's view of human nature when history tends to be on the side of Hobbes.  If we were as good as Locke thinks, wouldn't we already be doing them the way he thinks we should?  Obviously, someone had no issues grabbing power and oppressing people.
There were a few other chapters where I couldn't help but look at it from a modern perspective.  He discusses property and how working the land is what gave individuals ownership originally.  I'm okay with these theories and ideas - however, he then basically says that the tribes in America are basically still in this precultivated state and thus don't really own the land.  First of all, it completely ignores the diversity of the Americas and what they were doing, and shows a view biased in favor of Western ideas.  To me, parts of that chapter read as reasons it would be okay to colonize the Americas - "it's not like the Natives are using the land or anything."
Still, I am glad I read it since it's such a cornerstone of American believes and views.  And parts of it were certainly enlightening.  In fact, I probably will scan through it again in the next few weeks of class as I finalize my paper topic, and make sure I didn't ignore anything important.  One could definitely see how important the idea of property was to him, and in some ways he had very progressive views, arguing that a son shouldn't be punished for his father's actions.  Basically, if a man rebelled against his ruler unjustly, Locke didn't deem it fair to seize the man's lands and prevent his children from inheriting them.  Only the man himself should be punished.

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