John Locke

The Origins and Role of Government

So we’ve been discussing the proper role of the state on this blog recently, particularly as it relates to the legalization of marijuana. This discussion, in all of its unfortunate snarkiness and nastiness (to which I freely admit having contributed, not that I’m proud of it) is really a discussion on the proper role of the state.

I think it is rather uncontroversial to assert that America was basically founded upon the Lockean social contract theory. We begin with the proposition that everyone has basic natural rights: to life, liberty, and property. In a hypothetical scenario in which there is no coercive authority (the state/government), we must also act as our own judge, jury and executioner. In this anarchic situation, our rights to life, liberty and property are unsecured. In order to secure them, we collectively renounce our right to be our own personal government and transfer that right to a government we establish by contract. Our property – life, liberty and estate – is more valuable and necessary for life than our “right” to do as we please, when we please, to whomever we please.

The terms of the contract are rather simple. They are stated very simply in the Declaration of Independence. Governments exist to protect our natural rights. They don’t exist to make us “better people” – that’s what the Church is for. They don’t exist in order to achieve “social justice” – that is what private charity and free markets are for. The individual American states were founded by people of like-minds who wanted to establish communities that reflected their religious values - Pennsylvania for Quakers, Maryland for Catholics, and so on. The Constitution was created by the states mostly for the purposes of common security.

Government is not a positive good. It is an evil necessary to prevent the greater evils that would result from total anarchy. As such, it must be kept on the tightest of all possible leashes, which is why so many Americans demanded a Bill of Rights as a condition for the ratification of the Constitution. If men in a state of anarchy would be evil, they don’t suddenly become angels because we give them titles, badges, and offices. The evil in our hearts is the evil in their hearts, and the greater the scope and depth of the powers we give to governments, the greater potential for evil we establish.

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Addendum: Locke & Natural Law

Some questions have been raised in the discussion on my posts on Locke & Catholic political thought about the extent to which Locke’s political theory conforms to or detracts from natural law. This follow-up post, which will be relatively brief, should serve to answer such questions at least in part.

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Catholic Political Thought & John Locke: Part I

by Joe Hargrave

It is becoming fashionable in the now and unfortunately familiar leftist-traditionalist alliance to gang up on the political ideas of John Locke as the source and origin of all that is anti-Catholic in Anglo-American politics. Articles in the Distributist Review, books by certain prolific authors, and blog posts appearing on certain sites, all have produced the equivalent of a picture of Locke with devil horns and perhaps a long, thin moustache to twirl while he’s tying hapless girls to the railroad tracks. There’s certainly no denying that Locke was himself opposed to what he thought Catholicism was. But sometimes, even the enemies of the Church are sharing her premises in spite of themselves.

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Criminalizing Kindness: Will the Real Hobbesians Please Stand Up?

I read a lot of bad news every day, but this really tears it. A 78 year-old man named Rosco O’Neil has been charged with operating an illegal taxi service, has had his car impounded and a $2000 fine imposed upon him for offering to give a woman a ride home from a grocery store. The woman, you see, was an undercover police officer, part of a sting operation to rid society of the menace of cheap transportation for people who need it the most. Aside from the fact that this was a case of blatant entrapment, since O’Neil hadn’t even mentioned money and told the woman upon her inquiry that she could give him whatever she liked, this is also a case of the inhumanity that statism breeds.

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Failure: Vox Nova Takes on Conservatism

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I wasn’t going to do this, but now I am. A contributor (Morning’s Minion) to a certain blog (Vox Nova),  whose views on gun control I previously challenged, took it upon himself to let it all out about “conservatism” – partially, I believe, in response to our exchange.  The same themes are there at least, though he does go on (and on) about slavish right-wing support for Israel, an issue on which I am not so enthusiastic. I’ve also made my opposition to America’s interventionist foreign policy known.  In doing so I respectfully digress from many of my co-bloggers at The American Catholic.

But there are a number of very broad points made by Morning Minions that are more or less directed at me, and my co-bloggers, and of course conservatives and libertarians in general, and I will answer them here.

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