John Locke Is Needed Now More Than Ever
Personal and economic freedom are under attack in the United States and in many other parts of the world. This is seen most clearly in this year’s contest for the White House. In all the rhetoric about America’s political, social, and economic problems that is heard from the lips of the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, there is one phrase that is hardly ever mentioned or considered important: the liberty of the individual.
Neither Clinton nor Trump Place Any Value on Liberty
Hillary Clinton’s mantra focuses on redistributive entitlements; racial, social and gender group privileges or burdens; and social engineering of human relationships based on superimposed collective identity politics. Deceptions, lies, and an arrogant self-righteous tone of feigned caring about others as she pursues personal power and wealth: these are the hallmarks of her disgraceful character.
Amid Donald Trump’s televised outbursts and often-disconnected streams of consciousness, he drones on about regaining a lost national collectivist greatness; nativist job entitlements against immigrants looking for a better future; and bullying businesses to operate their companies where Trump thinks they should be located. His coarse insults and threats are directed against anyone who falls into his disfavor, and are wrapped in a disregard for Constitutional constraints and a disrespect for civil liberties under the Bill of Rights.
Individual rights precede government; they are not given or bestowed by government.
Regardless of which one ends up sitting in the White House Oval Office, government intrusion, control, and manipulation of aspects of everyday personal and economic life will continue to prevail and grow in dangerous and damaging ways. Individual liberty will diminish and the potentials for economic growth and human betterment will be reduced. Dark days are likely ahead, whether it is Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump who wins in November.
Liberty as the Founding American Principle
What both major political parties and their respective presidential candidates have clearly done is turn their backs on the principles and ideals of the American founding as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and institutionally embodied in the U.S. Constitution.
Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution talk refer to group rights or collective entitlements. The American philosophical spirit is captured in those memorable and moving words:
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among them are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.”
Individual rights precede government; they are not given or bestowed by government. They are unalienable, that is, they belong to each and every individual as a human being, and no political power or authority may claim the legitimacy to abridge or abolish them. Governments have no power or authority other than those assigned to them by the individuals within a political jurisdiction, and its moral legitimacy is only valid and justifiable for as long as those who hold political office use their assigned powers to secure and protect the citizenry’s individual rights, and not violate them.
It is worth recalling this founding idea and ideal considering how little it is understood, appreciated or fully practiced in contemporary America. It is perhaps appropriate, in turn, to remember the person whose writings served as much of the inspiration and reasoning behind those words expressed in the Declaration of Independence: the British philosopher, John Locke.
John Locke and Religious Tolerance
John Locke was born 384 years ago, on August 29, 1632 and he died on October 28, 1704, at the age of 72. Though he made his living for many years as a medical doctor, his fame is derived from a series of books that he wrote, especially his Letters on Tolerance (1689-1692), and his Two Treatises on Government (1689).
Locke’s defense of tolerance and freedom of thought and conscience resonates today as much as in his own time.
Locke defended religious freedom on the following grounds:
First, men, including kings and their ministers, are fallible creatures who could not say that they know for certainty what God’s word and will might be for all of mankind;
Second, if they try to impose their interpretation on others through the force of political power, they merely create anger, resentment, and resistance on the part of those being made to give public statements of belief and allegiance to that which they did not really in their hearts and minds believe to be true;
Third, this will lead – as it had – to wars and conflicts that can tear apart society and being even more destruction and death;
Fourth, there was no workable alternative than to accept tolerance for all men to find God in their own way, and to use reason, persuasion, and example to win over others to one’s own beliefs;
Fifth, thus, it is necessary to separate religion from the arena of politics and political control.
Locke’s defense of tolerance and freedom of thought and conscience resonates today as much as in his own time, given the attempt by American “progressives” to straightjacket people’s minds within the confines of an increasingly dogmatic “political correctness.” And the horrifying acts of terrorism and murder by theocratic fanatics determined to either convert or kill any refusing to follow their own narrow definition of the Islamic faith.
Locke’s Criticisms of Monarchs and Majorities
John Locke, however, became most famous for his argument against the claim of absolute monarchy, and his defense of individual liberty and limited political power. He made his case in his Two Treatises on Civil Government (1689)
In the first Treatise he challenged the notion of the “divine right of kings,” and insisted, instead, that political authority comes from the governed, and is not an independent and “absolute” power belonging to kings above the people ruled.
In a free market we collaboratively participate in specialized lines of production with others through competitive processes of exchange.
But it was in the second Treatise that he presented his “positive” argument for the origin of the “natural rights” of man and the basis of limited and free government against monarchs and unlimited democratic majorities. He asked the reader to follow him in a “mental experiment” and imagine an original “state of nature” before the formation of “society” or the creation of government. In this “state of nature” each man is independent and a “sovereign” over his own life. He lives as he wants and uses the resources that he finds for his own purposes.
Individuals Have a Natural Right to Their Life and Liberty
But man is not alone in this “state of nature” because other men populate the world, as well. While there may be no organized political authority to promulgate and enforce laws among men, there is, still, a “law” that men should respect amongst each other. Our “reason” and our knowledge of God would make each realize that every man, as a creature of God, has been given life by that Creator and has a “natural right” to it, which each should respect and not attempt to violently take away.
As John Locke articulated this fundamental principle in his Second Treatise on Government:
“To understand political