My Blog List

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Locke talked of the importance of the collective

blog Entry

The battle between "rugged individualism" versus "collectivism" is a kind of false choice battle that has been raging in this country for a little over a century. I know it has antecedents in the 19th century because shaming folks (especially men) that they should be tough guys and never take collective action has been a tool of management and suppression for a long time. Even so some of the terminology used now wasn't used 150 years ago and even in earlier forms the arguments were absurdist, deprecatory and demeaning. In the 20th century progressive writers had to fight the natural prejudice against the "dole" and this notion that people should pull themselves up by non-existent boot-straps or it's their own fault if they should starve. Yesterday I made the claim that John Locke and Henry George didn't use the word "collectivist" in their arguments. So this morning I did a search on the word "collective" in John Locke's Twin Treatises and to my initial horror I found the word collective. But then I read what he said and it has nothing to do with how modern writers use him:


John Locke refers to the necessity of action from the "collective" in terms of restoration of commonwealth in the face of arbitrary power:

94 cont..."could never be safe, nor at rest, nor think themselves in civil society, till the legislative was so placed in collective bodies of men, call them senate, parliament, or what you please,"

There is nothing in Locke's argumentation to justify the RW arguments.

Details On Chapter VII Of Political or Civil Society

In Chapter VII of John Locke's "Twin Treatises on Government" (which I have multiple concordant copies on my hard drives & backups) Chapter VII is a long discourse on civil society that opens:

77. God, having made man such a creature that, in His own judgment, it was not good for him to be alone, put him under strong obligations of necessity, convenience, and inclination, to drive him into society

It's not good for us to be alone. We need a society of others. And Locke opens his argument by talking about this and marriage. marriage in his originalist argumentation was the "first society" and 78 "Conjugal society" "is a compact between man and woman" [or updated for our own times Man and Man or woman and man :-)]. He ties that conjunction to the "continuation of the species", and he then goes on to explain that though society and men may wish it (this was after all the period before Women's liberation) the bond between husband and wife is not absolute (patriarchal) monarchy.

82 "the wife has, in many cases, a liberty to separate from him where natural right or their contract allows it, whether that contract be made by themselves in the state of Nature or by the customs or laws of the country they live in"

He then switches the topic to the "master servant" relationship first noting that there are two kinds of servant, and in one the servant is

85 "a free man makes himself a servant to another by selling him for a certain time the service he undertakes to do in exchange for wages he is to receive;"

And then talking of slavery, which he ties to war:

"being captives taken in a just war are, by the right of Nature, subjected to the absolute dominion and arbitrary power of their masters. These men having, as I say, forfeited their lives and, with it, their liberties, and lost their estates, and being in the state of slavery, not capable of any property, cannot in that state be considered as any part of civil society"

At the time of Locke's writing the institution of permanent black slavery hadn't been instituted, and so slavery was still the consequence of being on the wrong side of war. But that is out of the scope of this post. And he brings it up as a segue into this next topic because the slaves become part of the "little commonwealth" that is the family.

He brings it up to refute the notion that the family is the model on which general society should be ordered because he's still arguing against Sir Roger Filmer who was arguing that commonwealth is like a family with the King as an absolute father monarch. He goes on to explain that communities are created to protect the property (life, liberty, personal things as well as homes and land) he has giving up power:

87 "into the hands of the community in all cases that exclude him not from appealing for protection to the law established by it. And thus all private judgment of every particular member being excluded, the community comes to be umpire"

For mutual protection. Concluding:

88. "And thus the commonwealth comes by a power to set down what punishment shall belong to the several transgressions they think worthy of it"

He then continues his transition from discussing the laws in the "state of nature" behind society to explaining how folks act when they are part of a collective group, a "civil society" and how they create a commonwealth:

89. "Wherever, therefore, any number of men so unite into one society as to quit every one his executive power of the law of Nature, and to resign it to the public, there and there only is a political or civil society. And this is done wherever any number of men, in the state of Nature, enter into society to make one people one body politic..."
"setting up a judge determine all the controversies and redress the injuries that may happen to any member of the commonwealth"

And he notes that where no fair judiciary exists men are still in the state of nature. He uses all that to setup 90 the argument that "absolute monarchy" "is inconsistent with civil society." For

90 "For the end of civil society being to avoid and remedy those inconveniences of the state of Nature which necessarily follow from every man’s being judge in his own case, by setting up a known authority to which every one of that society may appeal upon any injury received, or controversy that may arise, and which every one of the society ought to obey."

The process terms a civil society depends on separating judge, jury and executioner functions and by having known standards by which to judge the fairness of adjudications so that they will be acceptable to all and can be obeyed. For tyranny lies in persons who have authority but are still in a "state of nature" and not part of a commonwealth.

91 "have all, both legislative and executive, power in himself alone, there is no judge to be found, no appeal lies open to any one"

A tyrant has all the powers of legislative, executive and judicial in his own person and thus may judge cases arbitrarily and this is incompatible with commonwealth principles [See my post on earlier chapters Commonwealth According to Locke] And Locke notes how at least in a State of Nature a person can defend themselves. But in absolute monarchy he

91 "is denied liberty to judge of, or defend his right, and so is exposed to all the misery and inconveniencies that a man can fear from one, who being in the unrestrained state of Nature, is yet corrupted with flattery and armed with power."

Locke notes:

92. For he that thinks absolute power purifies men’s blood, and corrects the baseness of human nature, need read but the history of this, or any other age, to be convinced to the contrary.

And goes on to illustrate the horrors of absolute monarchs and aristocrats. He points out the insecurity of an absolutist security state and the danger of even criticizing it.

93 "For if it be asked what security, what fence is there in such a state against the violence and oppression of this absolute ruler, the very question can scarce be borne. They are ready to tell you that it deserves death only to ask after safety."

Locke had had personal experience with the arbitrary power of states that eschew the principles of commonwealth. He had been forced to go into exile. So when Locke brings up the word Collective it is as part of the antidote to tyranny. Not this newspeak that labels "collective action" as another form of tyranny. On the contrary he notes, talking about tyrants [Government small enough to drown in a bathtub] and how people who find themselves in an authoritarian society where individuals have no appeal against arbitrary power:

94. "...whatever flatterers may talk to amuse people’s understandings, it never hinders men from feeling; and when they perceive that any man, out of the bounds of the civil society ... and that they have no appeal, on earth, against any harm they may receive from him, they are apt to think themselves in the state of Nature"

And he talks about how this comes about due to the drift that occurs when virtuous and excellent men are given authority and then::

94 "when time giving authority, and, as some men would persuade us, sacredness to customs, which the negligent and unforeseeing innocence of the first ages began, had brought in successors of another stamp, the people finding their properties not secure under the government as then it was."

Civil Society which "(has no other end but the preservation of property),

94 cont..."could never be safe, nor at rest, nor think themselves in civil society, till the legislative was so placed in collective bodies of men, call them senate, parliament, or what you please,"

So when John Locke refers to the collective, he's referring to the restoration of representative power, to the restoration of rule of law. There is nothing deprecating or tyrannical in his reference. He's talking about a basic right of representation, rule of law and against the tyranny of individual power. He's also talking about the property rights of commoners and ordinary people against the claims of noblemen and others who assert properties in their power to own the rents of those commoners.

94 cont..."by which means every single person became subject equally with other the meanest men, to those laws, which he himself, as part of the legislative, had established; nor could any one, by his own authority, avoid the force of the law, when once made, nor by any pretence of superiority plead exemption, thereby to license his own, or the miscarriages of any of his dependants. No man in civil society can be exempted from the laws of it."

On the contrary, Locke and his disciple Henry George are arguing against the arbitrary rights of aristocracy and for civil society and the right of ordinary people to form collective institutions to protect those rights. Yes, we band to together not to impose some kind of committee tyranny, but to protect our individual rule from arbitrary power of persons acting as if still:.

"For if any man may do what he thinks fit and there be no appeal on earth for redress or security against any harm he shall do, I ask whether he be not perfectly still in the state of Nature, and so can be no part or member of that civil society, unless any one will say the state of Nature and civil society are one and the same thing, which I have never yet found any one so great a patron of anarchy as to affirm."

And Locke affirms the idiocy of anarchal arguments in this passage too. I know this is a long exegesis, but I wanted to guide people through the passages and logic for the sake of those who don't have time to work through Locke's extended reasoning.

Laughing Out Loud!

Now I'm sure that the word collective is used differently by Henry George and the founders because the founders of our country were more afraid of parliament than of tyrannical Kings. They feared direct democracy and mob rule. They did not fear representation. They just felt that they were being denied representation as colonists. In any case the argument represents the Burkean fears stoked by the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, combined with arguments inherited from the royalists that Locke and other enlightened philosophers were at odds with. At any rate I was planning my annual Dickens Sermon but I first wanted to do this bit.

Most references in this post were either to other posts or
John Locke's 2 Treatises on Government.
For more on this subject:

No comments:

Post a Comment