The Political Theories of John Locke and Other Philosophers

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The Second Treatise of Government by John Locke and The Republic by Plato are historically significant philosophical and political theorists’ figures. John Locke greatly influenced the American Constitution based on ideas on liberal government. Plato expanded the ideas of his teacher Socrates and argued for justice and equality in a state system. Though these two theorists hold valuable ideas, they contain contrasting perspectives on how a government or city should be ruled and governed. While Locke believes that money/property is the greatest possession a human being can obtain, Socrates believes that no ruling or auxiliary class must possess money or property. This essay will mainly discuss how Locke’s perception of money and property is projected differently in comparison to Plato’s ideal just city. Locke outlines several components of government such as state of nature, state of war, property, slavery, commonwealth, etc., and although Plato does not explicitly outline or describe his viewpoint of each components, these themes are evident as he constructs the city in speech. In this essay, I will first discuss each theme of both Locke and Plato’s books and what ideas and values they share. Then I will compare and contrast their ideas to one another. Finally, I will relate these ideas to their position on possession of money and why their theories respectively lie in accordance to this notion. Locke’s belief of freedom of the individual under civil government holds the right to acquire money, while Socrates hold aristocratic ideals in a state of a just city in which money ruins the function of the state.

The value of property, which is often used interchangeably with money, appears in both theories of Locke and Plato, but hold different views on its significant and affect in society. Locke attempt to state the importance of money begins by first defining property. Locke’s whole purpose of this treatise was to suggest how a ivil government can ensure protection and freedom upon the individual. Locke imposes that we must enter under a common agreement, “common wealth” in order to exert maximum personal freedom. First, Locke claims that all human beings are in a state of “perfect freedom” where everyone is equal and independent and not one person is deemed subordinate. Moreover, no one has the state of license to harm himself or another person(s). Since natural law continues to exist in the state of nature, one may be inclined to harm someone else if they commit a crime onto them. Therefore, Locke poses that civil government is the appropriate remedy for the repercussions of the state of nature. This continues while he discusses the state of war. Locke suggests one may seek revenge if someone has attempted to destroy mem with intention. Further, he states that one must not be in absolute power over another person because it entails slavery and infringes on one’s liberty. This is why Locke believes that in order to avoid the state of nature, the state of war and slavery one must enter into civil society where all individuals come to an agreement on its laws under civil government. This way, any disputes may be settled in accordance with this mediator, the law. One may question whether operating under a government holds one captive as a slave, in such that they must abide and follow all rules set out by this authority. However, Locke sets this clear as he claims that the commonwealth cannot operate without the trust of the society. The government operates in accordance to the will of the people. If the government does not support the best interests of the people, they have the right to overthrow the government.

Locke introduces individual property and how one can attain property. He states that whether by natural reason or revelation, that nature is given to common mankind and that we must use nature to its advantage. In order to do so, one must acquire this common property into private property. Locke first claims that our first form of private property is our body, therefore if we use our body and perform labor towards common property, one can then claim it as their own property and gain propriety over it. Property is acquired through labor and resources. He uses an example of an apple on the tree. The apple tree is a common property to everyone but once a person picks the apple, it becomes his property because it required labor, the picking of the apple. Your body, which one’s property that is used in picking the apple, makes the apple private property. This applies to all common land, but he suggests that one must not take more than he will use because that would be selfish and unfair to the rest of society. Thus, one must not take up land unless it is being of good use to the individual. He poses that labor is what makes men distinct amongst one another and prevents disputes. Locke puts a lifespan on goods that are one’s property and this is where he introduces money. If every man cultivates more resources than he can use and what he doesn’t use, rots, then he would only take as much as he can us. He states that money, however, lasts forever and does not rot. Once you have money, nothing is spoiled and thus you can reproduce endlessly. This gives men the incentive to acquire large sums of money.

In chapter 9, Locke expands this notion and claims that those who accumulate money/property are driven into civil society in order to protect their property. He argues that those in the state of nature may be free and have the right to property, but the enjoyment of it is not secure and can most likely be intruded by others. “For all beings king as much as he, every man is equal, and the greater part no strict observers of equity and justice, the enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe, very unsecure.” (§§123) Therefore, to fully enjoy ones property and be content with one’s safety and security, they must be willing to cease their power to the dominion of others. This includes agreeing to be regulated by a common law that everyone in society abides by and forfeits his power to punish the crimes against the law and completely trust in legislative and executive powers of government to handle dispute and provide peace and liberty to all its people.

Further, Locke outlines what consists of this commonwealth. He assigns separations of power under legislative and executive power. The legislative power legislates laws, the executive power enforces these laws and the people of the state, hold the government accountable. In this civil government, no power rules over one another and no one oppresses. He states that though the legislative power is the supreme power and is the most significant part in every commonwealth. Their power is purpose should be to serve the good of its people. “It is a power that hate no other end but preservation, and therefore can never have a right to destroy enslave or designedly to impoverish the subjects.” (§§135) Moreover, the people have the power to overthrow the government into a new form if the current form does not comply with the good of society. In chapter 10, Locke, once again notes the importance of men’s property. He states that because protection of property is what drove individuals to enter society, their property must be protected regardless of any circumstances. “The supreme power cannot take from any man any part of his property without his own consent.” (§§138) It is evident that Locke’s account of property is significant in establishing a civil government that aims for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

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On the other hand, Socrates, Plato’s teacher, has a different view on how a just city should function and the role of money and property in society. The whole purpose in constructing the city in speech was to define justice and injustice. While doing so, he unveils similar themes in contrast to Locke. Firstly, Socrates states the justice is good for its own sake and injustice is bad for its own sake. In order to proof this, he begins to construct the city in speech. He establishes a parallel between the city and the soul, if we can see justice in the city we are able to see in a person’s individual soul. Socrates argues that everyone has needs and thus each man must be given one certain task or job in this city in order to help and satisfy the needs of other men. These craftsmen are designated to one job because in doing so they are able to perfect their art and thus perform more efficiently. These people trade their labor in exchange for money, called wage earners of the city. “They sell the use of their strength and, because they call their price a wage, they are, I suppose, called wage earners…”(371e) Glaucon then argues that this city, city of sows, is missing out on the luxuries in life. Socrates introduces the “feverish city,” this city allows of luxuries, in which are not just necessities but include perfume, incense, cakes, etc. Socrates argues that these luxurious things in this city will cause war as people try to obtain them. While humans seek status, status inevitably requires war. Therefore, there must be guardians to maintain the city. However, guardians must not be chosen at random, but be chosen wisely and strategically. “Then the man who’s going to be fine and good guardian of the city for us will in his nature be philosophical, spirited, swift and strong.” (375c) Their education must require a lot of physical training as well as exercising the soul through poetry and music. However, these poems must be filtered so that they hear only what is good for a young guardian’s soul. The rulers of the city are to be chosen from the best of guardians, now recognized as auxiliaries or warriors (those who carry out the tasks dictated by guardians) because Socrates and Glaucon argue that the city cannot function without someone overseeing all these activities. (412b) Thus, guardians were required in this city in speech.

Consequently, the noble lie is introduced, which are stories told to the people of the city in order for it to function properly. The lie states that everyone in the city are brothers and sisters are founded underground and that each soul either consists of gold, silver or bronze and that they must not mix or collaborate with other metals other than their own, this is called the myth of the metals. In this myth is where classes are curated, but along with the three types of metals are parts of the soul; desire, spiritedness and reason. The different parts of the city are then categorized under these metals and souls. Guardians who rule the city are gold who carry the soul of reason, warriors or auxiliaries represent silver who are full of spirit, and the craftsmen of the city are bronze who carry the trait of desire. These three are the part of the city. Socrates extends this further and argues because guardian’s objective is to rule and maintain a just city, they must not hold property or money because if so, they would be more concerned in obtaining property or wealth and thus would not properly rule the city. “Whenever they’ll possess private land, houses, and currency, they’ll be householder and farmers instead of guardians, and they’ll become master and enemies instead of allies of the other citizens; hating and being hated, plotting and being plotted against, they’ll lead their whole lives far more afraid of the enemies within than those without.” (417b) Guardians must not possess desire in seeking otherwise, because according to Socrates, the just city is only just if each part preforms its respective function and its function only.

In Book 5, Socrates extends the discussions about guardians. Because his objective is to find justice in the city, he argues that men and women are both equal. Both men and women are capable of being guardians of the city. Therefore, their education must be the same and must require them to be de-eroticized from one another in order to prevent distraction and allows them to perform their job more efficiently. Now the problem with de-eroticizing the city is that no reproduction would occur because sexual tension is eliminated. Socrates then suggests that in order to ensure reproduction of the best guardians, the best guardian women and the best guardian men will engage in intercourse, not for pleasure, but solely for the purpose of reproducing the best offspring. Socrates proposes that sex festivals will occur, or rather a “rigged lottery”, because of the noble lie stating they are all brothers and sisters, this program will ensure that no inbreeding will occur by control who reproduces with whom. Socrates succeeds in diminishing all desires from the ruling classes as he believes it will ensure their best performance. Overall, in constructing this city in speech he opposes and disagrees that the ruling classes must not possess money.

Locke and Socrates have contrasting political theories in correspondence to their purpose of this books. Locke believes that everyone must have personal freedom. With that, they can choose the jobs they wish to acquire, they can possess property and money, and are not held in subordination to any ruling class. However, Socrates on the other hand, completely controls all variables in the city in speech to achieve what he deems as equality and justice. He operates this city with an aristocratic form of governance. In this he chooses every person’s job and role in the city, he controls who becomes guardians, their education, their training, the stories they’re told, how they reproduce. He completely eliminates all their desires and freedoms.

In terms of slavery, Locke does not believe that a person should be enslaved to doing something demanded by a higher power and does not believe in subordination amongst one another. This is why the commonwealth is established so that all individuals in society agree on the laws. In comparison, Socrates creates classes amongst individuals. He establishes the city by 3 classes through gold being guardians, silver being auxiliaries, and bronze as craftsmen. In this, the craftsmen are enslaved by the ruling classes and that they must only do one and specialize in it, the auxiliaries are enslaved by the guardians to carry out their commands, and the guardians are enslaved the system.

On the topic of war, Socrates assigns warriors to take on the specific task. Warriors are required to settle disputes amongst wage earners/craftsmen. As they attempt to acquire status through luxurious goods, when wars occur, the warriors are there to battle them. Locke settles this problem by assuring that when an individual enters into the commonwealth, the government serves as a mediator and will provide the proper punishment that is required as opposed to handling the problem on their own, as one might, in the state of nature.

For Locke, it is in a person’s freedom to acquire money and while people continue to accumulate large amounts of money, they then seek and requires protection from the government. Locke’s purpose of the second treatise of government is to create a system of civil government that helps ensure peace and pursuit of happiness. For Socrates; the purpose in creating the city in speech is to ensure a just society. To Socrates a just society is everyone performing their duty and minding no one else’s business but their own. He believes no one should mix with other classes. His purpose in constructing the city in speech is not for individual happiness, but for the good of the city as a whole. This is evident when he states, “However, in founding the city we are not looking to the exceptional happiness of any one group among us but, as far as possible, that of the city as a whole.” (420b) Money should not be used by the ruling classes because if they gain desire in acquiring money, they are dabbling into the class of craftsmen, the bronze, who possess desire. In doing so, they would not be able to be governed and defend the city adequately and properly. Therefore, the guardians and auxiliaries are forbidden to possess and acquire money.

To conclude, these positions all relate back to their main purpose of their political theories. It is clear that their perception on the value of money reflects what they deem as best suited for their type of government or city. Locke’s purpose in the Second Treatise of Government is to create a commonwealth as a means of protecting one’s property and to fulfill the greater good of society. He believes in life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of the individual. Therefore, acquiring means is not a problem in this state of governance. While, Socrates, constructs a city in order to find justice by ensuring equality amongst women and men in an aristocratic state of governance. Socrates believes that no ruling or auxiliary should possess private property/money as acquiring such means would deter focus on their main role in city, which is to rule and manage the city. Rather than fulfilling the happiness of individual, he aims to fulfill what’s best for the city in speech.

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