Locke, land and coercion

From Crooked Timber

The standard Lockean case for (propertarian) libertarianism rests on the (universally false) assumption that an appropriation of land leaves “enough and as good” for anyone else. As long as land can be stolen from people who are outside the pale in one way or another, Lockeans (and a fortiori Jeffersonians) can convince themselves that they are devotees of liberty rather than of the forcible imposition of property rights in land (and, for Jeffersonians, other people). Once there’s no more land left to steal, it becomes obvious that propertarianism is fundamentally dependent on coercion, just like (for example) socialism or any other form of government.

The discussion of Locke in the draft chapter is, perhaps unsurprisingly, focused on the question of land as a form of property. But it’s not just the possession that’s important, but the obligations that extend from this. Locke’s fundamental arguments for tacit consent are land rights, from possession of “Land, to him and his Heirs for ever, or a Lodging only for a Week; or whether it be barely travelling freely on the Highway”. From this he makes the argument by geographical situation: “in Effect, it reaches as far as the very being of any one within the Territories of that Government”.

Locke is therefore an important moment in the consolidation of the idea of territory. He is not an innovator in the concept itself, but he is important in terms of cementing the relation between political power and territory. To be within the territory is to be subject to the rule, and this is magnified when ownership of land is taken into account.

This entry was posted in John Locke, Territory, The Birth of Territory. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s