The Liberal tradition is the heart of Western society. It is the foundation of the freest societies on Earth. “Rights”, individuality, voting, “privacy”, and political — that is — social “self-determination” have been the basis of modern freedom unmatched anywhere in the world or at any time in history. That is Liberalism for the lower orders. And it is all true.
But from a ruling class perspective Liberalism represents a very real loss, and at the same time it is Our defense mechanism against liberty itself, for Liberalism has also been crucial to the rise of illiberal capitalism. It sugarcoats the anti-democratic nature of “free markets”, property and protecting the privileges of the higher orders as “rights”.
Today, while the Liberal party moves ever rightward, fetishization of identity and culture have replaced traditional concerns about unity, well-paying jobs, civil rights and class solidarity, and ignores the dwindling regime of rights and privacy, once so important to the Liberal masses. Liberalism makes the cult of excess wealth possible. The herd, as it were, is being steered away from their own interests in lower order Liberalism.
No one questions why the Liberal party constantly veers to the right when its rank and file leave it to its own devices. Why don’t Conservative parties ever move to the left, except as a general drift with society? Locke’s liberalism was a rising power. It pushed for liberty and equality with those above them. The rising liberal powers brought “liberalization” to the masses while it worked to maintain the tradition ruling class advantages as much as possible. This is what the masses mistake for human liberation. Today, Liberalism is part of Establishment power and joins its rival/partner Conservatism in dominating the masses without raising anything or liberalizing further.
As We’ve mentioned elsewhere: if the Liberal party disappeared, the Conservative party would be revealed as anti-democratic authoritarians; and if the Conservative party disappeared, the Liberal party would be revealed as the Conservative party it really is.
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John Locke is the “father” of Liberalism. He set the standard by which Liberal society has judged itself and articulated the doctrines that have guided ruling class society through centuries of revolt, popular uprisings and ruling class reaction, all the while engaging in an open agenda of imperialism and war. Was John Locke’s brand of Liberalism truly “liberal”? Since Locke and the Liberal tradition defined it, most scholars would yes, John Locke was a Liberal.
The key to Liberalism is that it accepts its ruling class. That is its reason for existence as far as the Preservation Society is concerned. Liberalism likes its ruling class to be permissive and lenient. They emphasize “liberty” in society but are not for liberation. Like today’s Liberal, the classic Liberal was not interested in changing society much. The modern Liberal masses want a kinder, gentler master. The nascent Liberal ruling class of yesteryear wanted to take over as top dog. Top privileges were now to accrue to business and less and less to the aristocracy and church.
John Locke articulated a doctrine in which the individual and, crucially, “his” property were inalienable. Liberalism does not fundamentally oppose the status quo order. The pioneers of Liberalism, like their noble predecessors, merely wanted the coveted top spot of social domination without concerning themselves with those below them on the scale. They wanted equality with those above. Today, some Liberals leaders claim they support equality for all, and others like to believe they make the “hard choices” that require them to fail.
Locke sets the template for this Liberalism-in-the-ruling-class-box. He begins the The Second Treatise on Government, the founding document of modern political thought, with “man” (as woman does not yet count in her own right in the story of liberty):
Sect. 4. To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.
A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.
Sect. 5. This equality of men by nature, the judicious Hooker looks upon as so evident in itself, and beyond all question, that he makes it the foundation of that obligation to mutual love amongst men, on which he builds the duties they owe one another, and from whence he derives the great maxims of justice and charity.
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And if any one in the state of nature may punish another for any evil he has done, every one may do so: for in that state of perfect equality, where naturally there is no superiority or jurisdiction of one over another, what any may do in prosecution of that law, every one must needs have a right to do. [sec. 7]
“Men” are born equal and are obligated to love one another “without subordination or subjection” (well, except for women, children and slaves through “just wars”). There is no private property as yet. In the state of nature man was his own judge. The implication of this society is that in all likelihood it worked together in common purpose. Wouldn’t it not be natural to coordinate actions if everyone is independent in order to avoid conflict?
“Men living together according to reason, without a common superior on earth, with authority to judge between them, is properly the state of nature.” Today the Liberal sees this mostly as a socialist utopia. Locke it seems was still too attached to nature for ruling class tastes.
After declaring God “has given the earth to the children of men; given it to mankind in common”, the difficulties begin. If “nobody has a basic right—a private right that excludes the rest of mankind—over any of them as they are in their natural state” [sec. 26], and if
. . . all the fruits it [the Earth] naturally produces, and beasts it feeds, belong to mankind in common, as they are produced by the spontaneous hand of nature; and no body has originally a private dominion, exclusive of the rest of mankind, in any of them, as they are thus in their natural state . . . [sec. 26]
Why does private property appear? If “men” were working together in perfect freedom, what need was there for private property? The answer is supposedly labor. Before an individual can make use of something it must come into their possession. The labor an individual “mixes” with “nature” transforms it into their property. But even this early Liberal perspective on labor is too radical today.
One wonders how things were produced back “when all the fruits it [the Earth] naturally produces, and beasts it feeds, belong to mankind in common”.
The Labor theory of value has presented many problems for capitalists. Does Lockean Liberalism mean the worker owns that on which they labor?
“It was on this basis,” says Investopedia, “that Marx developed the exploitation theory of capitalism. Classical economists had no answer until the Subjectivist Revolution.” Because they could not make labor theory work with capitalist rationale it was called “labor theory’s problems”, which “were finally resolved by the subjective theory of value.” This theory merely says that the value of something depends on how the participants “subjectively” value the object. But in any realistic scenario can a box of paper clips ever cost more than one iPhone, despite one’s “subjectivity”?
Such complications are glossed over. A real-world context need not have any bearing on Liberal theory. By virtue of the individual’s labor, the object in question is
by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others. [sec. 27]
We find ourselves suddenly transported from a world of labor in common, and no individual superior to another, to one in which a thing becomes the sole exclusive property of the individual who worked on it. At this point, ownership implies a binary: one owns or one does not.
Thus the grass my horse has bit; the turfs my servant has cut; and the ore I have digged in any place, where I have a right to them in common with others, become my property, without the assignation or consent of any body. The labour that was mine, removing them out of that common state they were in, hath fixed my property in them. [sec. 28]
Locke never explains why this must be so. If the land had formerly been worked in common, what gives an individual the right to claim a piece of it as their exclusive property? Would this not require the consent of the others, who are presumably the individual’s equal and who also work the land?
Why must one’s “fellow” workers suddenly be excluded from the same land they have all been working in a state of perfect nature? Is it a question of asserting power? Has a man’s weakness for power been activated? Nor is the question of whether the horse or the servant owns the fruits of their labor a relevant one due to the fact that both are beneath the status of an individual who has the power to claim effective ownership. Liberalism does not apply to them.
Moreover, the possibility of common ownership — implying cooperation — does not enter the thought of the upwardly mobile bourgeoisie because it goes against their private ownership. They have money and power. Cooperation would mean compromise with those below, and that means compromising down, not up.
Such details aside, Locke has been used as a fundamental justification for Liberal acceptance of private property, and yet capitalism is a violation of one of the key tenants in his doctrine. It is his way of regulating property:
But how far has he [God] given it us? To enjoy. As much as any one can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils, so much he may by his labour fix a property in: whatever is beyond this, is more than his share, and belongs to others. [sec. 31]
An individual may only own as much as their labor can effect. Any more would be hoarding and subject to waste. Yet we find great landlords owning great wealth in land, far more than they can personally attend to. Industrialists own far more than they themselves can produce on their own. Capitalism often entails far more raw material and land than than any one individual could possibly manage and work on their own. Does this violate original Liberal doctrine?
But again these are minor details. After all, John Locke was part of the retinue of the Earl of Shaftsbury, founder of the Whig Party, whose holdings surely encompassed far more than the Earl could possibly cultivate himself.
Nowhere in Locke’s Liberal founding document, Second Treatise on Government, is the enclosure movement referred to, though it raged all around him sparking rebellions and “extreme” philosophies. Nowhere does one encounter Locke wrestling with poverty and the landless peasantry. He does not mention anything about the labor appropriated from the less fortunate accruing to the more fortunate.
This is not to say that Locke was not a genuine Liberal, for today’s Liberal is just as reluctant to tackle the fundamental issues underlying society as the classical Liberal was. Locke helped draft the Constitution of North Carolina, which supported slavery. We do not find this incompatible with Liberalism of the established order. Most of Us at the Preservation Society are Liberals.
The Liberal of today demands good jobs, equality and justice, while they support sweatshop labor, dictators and terrorist militias. Yet Locke does represent forward thinking, if it did not tackle fundamental questions. He championed the independence and liberty of all men, at least theoretically. Today his ideas are embedded with the fabric of the capitalist ruling class; the masses enjoy the greatest freedom and security since the dawn of patriarchal rule. And now it’s all coming apart because of the willful blindness of Establishment loyalists.
In the next part we look at some of the circumstances of the times in which Locke thought and wrote. And when compared to another individual at the time, one might question just how Liberal Locke and his followers really were.
In a society in the midst of significant change where does one begin the story of new ideas and new systems? With one’s class? Everyone knows the winners write the histories.