idiggory, King of Bards wrote:
Locke redefined the state of nature. For one, he did not believe it to be so dark. He believed that the normal social interactions between people were not incompatible with it, but were rather natural in and of themselves. Therefore, the state of nature was a system in which people did not organize themselves, but were also not independent. He also did not believe that the state of nature in a literal sense had ever held--he was not talking about history. A man finds himself in the state of nature if he has not entered into an political* organization, nor acts according to any one.
State of Nature, for him, is a statement about your ability to influence, or be influenced by, other people.
It's a bit more than that though. It's about not being under another's authority. You were more correct with your earlier statement about being part of a political organization (and yes, you got the use correct there). But if you actually read Locke instead of just the cliff notes, or having someone give you a brief half section explanation, you'll understand that there are interactions in the state of nature. The state of nature is opposed by the state of war in Locke's definition. In nature, you're not being imposed upon. In war, you are.
He proposes men would naturally prefer to be in the state of nature, but that the threat of the state of war (where someone might force him into slavery) causes him to form those political organizations (most often referred to as commonwealths by Locke, but he uses some other labels as well). He says that by entering into that state men can choose which laws to be bound by and can choose those which give them liberty closest to that in the state of nature, with less risk of those things being lost ("war" doesn't just mean major conflicts obviously. One man beating another and taking his stuff is the "state of war" according to Locke).
This is why he says that the only reason to join such a society is for that protection. We give up some of the liberty we have in the state of nature so as to protect as much as possible from the state of war. The state of war being arbitrary loss of liberty/property.
But there's no point to this if the society you form does not value those liberties. To Locke, that civil society ceases to be civil but becomes a state of war or tyranny.
Nearly every human being on the planet is not in the State of Nature. Not because they actively chose to leave it. Not because they couldn't leave it. But because they were born into it, and have never felt the need to leave.
Locke mentions dealings between people in the state of nature, but he does not discuss (iirc) dealings between people in, and people outside, it.
It's not important whether the state exists or can exist, or should exist. As I said earlier, the whole point of him talking about the state of nature and the state of war is to illustrate the concept of liberty so he can argue for why societies should hold most important the preservation of those liberties. When someone argues that since we've agreed to be bound by societies laws that we can't oppose or complain about any infringement of liberty, or even more absurdly that laws passed by a representative government can't infringe your rights
, that person simply does not understand the principles of rights and liberties our nation was founded on. Those statements are completely counter to those principles and were both made (more or less) by people in this thread.
Call me crazy, but when someone says that laws don't infringe rights as long as the laws are passed by my own government, I'm going to disagree. Not just a little bit, but a hell of a lot. Because once you adopt that position, you've abandoned any belief in rights or limited government at all.
First, It is not, nor can possibly be absolutely arbitrary over the lives and fortunes of the people: for it being but the joint power of every member of the society given up to that person, or assembly, which is legislator; it can be no more than those persons had in a state of nature before they entered into society, and gave up to the community: for no body can transfer to another more power than he has in himself; and no body has an absolute arbitrary power over himself, or over any other, to destroy his own life, or take away the life or property of another. A man, as has been proved, cannot subject himself to the arbitrary power of another; and having in the state of nature no arbitrary power over the life, liberty, or possession of another, but only so much as the law of nature gave him for the preservation of himself, and the rest of mankind; this is all he doth, or can give up to the common-wealth, and by it to the legislative power, so that the legislative can have no more than this. Their power, in the utmost bounds of it, is limited to the public good of the society. It is a power, that hath no other end but preservation, and therefore can never* have a right to destroy, enslave, or designedly to impoverish the subjects. The obligations of the law of nature cease not in society, but only in many cases are drawn closer, and have by human laws known penalties annexed to them, to inforce their observation. Thus the law of nature stands as an eternal rule to all men, legislators as well as others. The rules that they make for other men's actions, must, as well as their own and other men's actions, be conformable to the law of nature, i.e. to the will of God, of which that is a declaration, and the fundamental law of nature being the preservation of mankind, no human sanction can be good, or valid against it.
He's saying that just because you formed into a society and passed laws, you don't get to do more with that than you had in the state of nature. That state did not justify you to take from someone to give to yourself (or a third party), so neither does the government you form have that authority (that's the state of war btw). And no, "public good" does not cover things like health care. Not in the direct form that Obamacare takes. You could argue that it does cover the CDC, or research, and whatnot. But the second you start taking money from people unequally in order to provide direct benefits (also unequally), the government has overstepped its bounds.
This is the same argument against any such directed social programs btw. This is hardly limited to the health care law. There are lots of examples of violations of this. That fact does not and should not be used as a justification for more such infringement though. It should be used as a reason why we need to go in the other direction. Edited, Mar 7th 2012 6:59pm by gbaji