Locke Studies 12:183-200 (2012)

Daniel Layman
Davidson College
John Locke held that every person has a natural duty to use her property efficiently, and that consent is required for legitimate political power. On the face of it, these two positions seem to be in tension. This is because, (1) according to Locke, it is nearly impossible to use resources efficiently unless one lives within a political community, and (2)the waste restriction is enforceable. Consequently, it might seem that persons living outside civil society may be forced to submit to civil power, in violation of the consent requirement. I argue that this tension is only apparent; although the waste restriction is enforceable, the consent requirement is safe. But in the course of resolving this difficulty, three significant, but little-noticed, features of Locke's doctrine of consent to government come to light: (A) consent is conceptually necessary, and not just morally required, for persons to be subject to political power; (B) most people living outside civil society have a moral obligation to enter civil society if they can; and (C) consent to government can bind under duress so long as the duress does not render anyone dependent on the arbitrary wills of others.
Keywords Locke  Consent  State of Nature  Waste  Property
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