Locke and the Right to (Acquire) Property: A Lockean Argument for the Rawlsian Difference Principle

Social Philosophy Today 26:55-66 (2010)
The purpose of my paper is to show the derivation of what is sometimes called the ‘new liberalism’ (or ‘progressive liberalism’) from the basic principles of classical liberalism, through a reading of John Locke’s treatment of the right to property in his Second Treatise of Government. Locke’s work sharply distinguishes between the natural right to property in the ‘state of nature’ and the societal right to property as established in a socio-economic political system. Whereas the former does not depend on the consent of others, it is qualified by strict limits on the amount of property that may be rightly acquired. The societal right to property lifts these limits but is justified only under the principle of universal consent. This principle, I argue, implies the Rawlsian difference principle; i.e., that the regulation and distribution of property must be such as would elicit the freely proffered consent of society’s least advantaged members.
Keywords Locke, Politics, Natural Rights, Liberalism
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DOI 10.5840/socphiltoday2010265
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