English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) might be considered a protoliberal. A bold and original thinker, Hobbes lived on the threshold of the Enlightenment and shared many of its values: the importance of science and empirical method, man as independent actor, the value of individual liberty (Hobbes 1968). With regard to his political theory however, many of his views were decidedly un-liberal. For Hobbes man was primarily motivated by his appetites and aversions, hopes and fears. These were the supreme determinants of his conduct in his quest for ‘Felicity’. Felicity for Hobbes consisted in the accumulation of ‘Riches, Reputation, Friends’, and power was the means by which these goods were obtained. But power is relative. In what he referred to as a ‘state of nature’, men live perpetually in a state of war; not necessarily a war of fighting but one of contending wills. The consequence for the life of man was, as Hobbes recorded in his well-known line: ‘solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short’ (186). As man shuns death, so a reasonable man would wish to remove himself from
the conditions of this state of nature. As Hobbes saw it, all would want to renounce their independent power and natural rights, and yield them up in contract to an all-powerful sovereign. The sovereign would have power to make necessary laws and harshly enforce them: ‘Covenants, without the Sword, are but Words, and of no strength to secure a man at all’ (223). This, according to Hobbes, was the only way for individual men to secure their liberties, ‘the absence of externall Impediments’ (189). John Locke (1632-1704), commonly considered the progenitor of political liberalism, conceived of a state of nature rather more benign that that envisaged by Hobbes (Locke 1970). In this ‘State of Liberty’ there was nonetheless a ‘Law of Nature to govern it, which obliges every one: And Reason which is that Law teaches all Mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions’ (II, 6). Individuals had a duty to God not to harm others, and a reciprocal right to defend against any such attack. In order to ensure these rights and duties were respected and obeyed, the members of the community would need – not to yield power to a sovereign as Hobbes had proposed – but to come together and agree some manner of arbitration among themselves for disputes and the redress of injury. The prime purpose of such a coming together would be to give security, thereby preserving and enlarging individual freedom, for ‘the end of Law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge Freedom: For in all the states of created beings capable of Laws, where there is no Law, there is no Freedom’ (II, 57). Freedom for Locke had much to do with the ability of individuals to enjoy what they owned in peace: ‘The great end of Mens entering into Society, being the enjoyment of their Properties in Peace and Safety’; and to this end the ‘great instrument and means’ was the establishment of legislative power (II, 134). Given that for Locke natural rights existed for individuals prior to the contracting with others, and given the importance he gave to individual freedom, legislative power would be strictly circumscribed. Major legislative concern would be for ‘Lives, Liberties and Estates, which I call by the general Name, Property’ (II, 123). Having decided to come together to establish their Commonwealth, the people would elect a legislature to govern on their behalf and with their consent. The activities of the legislature must be limited to the establishment of laws on the basis of equality, and to laws for no other purpose than the good of the people. Taxation of the property of the people could only be with the consent of the people (II, 142). The ultimate restriction on the power of government was that those elected were answerable to the will and determination of the majority. It was the people themselves who constituted the final court of appeal against the government: ‘The Community perpetually retains a Supream Power of saving themselves from . . . their Legislators, whenever they shall be so foolish, or so wicked, as to lay and carry on designs against the Liberties and Properties of the Subject’ (II, 149). Locke’s ideas on individual freedom, rights, and the role of
government proved immensely influential not only in Europe but in America where they provided foundation for the American Declaration of Independence (1776). An important element of Locke’s concern for property related to real property and the justification of its private holding. God had given the world to Adam and his posterity in common, and also ‘given them reason to make use of it to the best advantage of Life’ (II, 26). However, because every man has property in his own person and in his labour: ‘Whatsoever then he removes out of the State that Nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his own Labour with, and joyned to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his Property’ (II, 27). Thus according to Locke men through their labour can appropriate the fruits of common lands. However, he did enter a proviso that such appropriation was acceptable provided ‘there is enough, and as good left in common for others’ (II, 27). And he placed two further caveats on the ability of man to make such property claims, pointing out that claimed property should be limited to ‘As much as any one can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils’, and that ‘Nothing was made by God for Man to spoil or destroy’ (II, 31). However, Locke goes on to justify appropriation beyond the fruits of the common land to the land itself; that is, to the enclosure of common lands to private use. This he does on two grounds: first that it was in obedience to the command of God to ‘subdue the earth’ (II, 32), and second because enclosure of the land would improve productivity. So the caveat in relation to spoilation he replaced with the limit of ‘as much as he could make use of ’ (II, 36). Although Locke’s arguments, their justification, and the meanings to be taken from them continue to be matters of philosophical dispute, libertarian philosophers in particular look to Locke in foundation of their views (see further Chapter 10). Locke, as far as his views on trade were concerned, was a mercantilist, and argued for international commerce to increase England’s wealth, particularly of gold and foreign currencies. However, by the middle of the eighteenth century, merchants in France and England, wanting to expand their opportunities, were agitating for the removal of government restrictions on overseas trade. In this campaign they adopted the catchcry of ‘laissez-faire’ (Fr. ‘let be’), and their cause received a substantial boost with the publication of Wealth of Nations in 1776 in which Adam Smith appeared to show that the freeing of commerce and trade would, through the actions of the invisible hand, lead to such an expansion. Thus did the ideas of unfettered markets and free trade combine with the Lockean prescription of minimal government to provide the tripod on which ‘classical liberalism’ was founded.3 Contemporary with Smith were a number of Continental philosophers, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), each of whom exercised significant influence on the development of English liberal political philosophy. Rousseau believed that man in his natural setting was essentially good but became corrupted by society through the emergence of
private property and the division of labour, which led to inequality, envy, and competition (Rousseau 1968). However, it is possible to envisage a basis for society which would provide a different destiny for humankind. Natural rights of uncertain value were to be exchanged for civil rights based on law. These laws would be developed in a spirit of fraternity by all the citizenry and would represent the ‘general will’ of the sovereign individuals to secure their liberty and their equality. Government, consisting of a small group of selected ‘magistrates’, would be responsible for implementing the law, but they would remain under the power of the sovereign people. This proposition, involving the direct and dominating influence of the people, is a quite different one from that of Locke, in which a legislature, having been chosen by the people, becomes the representative body in establishing necessary laws. Kant on the other hand develops his ethical and political theories from an analysis of human rationality, arguing for a moral law based on ‘practical reason’ and founded in the ‘autonomy of the will’ (Kant 1996; O’Neill 1998). For Kant ‘good will’ is the only thing that he can find that is good without qualification. Everything else that we commonly consider good – talents of the mind such as intelligence, wit, and judgement, and qualities of temperament such as courage and perseverance – can all be harmful and their use immoral if the will that employs them is not good. It is the same with ‘gifts of fortune’ such as power, wealth, honour, even health, which all contribute to our happiness and well-being – these can also produce boldness and arrogance, ‘unless a good will is present which corrects the influence of these on the mind’ (4: 393). Goodness of moral character is not to be judged in terms of the outcomes of any action, be they successes or failures, but in terms of the intention to act in a morally good manner. And what manner of moral law might it be that holds that action be taken without reference to its outcome? As the issue of satisfying our desires is not relevant, the law must proceed from reason alone; and if it is to direct the will without reference to the intended result, it can only be because its reference is to that which is absolutely good without qualification. Thus is Kant led to the ultimate norm of morality – which he referred to as the ‘categorical imperative’: ‘I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law’ (4: 402). Moral reasons for action must be universal reasons. Kant went on to give a second formulation of his ultimate norm which he held to be equivalent: ‘So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means’ (4: 429). This latter form more directly recognizes the fundamental dignity of the individual and the mutual respect between individuals that this recognition implies, concepts at the core of Kant’s political philosophy. To will action in accordance with moral law is to recognize ‘duty is the necessity of an action from respect for law’ (4: 400). It was Kant’s claim that from the categorical imperative it was possible to derive a set of universal principles consistent with the idea of duty both to the self and to others. Some duties such as
not killing, not stealing, and truth telling, were universalizable and therefore ‘perfect’ duties, incumbent on all persons in all interactions with the self and with others. Other duties, such as developing one’s own talents, were of more limited application, and thus ‘imperfect’ duties. And beyond such defined duties, it was Kant’s belief that each individual has a duty of benevolence to others because we rationally can recognize that if we were in need then others would help us. Like Locke before him, Kant perceived the state of nature to be a lawless one, albeit one with some primitive but unprotected freedoms (to life, property, and a peaceful life). However, individuals have an innate right to protected freedoms and it is therefore their duty to move towards a civil society which stands under the sway of ‘public justice’ within which ‘everyone is able to enjoy his rights’ (6: 306). For Kant too the basic rights of the individual are intrinsic, and it is merely the function of the state to protect them. However, Kant was not very clear as to what form of government he felt was preferable, provided that legislative authority could be attributed ‘only to the united will of the people’ (6: 314). Again like Locke, Kant sees the tasks of the government as mainly negative, in specifying the constraints necessary to promote individual freedom. These eighteenth century Continental influences, and the experiences of the American and French Revolutions, were absorbed into the English liberal tradition in a variety of ways. During the nineteenth century a conception of individual freedom began to emerge based on a belief in the importance of human development as a source of freedom and well-being.