I know that this a really vague question but, I just want to know what are the principal historical events that influenced John Locke regarding his Second Treatise (specifically the ideas exposed on chapters II, V, VII, VIII, IX and XII) like, where does his idea of work and property come from?

I'm not looking about the most specific things, just the general and more fundamental events that could have influenced John Locke about these ideas of work and property, state of nature, individualism. etc.


Welcome rorod8

Two contexts

Locke's Two Treatises of Civil Government have a double historical context - the context in which they were written, mainly the early 1680s, and the context in which they were published.

It is clear that the works were published in 1690 in order to justify the Glorious Revolution. His aim, he said, was:

[to] establish the Throne of our Great Restorer, Our present King William; to make good his Title, in the Consent of the People, and justifie to the World, the People of England, whose love of their Just and Natural Rights, with their Resolution to preserve them, saved the Nation when it was on the very brink of Slavery and Ruine. (Preface to First Treatise.)

The 1690 text contains other contemporary references to link it to the Glorious Revolution but the origin of the text is considerably earlier:

As a result of Peter Laslett's scholarship, particularly his critical edition of Locke's Two Treatises,' it is now widely accepted that Locke wrote this work some years prior to the Glorious Revolution rather than after it. However, at least as early as 1888, it was claimed that the First Treatise belonged to the period 1680-1685. For reasons spelled out in his Introduction, Laslett suggests the winter of 1679-1680 as the period of authorship. Thus he concludes that the "Two Treatises is an Exclusion Tract, not a Revolution Pamphlet." In fact, Laslett's dating of the Two Treatises has been frequently termed "the new orthodoxy."

The period of authorship is extremely important, since it might help to uncover Locke's purpose in writing the Two Treatises, and thus better reveal the meaning this text had for Locke. Some scholars have been unsatisfied with Laslett's dating of the authorship, particularly of the Second Treatise. R.W.K. Hinton suggests that the first draft of the Second Treatise can be dated to 1673-1675 and was largely inspired by the royal abuses of power of that period.5 More recently, in a paper delivered at a Symposium on John Locke (March 21-23, 1980) at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and also in a later version, Richard Ashcraft questioned Laslett's dating of the authorship of the Second Treatise. Ashcraft associates the- Second Treatise with Shaftesbury's plan of insurrection against Charles II, following the latter's dissolution of the Oxford Parliament in March 1681. (George T. Menake, 'A Research Note and Query on the Dating of Locke's Two Treatises', Political Theory, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Nov., 1981), pp. 547-550: 547.)

Work and property

Classical legal theory

This theory was available e.g. in the Institutes and Digest of Justinian, with which Locke was familiar. The essential argument is that:

that which is no one's property (res nullius), in some cases, and that which is everyone's common property (res communis omnium), becomes my private property when I take possession of it. This is called "natural possession," and according to Nerva the younger, as reported by Paul in the Digest (D.41,2,1), it is the origin of all ownership. As examples, he mentions "things captured on land, in the sea or in the sky." (Roger T. Simonds, 'John Locke's Use of Classical Legal Theory', International Journal of the Classical Tradition, Vol. 3, No. 4 (Spring, 1997), pp. 424-432: 427.)

So why not use classical legal theory ?

It would have been politically incorrect for any English Protestant writer of the seventeenth century to make overt use of Roman civil or canon law language, even though at the same time the English courts were quietly taking over and translating into the vernacular many of the essentials of Roman jurisprudence. Denigration of Roman and canon law, and of civilian practitioners, was a major tactic in the rhetorical battles between the partisans of Parliament and partisans of the Crown during the early Stuart regimes. Roman law was thought to justify despotism. After the Commonwealth and Restoration, this particular issue disappears, since civilian learning and practice is no longer a credible rival or threat to the supremacy of Parliament and the common law. What Locke does in his political writings was considered dangerous or even treasonous by royalists, because by arguing for a revival of allodial property rights ['allodial: absolute private ownership of land: GT] he undermines the legal basis of the theory of absolute royal powers and prerogatives. Of course, he is also proposing to limit the powers of Parliament for the same reasons, which probably accounts for the fact that his views never had the strong influence in England that they enjoyed in the American colonies. It is not surprising, then, that Locke does not avail himself explicitly of the most obvious classical solution to the problem of justifying the conversion of common property into private property.(Simonds: 428)

Locke's labour theory of property

The central matrix of Locke's labour theory of property is theological and scriptural.

Locke assumes ... that the products of my labor belong to me, and in an earlier passage he gives it a theological application (Second Treatise):

For men being all the Workmanship of one Omnipotent, and infinitely wise Maker; All the servants of one Sovereign Master, sent into the World by his order and about his business, they are his Property, whose Workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one anothers Pleasure. (2.6)

Thus, God himself is a laborer, in creating the world, and his dominion over the world is justified by that fact. The world, including mankind, is God's work-product. The way in which Locke later applies this labor theory to human property is somewhat similar but differs at two important points. First, the human "person" is said to be the property of the man, although the man is the property of God. Secondly, the things which are to become my private property are not only those things which I have created, if any, but those things with which I have mixed or joined my labor.

First, as to the human person:

Though the Earth, and all inferior Creatures be common to all Men, yet every man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body has any Right to but himself. (2.27)

Here it is quite clear that by "person" Locke means "body," which is still one of the common uses of the word "person"; but by "body," in this particular context, he means the same thing as "man" or "self." It is the "man" (sic) that owns the "person," and that man is "himself" and not "other body."


Secondly, as to the conversion of common property into private property:

The Labour of his Body, and the Works of his Hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the State that Nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his Labour with, and joyned to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his Property.... For this Labour being the unquestionable Property of the Labourer, no Man but he can have a right to what that is once joyned to, at least where there is enough, and as good left in common for others. (2.27.) (Simonds: 425-6.)

'Mixing' - that curious term

Just an endnote observation :

The act of appropriation itself is what Locke calls mixing or joining labor with the object. But obviously, as many of Locke's critics have complained, starting with David Hume, labor is not literally the sort of thing that can be mixed or joined with anything. If we think of labor as mechanical exertion, or force, we can say that it is applied to some object at a particular time and place. In that case, according to classical Newtonian mechanics, the object itself exerts an equal and opposite force on the laborer, yet we would hardly grant that the object thereby exerts labor. The reason is that labor is not merely an application of force; it requires an act of will or intention, an element of subjectivity. All the more doubt, therefore, that we can speak of mixing or joining such a thing with inert materials like air and water. (Simonds: 426.)

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