John Locke (1632-1704)

...yet the Legislative being only a Fiduciary Power to act for certain ends, there remains still in the People a Supream Power to remove or alter the Legislative, when they find the Legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them. For all Power given with trust for the attaining an end, being limited by that end, whenever that end is manifestly neglected, or opposed, the trust must necessarily be forfeited, and the Power devolve into the hands of those that gave it, who may place it anew where they shall think best for their safety and security.

John Locke, The Second Treatise of Civil Government, §149, 1690

That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence, 1776

John Locke is the most important modern political philosopher, even if not now the most popular one, as we shall see. Simply inspecting the parallel passages given above from The Second Treatise of Civil Government and the Declaration of Independence might give one some notion of his importance -- or discovering that a small town in Upstate New York is named after him (well, perhaps he could have a more impressive town). In his day, Locke became deeply involved in the government of Britain, first of all mainly through a patron, Anthony Ashley Cooper, who became the first Lord Ashley and then the first Earl of Shaftesbury. Later, after Shaftesbury's fall (1679), exile (1681), and death (1683), Locke became in his own right a respected philosopher and political advisor thanks to the Glorious Revolution (1688), the triumph of Shaftesbury's cause. Locke did not begin, however, as a political philosopher or with any ambition to be a public figure. Indeed, all of these came rather late in his life, long after he had even expected to still be living.

Locke was one of the first modern philosophers to even have an academic career. But this was not in philosophy, whose university form at the time Locke did not like. Instead, Locke became a physician -- "pitched upon the study of physic" -- although he never did graduate as a Doctor of Medicine. He became a kind of permanent medical graduate student at Christ Church College, Oxford. Even in this his specialty was more along the lines of botany and pharmacology than other areas of medicine.

All that was of fateful importance in 1666 when Lord Ashley, the Chancellor of the Exchequer for King Charles II, went up to Oxford looking for a cure for his liver ailment. Ashley and Locke liked each other, and Locke ended up recommending and supervising an operation. This may have been a bit beyond Locke's botanical specialty, and a matter of grave peril in the days before antisepsis and anesthesia, but it was successful. This earned Ashley's enduring gratitude, and Locke found a second home at Ashley's Exeter House in London. This put Locke right in the middle of British politics. Ashley was one of the heaviest of heavy hitters in Restoration government. Indeed, he was one of the architects of the Resoration, and received from the grateful Charles titles and offices in return. Ashley became part of a group of advisors to Charles called the "Cabal" -- a term derived from the inintials of its members (Lords Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley, and Lauderdale) but which continues in use long after the passing of its referents. Ashley was made Lord Chancellor and the Earl of Shaftesbury in 1672. But things began to go wrong in 1673, when Parliament passed the Test Act, excluding Catholics from office and forcing Charles to withdraw his Declaration of Indulgence (1672), which had suspended laws against religious nonconformists, including Catholics in private worship. The Test Act was especially directed at the King's Brother, James, the Duke of York, who openly declared his Catholicism in 1672 -- James thus lost his useful employment in the Royal Navy. This estranged Ashley, now Shaftesbury, from the King. Nevertheless, he was back as President of the Privy Council in 1679. In that year Parliament passed the Habeas Corpus Act and introduced an Exclusion Bill, to exclude James, in the absence of legitimate children of the King, from the Succession. Charles blocked the bill, but this drove Shaftesbury, not merely into Opposition, but into creating a modern Party Opposition for the first time. The first modern political parties, the Whigs and the Tories, formed around the issue, with Shaftesbury as the leader of the Whigs. When Charles dissolved Parliament in 1681, to prevent for the third time the passage of the Exclusion Bill, Shaftesbury was arrested. He escaped into exile (1681) but died shortly thereafter (1683).

These events were, of course, not without their effect on Locke. The Fall of Shaftesbury also took down Locke, who in 1684 was removed by Royal Decree from his Studentship at Oxford. Since late 1683 he was already in exile in the Netherlands. Today there is a simple monument to Locke in the floor of Christ Church Cathedral [shown right], but he would actually never return to Oxford. Charles died in 1685, and the new King James (II) quickly began alienating England and Scotland with his actions. Locke then returned from exile as part of the great triumph of the Whigs, the Glorious Revolution (1688), which freed the country from James' desire to reimpose Catholicism. Locke took up residence in the household of Sir Francis Masham in Essex. Having never married, he is now even buried with the Masham family -- ironically so, since not only were most of them Tories, but Locke lies near Abigail Masham, the relative of Sarah Churchill who alienated Queen Anne from her friend's affections, bringing about the fall of the Marlboroughs, and the Whigs -- until their rehabilitation by King George I.

In the meantime, Locke had been writing much but publishing little. Between 1685 and 1689 we get four letters on Toleration, which, curiously enough, were more in the spirit of the preference of King Charles than of anyone else. But after the Revolution we get the major work, the Two Treatises of Government (1690) and the Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1691). Locke was already 57 years old before either of these appeared, matching Kant as a late bloomer. Since Locke was still wary about exposing himself in public political debate, the Treatises were published anonymously, and Locke took care that neither he nor his friends acknowledged his authorship during his lifetime. The subsequent Essay, then, is what made Locke's name in the public arena. And it did so in a big way. Locke founded the line of British Empiricists in modern philosophy -- although Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and even William of Ockham (1295-1349) might be considered precursors.

The Two Treatises of Government begin with an essay in which, in Locke's words, "the false principles and foundation of Sir Robert Filmer, and his followers, are detected and overthrown." The polemic against Filmer, although now of merely historical interest, was an important matter in its day. Although now we might think of Thomas Hobbes as offering the classic argument for Royal Authority and Absolutist Government, Hobbes was hated by all, obviously by the Whigs for supporting the King, but then also by the Tories for being a materialist and an atheist. The significance of Hobbes now is for the secular nature of his argument. But Tories had no need or interest in that. The Divine Right of Kings was going to be vindicated, indeed, by Divine Right, and that means theological and Biblical arguments, specifically the Patriarchal descent of Royal Authority all the way from Adam. Locke thus addressed himself against the favored arguments of his real enemies. Hobbes, at the time, represented something idiosyncratic and peculiar, and he actually was of more interest to secular thinkers, like Locke, than to the beneficiaries of Hobbes' political preferences. Today, Hobbes is simply favored by statists who are partisans of the absolute power of government, whatever other form it may take.

The second treatise, entitled "An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent, and End of Civil Government," formulated the liberal principles of government whose heyday would be the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 20th century, liberal principles were either confused with or replaced by socialism and other collectivist and statist ideologies. At the dawn of the 21th century, a curious sort of battle rages, in which socialism and collectivism have been discredited by history and by economics, and yet they still seem to dominate public debate and constitute what most people think of as "progressive" politics. This confusion is at its peak in the United States, where Fabian socialists, who never openly acknowledge their purposes, now are simply called "liberals" -- while the true left despises any kind of liberalism, whether this means genuine liberals or only the faint reformism of the Fabian "liberals."

One barrier to the recognition of the Second Treatise as Locke's work, once the Essay Concerning Human Understanding came out, is that there seems to be little in the way of Empiricism in it. Locke often sounds like as much of a Rationalist as any of his Continental colleagues.

The State of Nature has 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. [The Second Treatise, of Civil Government, in Two Treatises of Government, edited by Peter Laslett, Cambridge University Press, 1960, 1988, §6]

For a man at pains to deny the existence of innate knowledge, we also get this surprising statement from Locke:

...according to the Dictates of the Law of Reason which God implanted in him. [ibid., §56]

We thus find a strong vision of rational principles of morality. This is of larger significance, since Locke views the State of Nature as a place where principles of justice and right already apply in full force. This contrasts with Hobbes, for whom principles of justice are artifacts of a legal regime that does not antedate the formation of government. There is little doubt that Hobbes would comfortably fit with a doctrine of Judicial Positivism, that the only laws are statutes and case law, while Locke is firmly in the tradition of Natural Law and Natural Rights, although differing in essential ways from the conservative Catholic version.

Want of a common Judge with Authority, puts all Men in a State of Nature:  Force without right, upon a Man's Person, makes a State of War, both where there is, and is not, a common Judge. [ibid., §19]

Among the disabilities of the State of Nature, Locke sees, not only defects in the ability to protect person and property, but an essential flaw in the application of justice. Locke had referred earlier to, "those Evils, which necessarily follow from Mens being Judges in their own Cases" [§13], which will mainly mean that a man being the judge in is own case is certain to magnify the wrong he has suffered, if any, and to exact a punitive revenge rather than a dispassionate retribution. In §19 we then get the principle that we cannot be free of the State of Nature without a "common Judge," to be disinterested and objective. Indeed, this is not always sufficient, since not all judges are unbiased. Judicial favoritism is no improvement on Nature, and indeed is no different, as a State of War, from it.

For wherever violence is used, and injury done, though by hands appointed to administer Justice, it is still violence and injury, however colour'd with the Name, Pretences, or Forms of Law, the end whereof being to protect and redress the innocent, by an unbiassed application of it, to all who are under it; wherever that is not bona fide done, War is made upon the Sufferers, who having no appeal on Earth to right them, they are left to the only remedy in such Cases, an appeal to Heaven. [ibid., §20]

Here we get into an aspect of Locke's theory that is as radical now as it was in his day. Not surprisingly, the passage contributes a motto to the American Revolutionary War. Nevertheless, listening to both American conservative and "liberal" political commentators today, one would think them pure Thomists when it comes to the principle of "obedience to constituted authority." Positivists like Robert Bork are shocked at the notion of civil disobedience, or even jury nullification, while "liberals" stress obedience to their own pet tyrannies, like the many restrictions on private property, freedom of association, and free speech generated by their favored laws. Where conservatives cling to the ancient notion of government as moral engineer, "liberals" favor a social engineering paradigm that is essentially hostile to individual freedom and even to human nature -- if only Stalin or Mao really had made a "new man" under Communism! And if we should think that the "appeal to Heaven" is meant as a quietistic prayer for the Almighty to do any sort of messy violence for us, we get Locke speaking of opposing Authority by force:

Wherever Law ends, Tyranny begins, if the Law be transgressed to another's harm. And whosoever in Authority exceeds the Power given him by the Law, and makes use of the Force he has under his Command, to compass that upon the Subject, which the Law allows not, ceases in that to be a Magistrate, and acting without Authority, may be oppossed, as any other Man, who by force invades the Right of another. This is acknowledged in subordinate Magistrates. He that hath Authority to seize my Person in the Street, may be opposed as a Thief and a Robber, if he indeavours to break into my House to Execute a Writ, notwithstanding that I know he has such a Warrant, and such a Legal Authority as will impower him to Arrest me abroad. [ibid., §202]

This passage is of interest today when authorities observe far fewer scruples in serving Warrants, and when even search warrants, of the now common "no knock" variety, no longer need be shown before entry is made into homes. The list lengthens of innocent citizens shot dead by the police, when the citizens drew guns because they thought that the people breaking into their house in the dead of night were robbers, not police.

Some of the features of Locke's economic thinking would echo down the years, and not always to good consequence. Thus, Locke's notion is that labor creates value:  "For 'tis Labour indeed that puts the difference of value on every thing" [§40]. Locke uses this in the first instance to explain why people have a right to property, they have "mixed" their labor in it, and second why modern life is better than in more primitive societies:

There cannot be a clearer demonstration of any thing, than several Nations of the Americans are of this, who are rich in Land, and poor in all the Comforts of Life; whom Nature having furnished as liberally as any other people, with the materials of Plenty, i.e. a fruitful Soil, apt to produce in abundance, what might serve for food, rayment, and delight; yet for want of improving it by labour, have not one hundreth part of the Conveniencies we enjoy:  And a King of a large and fruitful Territory there feeds, lodges, and is clad worse than a day Labourer in England. [ibid., §41]

While there is almost nothing untrue about this passage, there are serious misconceptions that underlie it. The difference between the life of American Indians and the life of perhaps even a "day labourer" in Locke's England is not a difference in labor but a difference in capital. The former does labor intensive economic work, while the latter belongs to an economy where work becomes increasingly capital intensive -- i.e. more kinds of goods, of greater sophistication and in greater quantities, from equal or less amounts of labor, are produced. In the absence, evidently, of a distinction between labor and capital, Locke stands at the beginning of continuing confusion:

...he will then see, how much labour makes the far greatest part of the value of things, we enjoy in this World.. [ibid., §42]

While we think of Marx in relation to passages like this, Adam Smith himself was still thinking of value as something contributed by labor. However, even the introduction of the concept of capital -- dimissed by Marx, of course, as fictitous -- does not get us to the value of things. As David Hume, no mean economist himself, pointed out to Smith, things have economic value only because people want them. No amount of labor makes something of worth in the market if nobody wants it. And no amount of capital sunk into a product will automatically give it value either -- "what is sunk, is sunk," is the rueful saying. By the same token, something that everyone wants, if available in sufficient abundance, will have no market value either. Where there is both demand and scarcity, there are prices.

What works better with Locke's view of labor is the modern concept of "human capital," i.e. the skills, habits, virtues, and abilities that enable people to work in a capital intensive way even without the machinery that we otherwise think of as the capital component of output. Human capital gives truth to this observation by Locke:

This shews, how much numbers of men are to be prefered to largeness of dominions, and that the increase of lands and the right imploying of them is the great art of government. And that Prince who shall be so wise and godlike as by established laws of liberty to secure protection and incouragement to the honest industry of Mankind against the oppression of power and narrownesse of party will quickly be too hard for his neighbors. [ibid., §42]

Good philosophers are often lucky in that their guesses or their errors are often wiser than the learning of others. In §42 not only has Locke described the power of Venice, the Netherlands, or Japan, but, by way of the wise Prince, we even find advice already familiar in Machiavelli, who also appreciated the power that followed from the protection and encouragement of honest industry. [note]

If a Marxist might like the sound of Locke's theory of value from labor, the honeymoon would end abruptly when Locke speaks of property:

The great and chief end therefore, of Mens uniting into Commonwealths, and putting themselves under Government, is the Preservation of their Property. To which in the state of Nature there are many things wanting. [ibid., §124]

Locke, of course, thinks that the ownership of property is justified because labor has been "mixed" with it; but this origin account of property has little to do with its subsequent use, and Marx more correctly sees property as a function of capital rather than labor. Property as a store of value or as an instrument of production, or both at once, reflects both the financial and material aspects of capital. Unlike Marx, Locke understands that "every Man has a Property in his own Person" [§27]. This provides for us the equivalent of a theory of human capital, once we understand the role of human labor, skills, virtues, education, etc. as material instruments of production. The moral value of a person may be infinite, but the economic worth of a person will be more easily given a finite value. The Marxist, or contemporary socialist (or "liberal"), recoils from the market price of labor, only to discover that systematically driving up labor costs only serves to produce unemployment (often 20% under the New Deal, and now 8-12% in Euro-socialist France, Germany, and Belgium).

That "every Man has a Property in his own Person" proves an awkward principle when Locke turns to address slavery, of which he has an uncritical and traditionalistic justification. But the friction with his larger, liberal principles starts to become evident. Locke can only justify slavery as the moral fruit of crime:  "This is the perfect condition of Slavery, which is nothing else, but the State of War continued, between a lawful Conquerour, and a Captive" [§24]. Thus, the "lawful Conquerour" is one acting in self-defense and retribution, while the "Captive," who deserves death, has been granted a life of bondage rather than execution. This is historically and morally unrelated to the reality of the institution. Historically, slaves have been captured by aggressors, not by defenders; and no amount of wrong, even in an aggressor, would make their children to morally forfeit the ownership of their own persons. Yet we know that slavery is all but universally heritable, even as a slave trade is almost always of chattel victims, not wrongdoers pardoned from execution. Locke's own example of slavery among the Jews [cf. §24] compounds the confusion, when the Bible explicitly forbids Jews to hold other each other as slaves [Leviticus 25:39-43]. It is a shame that Locke was not so prescient and enlightened as to use his principles to condemn slavery altogether, rather than just to ahistorically misconstrue it; but then no one in his day did. Anyone belaboring Locke now for tolerating the institution often seems to have the notion that somehow Communism ended slavery, rather than the British and American liberalism that grew out of Locke's ideas. The slave labor of the Soviet Union draws far less vitriol than Locke's archaic and inconsistent defense. Indeed, the vitriol is not really for Locke, it is for liberalism in general, long after it put an end to slavery in the West.

When we get down to details of Locke's advice on government, his perspicacity rises above most modern political opinion, let alone that of our largely clueless contemporaries:

But in Governments, where the Legislative is in one lasting Assembly always in being, or in one Man, as in Absolute Monarchies, there is danger still, that they will think themselves to have a distinct interest, from the rest of the Community; and so will be apt to increase their own Riches and Power, by taking, what they think fit, from the People. [ibid., §138, boldface added]

In a day when people often think that a "professional" legislature is a good thing, and incumbents are continually reelected to full-time jobs in government, we are well past the point where the political class has come to have "a distinct interest, from the rest of the Community." Many other people are aware of this, and a body of economic theory, about rent-seeking, describes the very tendency described by Locke; but an entire major American political party, the Democratic, stakes its fortunes on its denial. Majorities of the electorate still commonly fall for the deception.

Locke expands his consideration of the question:

...therefore there is no need, that the Legislative should be always in being, not having always business to do. And because it may be too great a temptation to humane frailty apt to grasp at Power, for the same Persons who have the Power of making Laws, to have also in their hands the power to execute them, whereby they may exempt themselves from Obedience to the Laws they make, and suit the Law, both in its making and execution, to their own private advantage, and thereby come to have a distinct interest from the rest of the Community, contrary to the end of Society and Government:  Therefore in well order'd Commonwealths, where the good of the whole is so considered, as it ought, the Legislative Power is put into the hands of divers Persons who duly Assembled, have by themselves, or jointly with others, a Power to make Laws, which when they have done, being separated again, they are themselves subject to the Laws, they have made; which is a new and near tie upon them, to take care, that they make them for the publick good. [ibid., §143]

Here we have the solution to the problem:  We must take care that legislators live and make a living under the laws they have passed as politicians. I understand that George McGovern, after being voted out of the U.S. Senate in 1980, tried to start businesses, a motel and a restaurant, that both failed. He is supposed to have commented that the laws he had passed himself made it more difficult for him to succeed. No kidding. But he seems to have made no effort to correct such evils, and most current legislators, most of whom are lawyers, never need to consider the burdens they impose on ordinary citizens and small businessmen. Indeed, Congress has historically exempted itself from its own laws (like anti-discrimination or safety laws), even as Congressional lawyers have beaten back term limits imposed by the States -- getting the Surpreme Court to agree that the Constitution gives the States no power to impose term limits, which, of course, stands the Tenth Amendment on its head:  there the States have all powers that are not denied to them by the Constitution or delegated to the Federal Government. Congressmen fear nothing more than that they might have to leave Congress and fall back on making a living some other way. Locke's wise provision is that politicians should not be allowed to make livings as politicians in the first place.

One of the greatest evils of modern government would be avoided by the application of this principle from Locke:

Fourthly, The Legislative cannot transfer the Power of Making Laws to any other hands. For it being but a delegated Power from the People, they who have it, cannot pass it over to others. The People alone can appoint the Form of the Commonwealth, which is by Constituting the Legislative, and appointing in whose hands that shall be. And when the People have said, We will submit to rules, and be govern'd by Laws made by such Men, and in such Forms, no Body can say other Men shall make Laws for them; nor can the people be bound by any Laws but such as are Enacted by those, whom they have Chosen, and Authorised to make Laws for them. The power of the Legislative being derived from the People by a positive voluntary Grant and Institution, can be no other, than what that positive Grant conveyed, which being only to make Laws, and not to make Legislators, the Legislative can have no power to transfer their Authority of making Laws, and place it in other hands. [ibid. §141]

As it is, Congress has allowed Adminstrative Agencies to make regulations that have the force of law. The tyranny and injustice of this practice is examined in detail elsewhere.

Finally, I come to the quote that stands at the head of this page, and its continuation:

...yet the Legislative being only a Fiduciary Power to act for certain ends, there remains still in the People a Supream Power to remove or alter the Legislative, when they find the Legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them. For all Power given with trust for the attaining an end, being limited by that end, whenever that end is manifestly neglected, or opposed, the trust must necessarily be forfeited, and the Power devolve into the hands of those that gave it, who may place it anew where they shall think best for their safety and security. And thus the Community perpetually retains a Supream Power of saving themselves from the attempts and designs of any Body, even of their Legislators, when they shall be so foolish, or so wicked, as to lay and carry on designs against the Liberties and Properties of the Subject. [ibid., §149]

Here we have the real justification of Revolution, which, although Locke focuses attention on the Legislative Branch of government, is generalized, not only by Thomas Jefferson in the parallel quote from the Declaration of Independence, but in the action of the Glorious Revolution itself, which overthrew, not Parliament, but King James II. In modern America, the designs of politicians against the liberties and properties of the citizens are so far advanced that people believe they have always been that way, are quite legal, and are indeed essential to modern government. We get craven and dishonest historians who dismiss the principles of the Declaration of Independence as "a recipe for anarchy." What such people favor, evidently, are recipes for tyranny. Just like what we've now gotten. Locke would have seen through it in a minute.

Although Locke's initial fame rested on his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, I long had a poor opinion of him as a philosopher just because of that book, before I was aware of the contents and significance of the Second Treatise of Civil Government. Locke, indeed, founds the tradition of British Empiricism and also, for some time, a discipline of philosophical psychology, which thus transitions from a metaphysical theory of the soul to an empirical study of the mind. Locke's Empiricism, however, is incomplete and unstable. As in the Two Treatises, there is still plenty of Locke the Rationalist left in the treatment; and Berkeley and Hume will mercilessly advance the logic of Empiricist thinking at Locke's expense, all the way to Hume's Skepticism. This was probably not quite what Locke had in mind.

Unfortunately, Locke begins his Empiricism by begging the question. Since he defines "ideas" as images, it is then easy to argue that there are no innate ideas. This forms the basis of other assertions, and subsequently endless difficulties.

To ask, at what time a Man has first any Ideas, is to ask, when he begins to perceive; having Ideas, and Perception being the same thing. [An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, edited by Peter H. Nidditch, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1979, Book II, Chapter I, §9, "The Soul begins to have Ideas, when it begins to perceive"]

Having defined perceptions as "ideas," and only perceptions as the source of ideas, Locke then spoils his own excellent argument against Descartes:

"The Soul thinks not always; for this wants Proofs." I confess my self, to have one of those dull Souls, that doth not perceive it self always to contemplate Ideas, nor can conceive it any more necessary for the Soul always to think, than for the Body always to move; the perception of Ideas being (as I conceive) to the Soul, what motion is to the Body, not its Essence, but one of its Operations:  And therefore, though thinking be supposed never so much the proper Action of the Soul; yet it is not necessary, to suppose, that is should be always thinking, always in Action. That, perhaps, is the Privilege of the infinite Author and Preserver of things, who never slumbers nor sleeps [Ps. 121:4]; but is not competent to any finite Being, at least not to the Soul of Man. We know certainly by Experience, that we sometimes think, and thence draw this infallible Consequence, That there is something in us, that has a Power to think:  But whether that Substance perpetually thinks, or no, we can be no father assured, than Experience informs us. For to say, that actual thinking is essential to the Soul, and inseparable from it, is to beg, what is in Question, and not to prove it by Reason; which is necessary to be done, if it be not a self-evident Proposition. But whether this, That the Soul always thinks, be a self-evidence Proposition, that every Body assents to a first hearing, I appeal to Mankind. 'Tis doubted whether I thought all last night, or no.... [ibid., Book II, Chapter I, §10]

This makes for what is really quite a brilliant critique of Descartes, who believed that the essence of the soul was thinking. If that were true, then a soul without thought would be impossible, which, unfortuately, would leave us unable to sleep. Thus, Locke points out that essential thinking could apply only to God, "who never slumbers nor sleeps." However, Locke has created a difficulty for his own argument. If thought is "to contemplate Ideas," and if "having Ideas, and Perception being the same thing," then we have thought whenever we have perception. As a matter of fact, perceptual input from the body is constant, which would mean that the Soul does think always. Locke could avoid this by separating the "contemplation" of ideas from their reception by the senses (which we may see in thought as "the proper Action of the Soul"), or by empowering the mind to accept or shut out perceptions from the senses. Either way, the approach would require attributing to the mind an active nature that is initially foreign to the passive tabula rasa ("blank tablet") paradigm of Empiricist knowledge. More importantly, the ability of the mind to shut out perception is really only found in sleep or unconsciousness, which puts the activity of the mind at a preconscious level. We do not get anywhere near such notions until Kant's theory of the mental activity of synthesis, which constitutes consciousness itself. No Empiricist is at that point, and would not want to be. If Locke is himself to consider the nature of consciousness, it must either arise from mental activity or from the receptivity of the senses. If the latter, we are back to the problem that the Soul will think always. If the former, we require a theory of how the mind generates consciousness, which Locke and the Empricists simply do not have. So something is lost in the suffle here, even as a grave weakness of Cartesian psychology is exposed.

One of Locke's most interesting distinctions is between primary and secondary qualities:

§9:  Qualities thus considered in Bodies are, First such as are utterly inseparable from the Body, in what estate soever it be; such as in all the alterations and changes it suffers, all the force can be used upon it, it constantly keeps; and such as Sense constantly finds in every particle of Matter, which has bulk enough to be perceived, and the Mind finds inseparable from every particle of Matter, though less than to make it self singly be perceived by our Sense. v.g. Take a grain of Wheat, divide it into two parts, each part has still Solidity, Extension, Figure, and Mobility; divide it again, and it retains still the same qualities; and so divide it on, till the parts become insensible, they must retain still each of them all those qualities. For division (which is all that a Mill, or Pestel, or any other Body, does upon another, in reducing it to insensible parts) can never take way either Solidity, Extension, Figure, or Mobility from any Body, but only makes two, or more distinct separate masses of Matter, of that which was but one before, all which distinct masses, reckon'd as so many distinct Bodies, after divison make a certain Number. These I call original or primary Qualities of Body, which I think we may observe to produce simple Ideas in us, viz. Solidity, Extension, Figure, Motion, or Rest, and Number.

§10:  2dly, Such Qualities, which in truth are nothing in the Objects themselves, but Powers to produce various Sensations in us by their primary Qualities, i.e. by the Bulk, Figure, Texture, and Motion of their insensible parts, as Colours, Sounds, Tasts, etc. These I call secondary Qualities. [An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book II, Chapter VIII]

The best illustration of this distinction is with color, which works differently depending on where we study it. In physics, we find the Electromagnetic Spectrum. Here the colors stretch from violet to red, from short wavelengths and high frequencies to long wavelengths and low frequencies. Violet continues into even shorter wavelengths, which are invisible, first of all ultraviolet light, then X-rays, gamma rays, and even more energetic cosmic rays. Red continues into longer wavelenths, first of all infrared, then microwaves, and a broad spectrum of radio waves. If we study color in an art class, however, we get something very different, the "color wheel." We learn that there are three "primary colors," red, yellow, and blue (or magenta, yellow, and cyan), and that when we mix these colors, we get intermediate colors, like green, orange, and purple. Mixing them all gets something like black, but then adding black or white separately can produce a large variety of different shades and tones of color. If we move over to photography or television, we discover that the colors in art "subtract" light, while when we "add" light, we use red, green, and blue, and putting them all together gets us white. This is what Isaac Newton himself did when he first understood the spectrum of light.

If we match up the color wheel with the electromagic spectrum of light, we have a considerable puzzle, for in the latter there is only one way to get from blue to red, and it passes through all the other colors, but not through purple. Violet may look a bit like purple, but it has nothing to do with red. What is going on? The discipline we need to understand this is not physics or art, but physiology. The eye has certain receptors on the retina that detect color, the "cones." These come with three different sensitivities. Hence the three "primary" colors. True purple, for which there seems to be no place in the physical spectrum, is something we see when the cones sensitive to blue and red are both stimulated, giving us something like an imaginary color.

This situation is only intelligible given Locke's distinction between primary and secondary qualities. The purple is not in the object. It is caused in the eye. This very sensible treatment, however, is going to be difficult to sustain given Empiricist principles of knowledge. If primary qualities are supposed to inhere in the external objects themselves, how do we know that? We have access only to our ideas, not to the objects. Thus, when Berkeley abolishes the existence of independent objects altogether, there is nothing to support primary qualities. Hume's Skepticism effects the same result.

Locke has a similar difficulty with his distinction between the nominal and real essences of things, i.e. the essences that we are aware of, and those that are in the separate objects: "Nor indeed can we rank, and sort Things, and consequently (which is the end of sorting) denominate them by their real Essences, because we know them not" [ibid., Book III, Chapter VI, §9]. In other words, as a good Empiricist, Locke knows that we do not have access to real essences, but then, he overlooks the question how, as a good Empiricist, we would know that there are real essences at all. Berkeley and Hume carry this to its logical conclusion, dismissing real essences, also returning, of course, to a pure Nominalist doctrine of universals.

Locke's theory of abstraction, while again trying to preserve sensible distinctions from traditional philosophy, also ends up rejected by the later Empiricists:

The use of Words then being to stand as outwards marks of our internal Ideas, and those Ideas being taken from particular things, if every particular Idea that we take in, should have a distinct Name, Names must be endless. To prevent this, the Mind makes the particular Ideas, received from particular Objects, to become general; which is done by considering them as they are in the Mind such Appearances, separate from all other Existences, and the circumstances of real Existence, as Time, Place, or any other concomitant Ideas. This is called ABSTRACTION, whereby Ideas taken from particular Beings, become general Representatives of all of the same kind; and their Names general Names, applicable to whatever exists conformable to such abstract Ideas. [ibid., Book II, Chapter XI, §9]

Perceptions, however, cannot be "made general" without leaving out all such attributes as would make a "general" image impossible. That is, the term "triangle" cannot be visualized without contradicting the character of one triangle or another, or one kind of triangle (e.g. scalene) or another. Since Berkeley and Hume rigorously apply the requirement that "ideas" be images, they reject abstract ideas altogether.

For let any one reflect, and then tell me, wherein does his Idea of Man differ from that of Peter, and Paul; or his Idea of Horse, from that of Bucephalus, but in the leaving out something, that is peculiar to each Individual; and retaining so much of those particular complex Ideas, of several particular Existences, as they are found to agree in? [ibid., Book III, Chapter III, §9]

Here Locke has described something like the true process of abstraction, which produces a concept as an abstract object. We indeed leave out things that are peculiar to individuals, or peculiar to the kinds of things that fall under the more general notion we are conceiving. It is not clear from his treatment whether Locke realizes that a true abstract object is not something amenable to visualization, but if he still thinks it is, he certainly is vulnerable to the critique of his Empiricist successors. If we do not have a true abstract object, however, any concrete image will not easily encompass all the sorts of individuals that the concept is supposed to embrace. Thus, with "mammal," it is going to be an impossible challenge to produce an image that will not certainly exclude some of the animals from bats to whales to horses to humans to mice that are all equally mammals. Someone with basically Empiricist sensibilities, Wittgenstein, who began with a theory of concepts as "pictures," tried to salvage the Empiricist (and Nominalist) view with a "family resemblances" intepretation of general characteristics. This is ably critiqued by the linguist Steven Pinker, who observes that, while there are messy "resemblances" between many things, there are also sharp and precise distinctions, especially in something like mathematics. Precise abstract distinctions require precise abstract concepts, and Empiricist images or pictures do not match the requirement. Locke's attempt to preserve sensible distinctions is thus undercut by the premises of his own system, leaving loose threads by which Berkeley and Hume can unravel much of it.

All the Empiricists think of causality in terms of billiards. Locke introduces this paradigm:

For when the Ball obeys the stroke of a Billiard-stick... [ibid., Book II, Chapter XXI, §4]

I had a professor once who commented that these guys must have played a lot of billiards, because they all use it. The image the stick hitting the ball, or better of the cue-ball hitting another ball, creates an image of causality as essentially mechanical, of force communicated by one surface striking another. This is already a bit behind the times. It works fine for Cartesian physics, but it doesn't work at all with Issac Newton's brand new theory of gravity -- the publication of the Principia Mathematica Philosophiae Naturalis was in 1687, while Locke was in exile. Gravity is not communicated by any contact, but by what Newton called "action at a distance." Philosophers were troubled by this, but we do not find the Empiricists, for all their Britishness, addressing the issue very clearly.

The following passage contains another implicit critique of Descartes, along with a nice systematic treatment of degrees of certainty:

These two, (viz.) Intuition and Demonstration, are the degrees of our Knowledge; whatever comes short of one of these, with what assurance soever embraced, is but Faith, or Opinion, but not Knowledge, at least in all general Truths. There is, indeed, another Perception of the Mind, employ'd about the particular existence of finite Beings without us; which going beyond bare probability, and yet not reaching perfectly to either of the foregoing degrees of certainty, passes under the name of Knowledge. There can be nothing more certain, than that the Idea we receive from an external Object is in our Minds; this is intuitive Knowledge. But whether there be any thing more than barely that Idea in our Minds, whether we can thence certainly inferr the existence of any thing without us, which corresponds to that Idea, is that, whereof some Men think there may be a question made, because Men may have such Ideas in their Minds, when no such Thing exists, no such Object affects their Senses. But yet here, I think, we are provided with an Evidence, that puts us past doubting:  For I ask any one, Whether he be not invicibly conscious to himself of a different Percpetion, when he looks on the Sun by day, and thinks on it by night; when he actually tastes Wormwood, or smells a Rose, or only thinks on that Savour, or Odour? We as plainly find the difference there is between any Idea revived in our Minds by our own Memory, and actually coming into our Minds by our Senses, as we do between any two distinct Ideas. If any one say, a Dream may do the same thing, and all these Ideas may be produced in us, without external external Objects, he may please to dream that I make him this Answer, 1. That 'tis no great matter whether I remove his Scruple, or no:  Where all is but Dream, Reasoning and Arguments are of no use, Truth and Knowledge nothing. 2. That I believe he will allow a very manifest difference between dreaming of being in the Fire, and being actually in it. But yet if he be resolved to appear so sceptical, as to maintain, that what I call being actually in the Fire, is nothing but a Dream; and that we cannot thereby certainly know, that any such things as Fire actually exists without us:  I answer, That we certainly finding, that Pleasure or Pain follows upon the application of certain Objects to us, whose Existence we perceive, or dream that we perceive, by our Senses, this certainty is as great as our Happiness, or Misery, beyond which, we have no concernment to know, or to be. So that, I think, we may add to the two former sorts of Knowledge, this also, of the existence of particular external Objects, by that perception and Consciousness we have of the actual entrance of Ideas from them, and allow these three degrees of Knowledge, viz. Intuitive, Demonstrative, and Sensitive:  in each of which, there are different degrees and ways of Evidence and Certainty. [ibid., Book IV, Chapter II, §14, "Sensitive Knowledge of particular Existence"]

Unfortunately, Locke has made a couple of grave errors. Aristotle could already have told him that a demonstration is only as good as its premises. If the premises are self-evident, then the whole demonstration will be as strong as Locke's "Intuition." If the premises are not self-evident, however, the mere existence of a logical demonstration does not create any degree of certainty. Locke writes like it does. Perhaps he does not know his logic -- it is possible that his medical education, and a psychological sort of approach to philosophy, meant that he had skipped the study of the Prior and Posterior Analytics, or later School treatments of logic. When it comes to "Sensitive" knowledge, Locke, although making some nice points, also manages to miss the point. Descartes worried a bit about whether he was dreaming, but the Problem of Knowledge is rather stronger than that. Most of us can tell the difference between dreams and perception, or being in the fire as opposed to remembering it, but Locke does not even consider the problem of hallucinations, which can seem as real as any other perception. This opens wide, as it did for Descartes, the epistemological issue of the connection between knowledge and the external circumstances that make it true. The later Empiricists cut through the issue by reducing the objects of perception to the perceptions themselves. This would make it difficult to define what a hallucination even is, or how my perceptions relate to those of other people, but it certainly is a matter of pushing Empiricist principles to their logical conclusion. Berkeley and Hume are good at that.

Locke matches up his three degrees of certainty with the existence of three different categories of things:

As to the fourth sort of our Knowledge, viz. of the real actual, Existence of Things, we have an intuitive Knowledge of our own Existence; a demonstrative Knowledge of the Existence of a God; of the Existence of any thing else, we have no other but a sensitive Knowledge, which extends not beyond the Objects present to our Senses. [ibid., Book IV, Chapter III, §21]

If Locke thinks that we can prove the existence of God, he manages to demonstrate it in a way that would seem to do the impossible:  produce an argument for God even worse that that of Descartes. Indeed, it looks like there is a simple logically fallacy in the argument:

§3 "He knows also, that Nothing cannot produce a Being." In the next place, Man knows by an intuitive Certainty, that bare nothing can no more produce any real Being, than it can be equal to two right Angles. If a Man knows not that Non-entity, or the Absence of all Being cannot be equal to two right Angles, it is impossible he should know any demonstration in Euclid. If therefore we know there is some real Being, and that Non-entity cannot produce any real Being, it is an evident demonstration, that from Eternity there has been something; Since what was not from Eternity, had a Beginning; and what had a Beginning, must be produced by something else.

§4 "That eternal Being must be most powerful." Next, it is evident, that what had its Being and Beginning from another, must also have all that which is in, and belongs to its Being from another also. All the Powers it has, must be owing to, and received from the same Source. This eternal Source then of all being must also be the Source and Original of all Power; and so this eternal Being must be also the most powerful. [ibid., Book IV, Chapter X]

If we accept from the argument of the first paragraph that "from Eternity there has been something," it is a little surprising to learn in the second paragraph that Locke believes he has established the existence of a single eternal thing, i.e. God. The problem is an ambiguity in the word "something," which in the first paragraph need merely mean "something or other," i.e. "there must have always been something or other," to produce the objects that eventually are that ones we now see. In the second paragraph, however, Locke supposes that this can only have been a single, eternal object. That does not follow, and the ambiguity in the term makes the whole argument look like a kind of Sophistry.

What Locke is using is really a fragment of an argument from St. Thomas Aquinas, of God as a "necessary being." The complete argument is that there must be a "necessary being," i.e. something that cannot not exist, because if there were only contingent beings, i.e. things that can not-exist, then, in an eternity that allows for all possibilities, one possibility is that all contingent beings could not-exist simultaneously, which means that there would be nothing and nothing would subsequently exist afterwards. So, since things do exist, there must be a necessary being, which would never not-exist. This is an argument that at least does not suffer from the ambiguity and confusion of Locke's argument. Nevertheless, it has two things seriously wrong with it. One is that even "all eternity" need not allow for all possibilities. We at least require a premise that, by definition, "possibility" is something that would happen in eternity. It is not obvious that we need allow this. More importantly, the notion that a contingent being, in ceasing to exist, simply becomes nothing, is false. If St. Thomas is going to posit the principle that ex nihilo, nihil fit, "out of nothing, nothing comes," which is needed for his argument (or contingent beings could simply reemerge from nothingness), he cannot reject the companion principle, which goes all the way back to Parmenides, that Being cannot just become Nothing. In Aristotle's metaphysics, which St. Thomas certainly knew, contingent beings cease to exist by becoming other contingent beings. They do not just become nothing.

It was his lame argument for God that left me with the impression that Locke was not a very good philosopher, before I discovered the Second Treatise. Certainly, metaphysics and, truth be told, epistemology are not his strongest suits. Although originally his fame was due to the Essay, Locke's enduring greatness as a philosopher now is certainly because of the influence and wisdom of his political writing. Yet, this has itself been obscured, for, indeed, political reasons.

I suspect that one might read a great deal of contemporary political philosophy, or take many political science classes, and come away with little sense of Locke's importance. When I was an undergraduate at UCLA (1968-1971), I remember much discussion of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), and Leviathan was always to be seen on the shelves for many classes in the campus bookstore. Of Locke's political thought, however, I heard nothing, and the Two Treatises of Government was a book I never saw. This circumstance has continued in the source books I have used for my Modern Philosophy class, where both Hobbes and Locke are featured but where selections of Locke's works never include any of his political writing.

Why should this oversight, and this preference, occur? Since Locke is the founder of modern Liberalism, one might think liberals would often invoke him, and as an ideological inspiration for the American Revolution, one might think that conservatives would praise him also. But we get little enough of either. In the first place this is because American "liberalism" is no longer Liberal in the 17th, 18th, or 19th Century sense. Liberalism was a philosophy for free (liber) individuals living under limited government. This was in contrast to traditional views of government in which its responsibility was the virtue of the citizens, which meant an authoritarian and all but totalitarian oversight of their lives. The Liberal view of virtue is that it effects both its own rewards and its own punishments, as we see in this statement by Frederick Douglass, from "What the Black Man Wants":

Everybody has asked the question... "What shall we do with the Negro?" I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are wormeaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature's plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone!

"Let him alone!" is the essence of the Liberal plea. But it is now hardly believed by anyone in American politics. Modern "liberals" do not believe that anyone can prosper without help from the government, and conservatives have returned to traditional notions of the government oversight of individual virtue. Each believes that the apples must be tied to the tree, either because that is the only way that success can be attained, or because the inherent human temptations to corruption cannot otherwise be resisted. Modern "liberals" believe that the original Liberal philosophy was uncaring, heartless, and blind to the oppessions and exploitations of capitalism, a "social Darwinism" that believes failure should be punished by death. Conservatives do not believe that people can be trusted with freedom, because they will inevitably fall into vice, pulling down the strength of the whole country.

However, it is not Darwin, but morality, that horrifies the modern "liberal." Conservatives, in turn, simply do not have the courage of their own convictions. When the Bible says "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23), this means, in general terms, that vice has natural punishments, the failures and diseases of the corrupt. Any sensible person would leave these to speak for themselves. Thus, conservatives somehow believe that people will not know of or believe in the dangers of drug abuse without there being laws against it (to "make a statement"), even though the draconian nature of the laws and punishments convince many of the young that there are actually no serious inherent dangers in drugs at all. Adults who had this attitude in their youth, and who experimented in the dangerous diversions of the Sixties, now seem to wish prison on their own children rather than have them risk similar experiments -- experiments that occur all the more dangerously in connection to the black market and the violent underground that a Prohibition regime creates.

Modern "liberals" have somehow adopted the notion that virtue and morality are arbitrary social conventions with no inherent consequences at all. Success or failure are not supplied by virtue and effort, but by government, which consequently has the job of making everything good, whatever the behavior of any citizen. Since this costs a lot of money, the money must be taken, by taxes, from those who actually are productive and prosperous. And since the productive and prosperous frequently rather resent the fruit of their labor being taken and given to those who may have made no efforts themselves, the productive and prosperous become targets of political smear and damnation as "selfish," "greedy," "uncaring," unwilling to do their "fair share," etc., in order to give a moral gloss to a political program itself founded on a denial of morality. This is actually an example of the moralistic relativism discussed elsewhere.

Genuine Liberalism knows that people cannot be made to succeed, but it certainly doesn't want them to die either. There are two important distinctions. First, that people must know there is a difference between the effects of virtue and the effects of vice. This means that the bad consequences of bad behavior cannot all be made good, and no one has the responsibility to do that. Second, those willing to reform their behavior must be helped, not by government, which always begins to buy votes by handing out benefits, and where programs always end up benefiting bureaucrats more than the presumptive beneficiaries, but by private charity. Thus, aid is not unconditional, and certanly not "non-judgmental," but all it takes to receive it is a determination to renounce bad behaviors and make an effort. The "liberal" attitude now, however, is definitely "non-judgmental," and this means that everyone has a right to support, regardless of their attitude or behavior. "Charity" itself is a bad word to them, since it implies the absence of a right that can be simply demanded.

The older moral determination we see in a quote from Benjamin Franklin's "The Encouragement of Idleness" in 1766:

I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer. There is no country in the world where so many provisions are established for them; so many hospitals to receive them when they are sick or lame, founded and maintained by voluntary charities; so many alms-houses for the aged of both sexes, together with a solemn general law made by the rich to subject their estates to a heavy tax for the support of the poor. Under all these obligations, are our poor modest, humble, and thankful; and do they use their best endeavours to maintain themselves, and lighten our shoulders of this burthen? On the contrary, I affirm that there is no country in the world in which the poor are more idle, dissolute, drunken, and insolent. The day you passed that act, you took away from before their eyes the greatest of all inducements to industry, frugality, and sobriety, by giving them a dependence on somewhat else than a careful accumulation during youth and health, for support in age or sickness. In short, you offered a premium for the encouragement of idleness, and you should not now wonder that it has had its effect in the increase of poverty.

This could just as easily be written today. Indeed, we get a modern version of it in Theodore Dalrymple's Life at the Bottom, The Worldview That Makes the Underclass [Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 2001, p.5]:

The aim of untold millions is to be free to do exactly as they choose and for someone else to pay when things go wrong.

In the past few decades, a peculiar and distinctive psychology has emerged in England. Gone are the civility, sturdy independence, and admirable stoicism that carried the English through the war years. It has been replaced by a constant whine of excuses, complaints, and special pleading. The collapse of the British character has been as swift and complete as the collapse of British power.

Indeed, the conceit that "liberals" are more compassionate and caring, just because they vote to give away other people's money, has recently been exploded by Arthur C. Brooks in Who Really Cares, America's Charity Divide, Who Gives, Who Doesn't and Why It Matters [Basic Books, 2006]. The stereotype that conservatives don't care and are contemptuous of the needy is contradicted by Brooks' statistics on giving and volunteering. It turns out conservatives do this much more than "liberals," while religious conservatives, expected to be the most hypocritical of all hypocrites in "liberal" opinion, give more than any other group. Now, "liberals" simply don't believe in the necessity of giving, since they think this is a job for taxes and government. However, unless they believe in laws requiring people to give blood, they cannot argue that this is none of their concern either -- and they do give less blood than conservatives or the religious. To an extent, as it happens, they may very well believe in involuntary "volunteering," since "community service" has worked its way, not just into criminal sentencing, but into educational requirements in the schools. They usually say, however, that they hope this will create a habit of volunteering that will carry over after graduation. But their practice and their ideology are apparently not consistent with this wish. A "let the government do it" attitude ends up as a reason, in general, to do nothing personally at all. Paying taxes takes care of it. And if someone else doesn't want their money wasted on bureaucrats, public employee unions, and people who make no effort to help themselves, then they must be "mean spirited."

This may all seem a long way from John Locke, but it is not. Limited government, private responsibility, and the private provison of charity are all parts of the Liberal vision from Locke, to Thomas Jefferson, to John Stuart Mill, to F.A. Hayek. Yet the elements of this vision, however important historically, are hardly heard in public debate these days, where "liberals" and conservatives have an interest in perpetuating the notion that each is the only alternative to the other. Each wants a larger and more powerful government for their own purposes; and Jefferson's warning, that we should never give to government powers that we would not want in the hands of our enemies, is ignored. Amid all this deception and confusion, going back to the source, going back to Locke, helps impose a little clarity.

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John Locke (1632-1704), Note

A telling illustration in this is the fate of Russia, which has had both "numbers of men" and "largeness of dominions." One might think that nothing could go wrong. In the Napoleonic Era, Russia had the largest economy in the world. This was not because of its absolute level of development -- Britain already had the highest per capita gross national product (GNP) in the world -- but because of its relative level of development multiplied by its population. According to Paul Kennedy (The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Vintage, 1989, p.171), Britain had not surpassed France in GNP until 1840, and did not surpass Russia until 1860. However, the Russian economy at that point had been damaged by the Crimean War; and by 1870, when it had recovered, Russia again had the largest GNP. Britain did not permanently surpass Russia until 1880. British supremacy would be short lived. By 1900, the United States was larger, though not in per capita terms. Then, by World War I, both the United States and Germany were larger, and the United States also had the highest per capita GNP in the world. Russia, meanwhile, was down at fourth in absolute GNP -- more like seventh in per capita GNP. This was still something to reckon with, but Russia's problems with projecting its power were also revealed by the fiasco of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).

After World War I, we enter a realm of conjecture and deception when it comes to the Russian economy. After World War II, Paul Kennedy consistently shows the Soviet economy as the second largest in the world. To get there, however, there is a particularly suspicious statistic in his book. He shows the "total industrial potential" of Russia jumping from 72% (of Britain's in 1900) to 152% between 1928 and 1938. To imagine that the Soviet economy doubled in size during some of the worst years of Stalin's mass murders and crackpot economic schemes is inherently improbable, especially in retrospect. When the Soviet Union was opened to foreign inspection under Mikhail Gorbachev, it turned out that overall economic development had even been lower than what the CIA had estimated. The confident assertions of many gullible Western economists, like John Kenneth Galbraith, in the 1980's, that the Soviet economy was efficient and successful, had all been based on very successful deception. The case of Galbraith, by the way, discredits the leftist argument that the CIA knew how small the Soviet economy was and magnified its size just to ramp up the Cold War and promote its own position and power. I would not put it past a state bureaucracy to do this, in its own interest; but it does mean that Galbraith must have been a dupe or a tool of the CIA. So Galbraith was a fool of the Soviet Union, of the CIA, or both. Not a flattering picture in any case, but I expect he would be more offended to be identified as an agent of the CIA.

More recently, The Economist Pocket World in Figures for 2003, put the Russian economy absolutely as only the 18th largest in the world, behind Taiwan and Argentina. Per capita gross domestic product (GDP) for Russia wasn't even in the top 70 countries. Things looked better adjusted for prices. In "purchasing power party" (PPP), the Russian economy was 10th in size and actually as good as 55th in per capita terms. Things look a little different in the 2007 edition of the Pocket World in Figures. Russia is up to 15th in absolute size, now ahead of Taiwan (20th). But this still comes out as 10th in size in PPP. Russia is still not in the top 70 in per capita GDP, and now has fallen out of the top 70 in per capita GDP in PPP. Russia only has 25% of the per capita GDP in PPP of the United States, behind even South Africa (28.2%). While die hards would like to think that capitalism has ruined the fine economy of the Soviet Union, the truth is that contemporary Russia still doesn't have much in the way of capitalism (certainly not a free market untroubled by gansterism, corruption, and political control), while the Soviet economy had been collapsing of its own weight for decades.

The position of Russia in 1914 now looks more like that of China in 2007. In both 2003 and 2007 The Economist had China as the 6th largest economy in the world. It still only has 14.9% of the per capita GDP of the United States in PPP, but it has been growing at an annual rate of better than 9% (vs. less than 3% for Russia or, for that matter, France). It is estimated that China could have the largest economy in the world by 2020. Which brings us back to John Locke. The advantage of Britain over Russia was in capital -- human, material, and financial. "Numbers of men are to be prefered to largeness of dominions" if the men know what they are doing, though, of course, nothing will be done at all with a large dominion that has no one in it. Even the "numbers of men" are only significant when multiplied by productivity, and productivity depends on the capital intensity of labor. Marxists today often argue that the Soviet Union wasn't truly socialist or communist, but only "state capitalism." However, there is no doubt that the Soviet Union officially did not believe in the existence of capital and had no policies to address either the preservation or the growth of capital. Since State industries didn't need to turn a profit, they all needed subsidizing. And in an economy with no net profit or growth of capital, every industry needed subsidizing. Such subsidies, then, could only come out of capital, which is why I like to compare the Soviet economy to a starving person, who begins to metabolize his own tissues. The Soviet Union, in a sense, lived off the fat, such as it was, either of Tsarist Russia or of the enthusiastic Westerners who put their money and/or their persons into the great Soviet experiment. Many of them, tragically, lost not only their money but their lives, often just to disappear into labor camps.

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