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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/9611/down-with-the-lockean-proviso/

Down with the Lockean Proviso

March 13, 2009 by

My attention was recently called to Tibor Machan’s paper “Self-Ownership and the Lockean Proviso” (working paper version), which will be in his book The Promise of Liberty (Lexington, 2009). As noted in the Abstract, the paper argues as follows:

Locke’s defense of private property rights includes what is called a proviso–”the Lockean proviso”–and some have argued that in terms of it the right to private property can have various exceptions and it may not even be unjust to redistribute wealth that is privately owned. I argue that this cannot be right because it would imply that one’s right to life could also have various exceptions, so anyone’s life (and labor) could be subject to conscription if some would need it badly enough. Since this could amount to enslavement and involuntary servitude, it would be morally and legally unacceptable.

Other libertarian criticisms of the Lockean Proviso include Rothbard, ch. 29 of The Ethics of Liberty; Hoppe, p. 410 et pass. of The Economics and Ethics of Private Property; and de Jasay, p. 188 and 195 of Against Politics (also discussed on p. 91 in my review thereof).

See also my own critique of what I call Walter Block’s “Blockean Proviso“. As I note there, the Lockean Proviso says that you may homestead an unowned good but only if “enough and as good” is left for others–that is, if you don’t harm them by your homesteading action by making it more difficult for them to have a similar opportunity to homestead some goods of that type. Both Block and I would reject this. But the Blockean Proviso would say that you can only homestead property that is a potential means of access to other unowned resource so long as enough and as good access to the unowned resource remains available!


Lucas March 13, 2009 at 4:15 pm

I got a good gist of this from Narvesson, Respecting persons…

David C March 13, 2009 at 10:28 pm

I disagree with this. Human action is the ends in itself, not property. Property is usually a consequence of human action, because without it all that is left is “might makes right” – which tends to minimize human action.

“… that this cannot be right because it would imply that one’s right to life could also have various exceptions…”

There are various exceptions. If I’m locked in a cage with you, and there is only although water for one person to live. My right to live is as much as yours – irrespective of property or claim.

However, in larger populations, all claims like this are a fraud. It will be “every man for himself”, long before any leader ever claiming to represent the greater good could “wisely” allocate the remaining scare resources.

Philosophies that don’t make maximization of human action the ends will always run into unrealistic problems. EG. someone claiming a continent, and then violating peoples liberties in the name of “property rights”

newson March 13, 2009 at 11:28 pm

david c says:
“might makes right” – which tends to minimize human action.”

you mean it tends to minimize productive, rather than re-distributive human action? or human action in general?

Gil March 14, 2009 at 12:22 am

I disagree – moral might does make right. A problem with a lot moralities is the way they preach Pacifism. If a moral society is to last then they should follow a moral creed that preaches the moral to be strong warriors and teach this strength to their descendants. Pacifists act surprised when they keep finding themselves overrun by criminal gangs again and again. It’s almost a crime to good strong people taking their knowledge ‘to their graves’ because they’re afraid the next generation might use the knowledge for evil never thinking for a moment that criminal gangs immediate school their children in their criminal ways.

Aeon J. Skoble March 14, 2009 at 9:31 am

I think Nozick already defused this issue. The proviso is ONLY applicable in the hypothetical state of nature. It’s a hypothetical limit on original appropriation in the S of N. In the real world, the proviso is always met* because you have either literally created new stuff, or obtained something via trade, thus automatically “leaving” something for others.
*unless you’re stealing of course

Richard Garner March 16, 2009 at 12:02 pm


I am inclined to agree with you on Nozick. However, one point to pick up on:

I think Nozick already defused this issue. The proviso is ONLY applicable in the hypothetical state of nature.

Actually, Nozick doesn’t mean it just to apply in the state of nature. In a footnote to page 55 of ASU he suggests that the proviso may apply to prohibiting acquiring property so as to trap somebody in their home (by acquiring the property around the person’s house). The implication of those, though, is that the proviso is not simply about “the principles of justice in acquisition,” but also about “the principles of justice in transfer,” since it would allow a third party to impose conditions upon the terms by which one person sell’s their land to another. In the end, though, it means that, by allowing the proviso, Nozick’s theory of justicie ceases to be a historical one and beomes a patterned theory. It also seems not conform to a “will” or “choice theory of rights,” making it open to incompossibilities of rights or duties.

Michael A. Clem March 16, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Reading the original Locke, I didn’t see where he provides any real argument in support of the proviso–he just sort of throws it out as an assertion. The closest he comes to an argument for it is that God gave the world to man in common. Clearly not a good, logical argument.
Thus, I think it’s safe to just ignore the proviso–it doesn’t hurt the rest of his argument for the initial acquisition of unowned resources–and don’t see a need to dance around it, explain it away, or anything else.

Rider I June 30, 2010 at 7:19 pm

The Basic Lockean theory of property rights is this. One may own their own individual property as long as it does not cause harm and leaves enough room of space for all to enjoy. Pretty much what you get in the US as Lockean framed our constitution. What you get is that a certain amount of property as proposed would be hurt by human ownership. As land where animals live or it is just proper to leave it wild. Then there is the land that is needed by everyone like the government property which then can be owned by everyone. That is the basic idea of Lockean property ownership. It does not state specifically that all property should be homesteaded or otherwise owned. It just states that a humans labors are their own, as such they may use their labors to own their own. The idea of anti-feudal communism is what Locke’s theories was about. That is why you do not see the Lockean principle in dictionaries or college economic text’s as private property and the basic working of mercantilism by Locke is not found in many socalist text books or dictionaries. As they wish for the idea to die off. As Marxism, is believed to be the better idea because it automatically, leaves way for subscription into the social economic structure by force through communal ownership. It is usually used by those scared to actually try and make it on their own, and compete fairly.

Rider I June 30, 2010 at 7:33 pm

“On each of Locke’s accounts of the origin of private property rights, un-owned property can only be acquired subject to the Lockean proviso. This proviso is an ‘enough and as good’ clause on original acquisition, stating that we can only appropriate un-owned property if we leave enough and as good for others.”

I would then have to say that he solves his proviso by this:
“Monopolies, exclusive rights over scarce resources, involve a breach of this right, and so cannot be legitimately acquired.”

Cites as taken from
As only to further a small research into the proviso, based on refresher of prior thought and knowledge.

I would leave room in the proviso so as not to extreme it but to understand it as an anti-monopolistic style rule. Where as if we leave enough good for others then at that point we can actually acquire enough for ourselves and further the good for each’ individuals ownership. For example let’s say in real world implications if I am on the right track. Water:
There is a pond. One wishes to own the pond of water, may I say the only pond left in the world. Therefore, by this one pond being owned by this one person it then leads into further complications of such ownership of a scarce resources. As such. This pond owner could raise the prices so much so as to not allow anyone to own anything individually. Therefore, in the long process taken more rights away than given.
However, make no mistake private property is at the key of individual freedoms. So the proposed idea would be to sell segments of the pond to the last reaming folks if taken in the extreme point of Lockism. However, this would seem to be cumbersome and tireless to sell a point in a resource for each individual to own. That is where we get basic Federal powers of protection. However, remind you basic. As such a small proviso should not be so far reaching as to take away the rights of individual to own property because of scarcity of commercial competition.

Jason Gordon August 17, 2010 at 11:35 am

I can still dig my own pond, though I may need to buy the fish with which to stock it.

Is a neighboring pond owner within his rights to decline to sell me live fish, rather offering only dead for sale?

Can property owners between the river and my pond deny passage if I’m carrying live fish overland?

Can river-front property owners stipulate that any fish taken from their banks be killed before leaving the premises?

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