John Locke was wrong – Part 2

In the previous post I introduced John Locke’s theory of the state of nature, and his defence of property, and I began to critique it, if you haven’t yet read the previous post, I suggest you do, as it might be difficult to follow this one otherwise. Let’s Leave the economic realm let’s talk about the Lockean philosophy and how it applies to relations between the sexes. What is the logic of the one nightstand? Or of the feminist idea of harassment? The one nightstand takes the idea of sex as an individual and autonomous act between two individuals. Reciprocal exchange is the norm here, Person A meets person B, they find each other physically attractive, and they contract a sexual encounter, which is mutually pleasurable (hopefully), and then the contract is over, no rights have been violated, autonomy is maintained. It seems to fit perfectly with John Locks idea of the state of nature and humans rights he says:

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: 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 another’s pleasure: and being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for our’s.

So thus a one nightstand fits, no demands are being made outside of the mutual sexual exchange, no one is “used” no one is “harmed.” But is that really the case? I addressed the question of sex in an earlier post, specifically sex as something sacred. The intimacy of sex will always impose on a person engaging in it, a woman giving her body away, a man exposing himself to a woman, the intimacy of it is inescapable, even just the bearing of the naked bodies is in a sense intrusive. Sex puts one in subordination to the other, and at the same time, vice versa, the man is making love to the woman, and at the same time the woman can affirm or deny him, there can be no autonomy in sex. There can be no autonomy in sex, unless of course we reduce sex to nothing more than mutual masturbation, or a contract between John and prostitute.

The move to separate the act of sex to notions of fidelity, to “liberalize” it, will end up creating it a commodity. That is exactly what has happened, With everything from the fall of marriage, to the growth of pornography, to the commodification of sex, to the growth of apps like “tinder” which reduce sex to a near anonymous Exchange. “Sexual liberation” has put man and woman into a situation where they are forced to deny the obvious. They are forced to deny the fact that sex is, in fact, not only intimate, but also sacred and that there is no sex without a sacrifice of autonomy. Man and woman are told to treat sex in a similar way one would treat any other exchangeable commodity. The view is “I own my body” and thus I may dispose of it as I like, use it for my own pleasure, and use other people’s bodies for my own pleasure as long as I don’t not violate any of their rights. The obvious intrusion, the loss of autonomy, the binding together, the threat of love, is ignored, but it’s there nonetheless. It’s an inconvenient truth that sex and love are tied together. Just as enviromental degradation is seen as an inconvenient truth and externality when it comes to liberal economics, so the threat of love and the sacrifice innate in sex and romance is seen as inconvenient for “sexual liberation” ideologies. But it’s there, whether we like it or not.

We also have the idea of harassment. There are various ways to look at harassment; one is a Lockean way, which would say that harassment is the violation of an individual’s right to choose their own interactions. Harassment is an intrusion on my person, which I did not consent to, and which thus is a violation of my right to liberty. Another way to look at harassment is not that one has a “right” to choose one’s one interactions, or to be left alone unless contact is consented to, but rather that one is treating another in an unkind and unjust way, one is treating another in a way that lacks love or respect and is thus immoral. The latter way would be more along the lines of a “virtue ethic” (Probably the most ancient ethical theory, from Aristotle to Alistair Macintyre). It also follows the Christian Ethic to Love one’s neighbor. This is a positive ethic, not merely an assertion of negative liberties.

Harassment taken in the Lockean way would basically, if taken to the extreme, destroy the entire possibility of romance. It would also destroy any genuine possibility of relationship. What friendship begins with consent? What consent can be given? What conversation, gift, or interaction can truly be consented to a priori? It’s impossible; imagine, for example, that a man consents to sleep with a woman on the condition that she doesn’t fall in love with him. Or imagine that I consent to have a conversation with you on the grounds that you don’t say anything I disagree with. Both scenarios are absolutely impossible, any relationship, sexual or otherwise cannot exist without some kind of intrusion. Yet this is what the Lockean logic would demand if taken to the Extreme.

This is where the common modern maxim of “As long as you’re not hurting anyone, I don’t care what you do,” comes from. The problem is we are not autonomous individuals. We are who we are becomes someone loved us, and because we loved others. Being hurt by someone is not as bad as being un-recognized, being invisible, being alienated. But in order to be recognized, be visible, be recognized, one must accept the very real possibility of being hurt, having one’s autonomy (which never really existed anyway) violated, being intruded upon. This fear, this conflict of Lockean ideology with the human desire for love, is part of the reason why people like Alain Badiou believes love is under threat, and I agree with him.

John Locke writes about marriage and love in Chapter 7:

Conjugal society is made by a voluntary compact between man and woman; and tho’ it consist chiefly in such a communion and right in one another’s bodies as is necessary to its chief end, procreation; yet it draws with it mutual support and assistance, and a communion of interests too, as necessary not only to unite their care and affection, but also necessary to their common off-spring, who have a right to be nourished, and maintained by them, till they are able to provide for themselves.

And later:

But the husband and wife, though they have but one common concern, yet having different understandings, will unavoidably sometimes have different wills too; it therefore being necessary that the last determination, i. e. the rule, should be placed somewhere; it naturally falls to the man’s share, as the abler and the stronger.

This common concern is that of raising a child. In Locke’s world, marriage is reduced to a contract, a contract over coinciding interests between two otherwise autonomous people. Forgetting the experiential nonsense of such a view, let’s look at this purely theologically. What was the original intention of marriage, was it based on some kind of mutual contract? Some kind of meeting of common interest? Not at all, Genesis 2:

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19 So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones     and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman,     for out of Man this one was taken.”

24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

The primary purpose was that man should not be alone, that he should have a helper and a partner. That they are to be “one flesh,” this is not a contract relationship in any way. In Genesis where does the “power of the husband” come from? After the fall, it comes from the woman’s desire, Genesis 3:16 says:

To the woman he said,

“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;     in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband,     and he shall rule over you.”

The rulership of man over woman, in the fallen state, comes from desire, not from some kind of power balance. This is not a contract of common interests. Now, to be clear, John Locke is mainly arguing against monarchy as an absolute authority and against the theological argument for such seemingly arbitrary authority. That being said, the arguments are based on presumptions that are faulty, and which lead one to a misunderstanding of the human condition, and thus future error.

From the autonomous individual John Locke then derives the idea of community, he says in Chapter 8:

For when any number of men have, by the consent of every individual, made a community, they have thereby made that community one body, with a power to act as one body, which is only by the will and determination of the majority: for that which acts any community, being only the consent of the individuals of it, and it being necessary to that which is one body to move one way; it is necessary the body should move that way whither the greater force carries it, which is the consent of the majority: or else it is impossible it should act or continue one body, one community, which the consent of every individual that united into it, agreed that it should; and so every one is bound by that consent to be concluded by the majority.

We can see here clearly how the false idea of man as an autonomous individual distorts further considerations of social life, not only marriage, but now also community. No one truly consents to be within a community, they find themselves already in a community, learn of its customs, its rules, one’s place within the community, its potentials and so on. Any consent that is given is within the context of the possibilities that are given in whatever community one finds oneself in.

It is not that individuals come together to form a community by means of common consent. It is rather, that communities create possibilities for individuals to realize themselves, to actually create an identity from the dependencies, relationships and interactions within the community. Just as the very notion of “property” or “production” depend on a community, so does the very idea of personal will, individuality, or identity depend on a community. Identity is nothing if not a way in which one wishes to be seen by others. Desire and will which is of any importance is only possible when one has opportunities and possibilities presented to him.

This backwards thinking of John Locke, and the subsequent Liberal Orthodoxy which developed in the west, is, in my opinion, the source of much confusion and moral incompetence that we find in the Modern World. The idea that the individual is free and autonomous and that relationships are free mutually beneficial contracts between equals is an absolute fallacy, yet it is the presupposition of modern Liberal Capitalist societies.

The fact of the matter is we can only be who we are because of our relationships. Both Liberalism and Capitalism insist on isolating human beings, making them fight over rights, over property, over privatized resources. We are told that the only real economy is market exchange and pursuit of profit, that the natural way human beings are to interact is as if at any moment violence will break out, relationships will cease, communities will fall apart, that we are to interact as though everyone is constantly out to get us. Not only are we told that this is the case, through Capitalist investment, the rule of Usury, the insistence of profit, and the privatization of common goods, this state of affairs is enforced.

We are also told that we are by nature free, individual autonomous beings, God’s in our own right, and that any moral authority proposed is relative to our own will. We are told that we “own” our bodies, we “own” what the law says we own, and that we can dispose of whatever we own as we wish, and we ought to dispose of it in a way that profits us. We are told that we ought to create our own identity, shape it, be the best we can be, sleep with whom we wish, do whatever we wish, and that the only obligations we have are those that we consent to or contract into.

All of these things create a society where man is isolated, alienated, where most live in a state of exclusion or threat of exclusion from economic life, where relationships and fidelity are always under threat, where there is less and less space for love and faith while more space is taken up by profit and egotism. This didn’t start with Locke, it started with Cain, Genesis 4:9,10 says:

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!

Cain was a Lockean, he appealed to the Lockean perspective, in his mind he was not his brother’s keeper, his brother was responsible for himself and Cain was responsible for himself. But God thought otherwise. Liberalism and Capitalism which have as (one of) their ideological champion Locke, are ultimately in opposition to the Christian Worldview and Christian Ethic of Love of God and Love of Neighbour.

John Locke was wrong – Part 2

One thought on “John Locke was wrong – Part 2

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s