Locke's Waste Restriction and His Strong Voluntarism

Locke Studies 6:127-141 (2006)
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This paper argues that there is a conflict between two principles informing Locke’s political philosophy, namely his waste restriction and his strong voluntarism. Locke’s waste restriction is proposed as a necessary, enforceable restriction upon rightful private property holdings and it yields arguments to preserve and redistribute natural resources. Locke’s strong voluntarism is proposed as the liberal ideal of political obligations. It expresses Locke’s view that each individual has a natural political power, which can only be transferred to a political body through the individual’s voluntary, actual consent. On this view, the legitimacy of a political power is dependent upon its subjects’ actual consent to its authority. After briefly outlining these two ideas informing Locke’s conception, I argue that we cannot maintain both at the same time. Therefore, contemporary Lockeans must either derive restrictions upon private property concerned with preserving natural resources from other aspects of Locke’s theory or they must accept weak voluntarism as the ideal of political obligations. I argue that both alternatives pose significant problems for the Lockean project.

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Helga Varden
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


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