01 July 2013

John Locke

In the second of his Two Treatises on Government, the seventeenth-century English political theorist John Locke accepted the inevitability of inequality stemming from the invention of money and private property. But having done so, he also had to acknowledge the need for a state to police the inequities that the market produces. Any state that could do this effectively, however, would also be strong enough to threaten the property holders it was meant to protect. And so a tension was born in the heart of liberalism: you can’t live with the state, since it might rob you, but you also can’t live without it, since the mob might kill you.