1.2.4-16 - Democracy and Land Rights

Module 1, Section 2.4-16

Democracy and Land Rights

2.4 Let us now look more deeply into this issue of democracy and land rights.

2.5 John Locke and the Crack in the Liberty Bell



2.7c Chief Little Bear, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, with the Bell. Source: www.ushistory.org/libertybell/essay/stop22.htm

2.8 To fully understand the limitations in our current form of democracy (as can be symbolized by the crack that developed in the "Liberty Bell" that rang out for freedom in the United States during the American Revolution) it is necessary to trace the thread of the democratic ideal back to its fundamental tenets. Pondering the problem of persistent poverty within a democratic system of government, Richard Noyes - a former recent New Hampshire State Representative in the United States and editor of the book, Now the Synthesis: Capitalism, Socialism, and the New Social Contract - identifies the current land tenure system as "the one great imperfection, the snag on which freedom catches."

2.9 Noyes shows us that the "Age of Reason gave us a thesis with flaws." John Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government, the political bible of the founding fathers, held that "the great and chief end of men's uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government is the preservation of their property." The central understanding was that only through the guarantee of property rights could the individual really be free.

2.10 In further defining property rights Locke stated that "every man has a `property' in his own person," so that anything a man has "removed from the common state," anything with which he has "mixed his own labor," is rightfully his own. The securing of this right was to be the main duty of a democratic government. Locke also affirmed that "God has given the earth to the children of men," (Psalm 115:16)."

2.11 But the trouble lies with Locke's Second Proviso regarding property. He maintained that it was correct for the individual in a state of nature "to mix his labor with land and so call [the produced wealth] his own since there was still enough [land] and as good left, and more than the yet unprovided could use." Locke said that people in England who wanted land could go to America to stake a claim from the vacant commons, the terra nullia of Roman law. This was justification for the Europeans to take land from the native peoples. Because the native people did not have former paper titles to their land, the colonizers claimed that it was "vacant."

2.12 In the Second Proviso the reasoning of the primary mentor of the founders of democracy was faulty and limited. In his justification for land enclosures and privatization Locke failed to grasp the consequences for democracy of a time like ours when so few humans would come to control so much of the earth, to the exclusion of the vast majority. Nor could he have known how the forces of a industrial economy would drive land values to such heights, to the benefit of landowners and bank lenders rather than wage earners.

2.13 The property-in-land problem, insufficiently scrutinized by John Locke and the founding fathers, is the crack in the Liberty Bell. It is the root dilemma of democracy. Having life and liberty without land rights breeds unhappiness, unemployment, wage slavery, suffering, militarization and even death. Democratic government as presently constituted, because it is not grounded and embedded in the principle of equal rights to the earth, cannot build a world of peace and justice.

2.14 Although John Locke was clear on several important tenets for democracy while unclear on the land rights issue, he nonetheless did have the seed kernel of a vision for earth rights democracy. The quote below indicates his belief that all land is a commons and that exclusive private property in land is not of the same order of "sacredness."

2.15 John Locke (1632 - 1704):

God gave the world in common to all mankind. When the "sacredness" of property is talked of, it should be remembered that any such sacredness does not belong in the same degree to landed property.


2.16 Land Grab: An aggressive taking of land in order to expand territorial holdings or broaden power.