Elizabeth Vair Assignment 2 Locke and Slavery


This is the perfect condition of slavery, which is nothing else but the state of war continued between a lawful conqueror and a captive, for if once compact enter between them, and make an agreement for a limited power on the one side, and obedience on the other, the state of war and slavery ceases as long as the compact endures; for, as has been said, no man can by agreement pass over to another that which he hath not in himself—a power over his own life. (paragraph 23)

I chose Locke’s section on slavery because the concept of slavery is one that revolves around lack of freedom and involuntary servitude – it is not agreed upon by both parties. My issue with this passage was that it was sustaining a contradiction since Locke previously noted that people had the right to their own free will based on their reasoning abilities. However, slavery in Locke’s context is not necessarily over another being without reason; instead, it is with a person that can be assumed to have reason.  After consulting Professor Quillen’s notes and talking with fellow classmates, I concluded that Locke is expecting both parties will be equally complaint because the enslaved party lost fairly, and enslavement was simply the nature of conflict. Yet, I still had an issue with this passage as Locke previously said the state of nature did not equal the state of war, which I interpreted as the idea that man will not necessarily resort to violence but thrive in a context of mutual agreements. After further examination, I understood Locke’s statement as one that accepts conflict can arise in the context of man, yet, he takes an optimistic stance and presumes that all involved parties will be complacent, regardless of the outcome. This ties in with the question: “Do power structures form your identity?” I believe this paragraph supports the answer of yes, as the power structures, which are assumed to be mutually agreed upon, (per Locke’s previous statements on the formation of governing bodies) have implemented an expected response for people in conflict, and, due to the respect for that power structure, the people are complacent in accepting an identity they may previously not have conformed to. 

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