Gabby Morreale “Slippery Slope of Slavery”, John Locke

Chapter IV, “Of Slavery” (paragraph 23)

23. “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.

                  I confess, we find among the Jews, as well as other nations, that men did sell themselves; but it is plain this was only to drudgery, not to slavery; for it is evident the person sold was not under an absolute, arbitrary, despotical power, for the master could not have power to kill him at any time…”

                  I chose this passage because of the moral dilemma it does not address. If Locke believed that all humans are equal in a state of nature, how can slavery exist? How can degradation of the human dignity occur when Locke so clearly emphasizes the bodily autonomy of man? However, in Professor Quillen’s lecture “humanism’s human and its critics” as well as in the notes on John Locke, she expressed Locke’s  theme of consent between men within the state of nature. Man can only have political parties and create a common good if there is mutual agreement between all participating members. Therefore, in the perspective of John Locke, slavery is justified within the context of a state of war, because both sides in a conflict agree that there will be power within one side and obedience from the other. Slavery is a “compact”, or a formal, voluntary choice within the state of war. In our discussions, we talked about the concept in “Questions of Multi-Culturalism”, an interview conducted by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak regarding the representation of the human experience; rather than looking at the questions that are being asked about human experience, what is not being asked? What perspectives are not being privileged? Locke’s explanation may depict slavery as an exercise of freedom, but it is not considering the unethical exercise of control over man that coincides with the freedom, thus leaving question of “why” in slavery unanswered.

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