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Rights and Ownership

Justice: What's The Right Thing To Do?

Episode 04: "THIS LAND IS MY LAND"

The philosopher John Locke believes that individuals have certain rights so fundamental that no government can ever take them away. These rights—to life, liberty and property—were given to us as human beings in the the state of nature, a time before government and laws were created. According to Locke, our natural rights are governed by the law of nature, known by reason, which says that we can neither give them up nor take them away from anyone else. Sandel wraps up the lecture by raising a question: what happens to our natural rights once we enter society and consent to a system of laws?

 

If we all have unalienable rights to life, liberty, and property, how can a government enforce tax laws passed by the representatives of a mere majority? Doesn't that amount to taking some peoples property without their consent? Lockes response is that we give our tacit consent to obey the tax laws passed by a majority when we choose to live in a society. Therefore, taxation is legitimate and compatible with individual rights, as long as it applies to everyone and does not arbitrarily single anyone out.

Editors comment

Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?In terms of property ownership, perhaps we should see that we belong to the earth rather than we own the earth. Its fair that then land we live on being possessed and managed to recognised as custodianships. While the American Indians did not enclose the land with fences, they had clearly defined territories. Feng makes a good point which is ignored by capitalism (22min).

Should not government be an institution appointed by the people to serve the collective needs of the population without removing individual native rights. However these natural rights have long ago been removed from all individuals to the extent that some privileged individuals are above the law. Nicola makes a good point - (24mins) and many people have tried to drop out, however this is a multi millionaire privilege in today's society.

Links
Harvard University.
The book, Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? by Michael Sandel.
Two Treatises of Government (Everyman S.) Peter Laslett's edition of Locke's "Two Treatises of Government" is widely recognised as one of the classic pieces of recent scholarship in the history of ideas, and has been read and used by students of politcal theory throughout the world.

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