The best present day example of a society with strong social controls and weak government controls, a society with plurality of force, is Switzerland. (Kopel, p278- 302) In peacetime the Swiss army has no generals, no central command. Everyone is his own policeman. By no coincidence Switzerland is also the best modern example of the right to bear arms. Almost every house in Switzerland contains one or more automatic weapons, the kind of guns that the American federal government calls “assault rifles with cop killer bullets”. Switzerland has strict gun controls to keep guns out of the hands of children, lunatics and criminals, but every law abiding adult can buy any kind of weapon. Almost every adult male owns at least one gun, and most have more than one, because of social pressures and the expectation that a respectable middle class male citizen should be well armed and skillful in the use of arms. It is also no coincidence that respect for property rights in Switzerland is amongst the highest in the world, possibly the highest in the world. Switzerland also has lower tax levels than any other industrialized country.
Some authors have suggested that Locke may have had an additionalconcern in mind in writing the chapter on property. Tully (1993) andBarbara Arneil point out that Locke was interested in and involved inthe affairs of the American colonies and that Locke's theory of laborled to the convenient conclusion that the labor of Native Americansgenerated property rights only over the animals they caught, not theland on which they hunted which Locke regarded as vacant and availablefor the taking. Armitage even argues that there is evidence that Lockewas actively involved in revising the Fundamental Constitutionsof Carolina at the same time he was drafting the chapter onproperty for the Second Treatise. Mark Goldie, however,cautions that we should not miss the fact that political events inEngland were still Locke's primary focus in writing the the SecondTreatise.
Hobbes concept of inalienable rights and the fascists concept of natural law is just as logical as the usual concepts of inalienable rights and natural law, indeed more logical. We cannot decide between these two different conceptions of natural law by pure reason, but we can easily decide by appeal to facts.
If disagreement on the nature of good is a common cause of violent conflict, then the absolutists are correct. If violent conflict is almost always a result of ordinary everyday uncomplicated, easily recognizable evil, then natural law is correct.
The absolutists keep adopting new names as each old name starts to stink, but in the nineteenth century, the time when they were intellectually most successful, they mostly called themselves romantics, identifying themselves with the then fashionable artistic and cultural movement, although most of the political “romantics” were no more talented at poetry or painting than Hitler was, and most of the real romantics were not political absolutists, far from it. When the fascists came to power these totally disappeared, mostly calling themselves relativists. The name relativist failed to shake the stink of the gas ovens where the Jews were exterminated, and they are changing it yet again. Since the extermination camps set up again, in what used to be Yugoslavia, relativists have almost disappeared. Soon there will be few relativists, they will all be Post Modernists, or some such.
A final question concerns the status of those property rights acquiredin the state of nature after civil society has come into being. Itseems clear that at the very least Locke allows taxation to take placeby the consent of the majority rather than requiring unanimous consent(2.140). Nozick takes Locke to be a libertarian, with the governmenthaving no right to take property to use for the common good withoutthe consent of the property owner. On his interpretation, the majoritymay only tax at the rate needed to allow the government tosuccessfully protect property rights. At the other extreme, Tullythinks that, by the time government is formed, land is already scarceand so the initial holdings of the state of nature are no longer validand thus are no constraint on governmental action. Waldron's view isin between these, acknowledging that property rights are among therights from the state of nature that continue to constrain thegovernment, but seeing the legislature as having the power tointerpret what natural law requires in this matter in a fairlysubstantial way.
A yeoman was the lowest rank of landowner, one who worked his own land or his families land, in modern terminology a peasant farmer. A villain was a sharecropper, a farmer with no land of his own, semi free, more free than a serf, though not directly equivalent to the modern free laborer. Naturally yeomen had a strong vested interest in the rule of law, for they had much to lose and little to gain from the breakdown in the rule of law. Villains had little to gain, but less to lose. People acted in accordance with their interests, and so the word yeoman came to mean a man who uses force in a brave and honorable manner, in accordance with his duty and the law, and villain came to mean a man who uses force lawlessly, to rob and destroy.
In practice free societies only arose where there was no monopoly of force, the most notable and important examples being seventeenth century England and eighteenth century North America. England, in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, exemplified the medieval ideal of liberty under law, and Kingly rule under law. In the English speaking world, government started to display disregard for natural rights about fifty years after they introduced a police force, about the time that people took power who had grown up in a state where police enforced the law
For a society where there is plurality of force to work peaceably and well, there needs to be both respect for natural rights and also a substantial number of people with a strong vested interest in the rule of law.
In a society where there is pluralistic use of force, there needs to be respect for natural law, and natural rights, in order to avoid strife and civil war. Similarly a belief in natural rights tends to result in pluralistic use of force, because people obviously have the right to defend their rights, whereas disbelief in natural rights tends to lead to an absolute monopoly of force to ensure that the state will have the necessary power to crush peoples rights and to sacrifice individuals, groups, and categories of people for the greater good. Conversely a monopoly of force leads to the denial of natural rights (by making it safe and profitable to disregard natural rights) and the disregard of natural rights necessitates a monopoly of force to avoid frequent violent conflict.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries natural law was accepted in men's heads and in courts of law, as it always has been accepted in men's hearts. The advocates of absolutism were defeated, first intellectually, then politically, and then by force of arms. Kings who claimed to rule by divine right were killed or forced to flee.
The most direct reading of Locke's political philosophy finds theconcept of consent playing a central role. His analysis begins withindividuals in a state of nature where they are not subject to acommon legitimate authority with the power to legislate or adjudicatedisputes. From this natural state of freedom and independence, Lockestresses individual consent as the mechanism by which politicalsocieties are created and individuals join those societies. Whilethere are of course some general obligations and rights that allpeople have from the law of nature, special obligations come aboutonly when we voluntarily undertake them. Locke clearly states that onecan only become a full member of society by an act of express consent(Two Treatises 2.122). The literature on Locke's theory ofconsent tends to focus on how Locke does or does not successfullyanswer the following objection: few people have actually consented totheir governments so no, or almost no, governments are actuallylegitimate. This conclusion is problematic since it is clearlycontrary to Locke's intention.