A Journal for Western Man



Locke, Natural Rights, and the

Sharon Statement

G. Stolyarov II

Issue LVI- May 8, 2006



            On September 11, 1960, Young Americans for Freedom (YAF)—a still-active conservative student organization—drafted a landmark document in Sharon, Connecticut, that still provides some of the best general ideas on which a broad conservative-libertarian movement ought to be based. The “eternal truths” therein indeed have deep roots in long-enduring ideas of liberty—most notably, the natural rights theory of John Locke as enunciated in his “Second Treatise of Civil Government.”

            The Sharon Statement asserts that every individual’s “use of free will” qualifies him for “his right to be free from the restriction of arbitrary force.” This idea echoes Locke’s views of natural rights as immutable and present in every human being as a fact of his nature—not granted by governments or other members of society. Whenever anyone—be it a private criminal or a government—violates these rights, such a party acts arbitrarily and ought to be restrained.

            This idea also implies a fundamentally Lockean view of rights as entailing only negative obligations from others; one’s right to life means a right to not have one’s life arbitrarily taken away. One’s right to property means a right not to be arbitrarily expropriated.

            Locke understood that the protection of private property and the individual’s freedom to non-coercively use it as he pleased was the cornerstone of all recognition of natural rights. The Sharon Statement drafters agreed; they wrote, “liberty is indivisible, and… political freedom cannot long endure without economic freedom.” If one of the fundamental freedoms enforced by government is the right to property, then taking away that freedom necessarily implies taking away the natural rights enforcement Locke envisioned.

            How does a government protect natural rights? The Sharon Statement drafters recognized that government can only “protect those freedoms through the preservation of internal order, the provision of national defense, and the administration of justice… [W]hen government ventures beyond these rightful functions, it accumulates power which tends to diminish order and liberty.”

             Indeed, according to Locke, the only right one delegates to government when leaving a state of nature is the right to directly punish the violators of his rights. When one enters a government, one ceases to be the final judge in cases where one has been wronged, and the government assumes the function of arbiter. The individual does not, however, delegate any other rights to government. Government must keep him—his mind, body, and property—safe from external coercive imposition, but can do nothing more and remain legitimate.

             Understanding the sanctity of the right to property from government intervention, the Sharon Statement drafters recognized government interference with the market economy as a blatant case of property rights violations. They stated unambiguously that “the market economy, allocating resources by the free play of supply and demand, is the single economic system compatible with the requirements of personal freedom and constitutional government.”

            Locke would have agreed. Free markets are the natural outcome of individuals being recognized as the sole owners of the property they either homesteaded out of the state of nature or obtained from others through legitimate trade. It is the function of nobody but the individual himself to ultimately determine how his property should be used. Any coercive intervention with the free market is tyranny and a betrayal of the Lockean natural rights principles on which America was founded.

            By defending a proper understanding of natural rights, the sanctity of private property, and free markets, the Sharon Statement adheres well to the Lockean intellectual tradition of liberty and applies this tradition to the modern battle against interventionist big government.

G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent filosofical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. His newest science fiction novel is Eden against the Colossus. His latest non-fiction treatise is A Rational Cosmology. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at gennadystolyarovii@yahoo.com.

This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA’s Statement of Policy.

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Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, at http://www.geocities.com/rational_argumentator/rc.html.