While analyzing John Locke’s philosophy through the eyes of Charles Mills, some fundamentals on both philosophers’ worldview must be considered.
First of all, it should be pointed out that Mills is incapable of analyzing Locke’s conceptions from different perspectives. In other words, one can conclude that his reasoning seems to be unambiguous.
For instance, Mills is of the opinion that Locke’s views on civilizations development are all influenced by race.
However, the fact that Locke speaks about all men in his Second Treatise of Civil Government is totally neglected by Mills.
Both of the philosophers – Mills and Locke are deeply concerned about moral equality; although they consider the issue in different ways.
The thesis statement
Charles Mills criticizes John Locke’s theory, relying on racial liberalism. He is unable to suppose that racial prejudices can be regarded separately from the social contract.
According to him, Social Contract Theory cannot exist without racial injustice. It is evident that Mills interprets Locke’s arguments in his own way.
Mills’s viewpoint on human moral equality
To prove that Mills’s position is wrong, one is to read Locke’s arguments on the state of equality. Thus, according to the philosopher “all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions” (Locke 1-2).
It seems to be unclear why Mills accepts the expression all men as the white population. There were probably Mills’s considerations on racial injustice, which he decided to analyze on the basis of human moral equality.
As far as Locke’s work is closely related to the time when the basic principles of moral equality were established, it becomes evident that Mills decided to justify his positions relying on some general conceptions concerning human rights.
Mills’s comparative approach towards Locke’s arguments
Taking into account the fact that Mills associates racial inequality with slavery, genocide, etc., one can state that his vision of Locke’s arguments is distorted by a variety of themes political philosophy is based on.
Thus, one can notice that Mills does not consider Locke’s The Second Treatise of Civil Government in detail; moreover, he does not provide readers with an opportunity to trace back the points which formed his position in relation to Locke’s argument.
On the contrary, his reasoning on racial inequality is based on the so-called comparative approach: he compares racial issues of the modernity with those ones, which appeared in times, when the concept of moral equality was formed. The method seems to be rather doubtful, as no appropriate evidence is introduced.
Some basic points on the State of Nature
Generally, it is necessary to keep in mind the time period Locke lived within. According to the philosopher, a person’s right to be free can be regarded as one of the basic principles of the State of Nature. However, it should be noted that the issue of freedom is considered to be of pre-political origin.
As far as people “are assumed to be equal to one another in such a state, they, therefore equally capable of discovering and being bound by the Law of Nature” (Friend par. 17).
It is the Law of Nature, which determines morality. Locke states that all people are equal before God.
Keeping in mind Mills’s interpretation of the expression all people, what, according to him, means the white population, one can conclude that Mills accepts the sentence as The white people are equal before God. In other words, Mills’s attempts to criticize Locke’s views are preposterous.
Logically relevant arguments vs. conditional statements
In my opinion, Locke’s arguments are logically relevant. The philosopher states that people are free to start war, if other persons want to make them slaves.
Mills, in his turn, considers the position from his own perspective. According to him, great atrocities involve slavery; and slavery involves racial injustice. Thus, Mills just continues to develop Locke’s idea from his own perspective and cannot accept it in a proper way.
He neglects the correct meaning of the statement and tries to find in Locke’s words some signs of racial prejudices. According to Social Contract Theory, to form civil government, people’s moral and political duties are to be established.
What seems to be interesting is that Mills associates the process of people’s obligations establishment with the time when racial injustice appeared. So, one can probably notice that all Locke’s arguments are analyzed by Mills on the basis of racial issues.
Mills recognizes that according to Social Contract Theory, moral equality Locke highlights is to be based on the just polity; although he cannot admit even the thought of the society where people’s rights are not disrespected.
Mills’s arguments are conditional. Locke’s arguments are affirmative. Mills’s opinions are based on assumptions (what if, it would be, etc.); Locke’s views are concrete. Mills tries to criticize Locke’s position relying on racial liberalism; however, his arguments are rather controversial.
For instance, Mills says that “Racial liberalism, or white liberalism, is the actual liberalism that has been historically dominant since modernity” (1382). The issues described by Locke are not related to modernity; so, Mills did not take into account certain historical concepts depicted by Locke.
One can notice that Mills relies on some autobiographical data from Locke’s life.
For instance, he states that Locke “invested in African slavery, justified Native American expropriation, and helped write the Carolina constitution of 1669, which gave masters absolute power over their slaves” (1382); but in his Second Treatise of Civil Government, Locke pointed out that people can keep under control certain things harmful to them, in order to preserve mankind in general.
Keeping in mind the Law of Nature, one can conclude that investment in slavery is considered to be one of the ways to protect one’s property. Locke stated that those who failed to utilize certain resources, etc. couldn’t possess any property.
For this reason, slaves seem to have no legitimate claim to any property. In other words, Locke clarifies that the protection of property is one of the key issues the society cannot function without.
An explanation is quite reasonable; but Mills charges Locke with The Whiteness of his political philosophy.
Some important aspects of Social Contract Theory
Mills considers racial exploitation as an internal process of Social Contract Theory; although Locke does not say any word about a contractual violation of people’s rights. Locke clarifies that people’s desire to raise their children is determined by the State of Nature.
Such voluntary agreements between individuals are considered to be moral, but not political as one can think. Those people who form political societies have a moral right to punish individuals who break the Law of Nature.
Thus, the will of the majority is recognized to be the linchpin of the social contract. Still, Mills analyzes the position from his own perspective, and interprets the major points of social contract on the basis of racial liberalism.
As far as Locke’s arguments can be applied to all men, one can conclude that the issue of equality is also related to the colored minority groups. To disprove Mills’s arguments, one can rely on the method he uses to accuse Locke of his ignorance toward racial problem.
So, Locke does not underestimate the rights of minorities; he explains that all people have a right to self-defense. Therefore, “when the protection of people’s rights is no longer present, or when the king becomes a tyrant and acts against the interests of the people, they have a right, if not an outright obligation, to resist his authority” (Friend par. 21).
For this reason, it becomes evident that according to the statement even slaves (who also belong to the category, which is determined as all men) have a right to resist the authority of the whites. In other words, minorities as well as the whites are equal in their rights.
For Mills the racial contract is considered to be the synonym of the social contract. According to him, the establishment of a political society is to be based on racial liberalism.
However, as far as most of Mills’s arguments are conditional statements, one can suppose that his assumptions can be regarded as unreliable.
Friend, Celeste. Social Contract Theory, 2004. Web. <https://www.iep.utm.edu/soc-cont/#SH2b>.
Locke, John. The Second Treatise of Civil Government, New York: Prometheus Books, 1986. Print.
Mills, Charles. Racial Liberalism, 2008. Web.