Locke and Nozick Conceptions of

Finally, property comes only through ones own labor. Therefore, money then becomes a conduit to translate labor into property in the modern sense.

Robert Nozick offers several modern praises and critiques of Lockes ancient concepts. Nozick critiques Lockes assumption of natural law based on the limited context of his era. England claimed to have a divine right to acquire property, yet in a free market economy this does not so applicably apply, “Lock believed that makers have property rights with respect to what they make just as God has property rights with respect to human beings because he is their maker,” (Tuckness 1). In todays market, there is less faith in the concept of divine law, but rather a system built for functioning for the people. According to Nozick, Lockean property rights “constrain the extent to which we are entitled to act on our intuitions and theories about distributive justice,” (Waldron 1). Therefore, distribution of property can exist in the modern world; however, property is not to be redistributed unless done so in a free exchange between two responsible and consenting individuals. If not done this way, “property rights in a market economy ought to be treated as resistant to redistribution and perhaps as insensitive to distributive justice generally except possibly at the moment of their initial allocation,” (Waldron 1). It is within this concept that Nozick shows his criticism against reparations which would take tax payers money ad distribute it to others without the full consent of the people who labored for that money.

Nozick believed that “taxation on earnings is a form of coerced labor,” (Waldron 1). According to his theory, to fully determine property, we must first figure out what we ourselves own, then we can see what we owe to others. He also presents the theory of historic entitlement, which states that “Whose use of a given resource came first is crucial, and the order in which goods were subsequently transferred from hand to hand is indispensable for understanding the legitimacy of current entitlements,” (Waldron 1). Thus, the Lockean thinking of the past must be altered in order to fit the modern needs of the free market with its emphasis on distribution.

Lock and Nozick have differing ideas about the nature of property and distribution, but also were separated by hundreds of years. Their thoughts are the reflections of their individual eras. Nozick, however, represents a development of Lockes theories to fit the modern context.


Locke, John. The Second Treatise on Civil Government. Prometheus Books. 1986.

Tuckness, Alex. “Lockes Political Philosophy.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2005. Retrieved 28 Oct 2009 at

Waldron, Jeremy. “Property. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2004. Retrieved.

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