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Ta-Nehisi Coates Appeals for Help...

He is reading John Locke, and trying to understand Locke's "justification" of slavery:

Talk To Me Like I'm Stupid: Locke's State Of Slavery And War: So I think the point here is something I was driving at yesterday--that slavery, from Locke's perspective, is the continuance of war. But I think there's also a lot more here that I'm probably missing. There's certainly quite a bit that I don't understand. And so I appeal to the Horde for interpretations--especially those who've read Locke before, or have some background in philosophy. I'm closing comments for now to dissuade people from speaking because they can. I'll re-open in an hour and edit according to that same standard. Thanks.

As I see it, there are four questions raised by Locke's discussion:

  1. Can somebody lawfully and morally own a slave--that is, order somebody around?
  2. Can somebody lawfully and morally keep a slave they have bought from somebody else--that is, if the slave says "enough of this: I'm leaving," can the owner lawfully and morally threaten and then use deadly force to keep the slave enslaved?
  3. Is it immoral and unlawful for a slave to try to escape?
  4. Is it immoral and unlawful for a slave to use deadly force to escape?

I think Locke's answer to (1) is "yes," but only if you are engaged in a just and lawful war that gives you the right to kill enemy combatants--you can then give the enemy combatant a choice between accepting slavery and death, and so lawfully and morally hold them as a slave. Note that this makes it impossible to every lawfully and morally hold women and children as slaves--only former prisoners.

I think Locke's answer to (2) is a flat "no." When the slave declares that he wants to leave, you can only use deadly force to stop him if you have just cause to wage lawful war against him, and you don't.

I think Locke's answer to (3) is "of course not."

I think Locke's answer to (4) is "no": you always have just cause to wage war against somebody attempting to hold you as a slave.

But let me say that the political and philosophical intentions that Locke has in these passages is obscure to me, and the intended audience is also obscure...