Presented at the 1999 Ohio University Student Conference on Applied Ethics. The opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ohio University or the Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics.
Bradford Short — Carnegie-Mellon University
After speaking of metaphysics and the right-state of life-liberty as viewed by Rousseau, the Socrates of Geneva, I move on to John Locke, the Socrates of London.
It will be thought that while Rousseau may have been this explicitly against suicide because it was the very essence of slavery, no other philosophe so blatantly attacked suicide as slavery, correct? No, that is not correct. The first philosophe, the very father of the Age of Enlightenment and the great attorney for the defense of the people of England in their cause of 1688, John Locke himself, condemned the ridiculous theory of legal euthanasia in language as blatant as that of the Swiss gentleman who would follow him:
But though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of licence; though man in that state have an uncontrollable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself.
John Locke has just shown us the point (Life) from which the very notion of right starts. No one can have a right to Life, but rather, his or her rights come from Life. “Me” is that assurance that “me” is neither murdered nor enslaved, (and shall remain so into perpetuity), ergo any “commonwealth” that presupposes to be able to own “me,” does not understand the very nature of “me.” What I have called caprice, Locke calls “licence.” To put one’s individual choice of the moment, to put that irrational passion and lust for getting what one wants rights now, to put that above true choosality and true Lockean liberty, that is licence. Locke says it right out: “He has not liberty to destroy himself.” What could be a more open condemnation of suicide? Furthermore, Locke himself makes the connection between slavery, suicide and murder:
The state of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it, which obliges every one, and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions; for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker; all the servants of one sovereign Master, sent into the world by His order and about His business; they are His property, whose workmanship they are made to last during His, not one another’s pleasure [emphasis added]. And, being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of Nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us that may authorise us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses [emphasis added], as the inferior ranks of creatures are for ours. Every one as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station wilfully [emphasis added], so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he as much as he can to preserve the rest of mankind [emphasis added], and not unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.
Now one can see where I got the idea to write in my speech that “Life is owned by Nature herself, and can be ended by no mortal, not even the one to whom Nature has loaned it.”Humans, made in the image of God in Locke’s eyes, are a piece of His “workmanship,” that is to say that they have transcendental worth. Thus, precisely because we are God’s “property,” we transcend physical property. We are, in fact, not really property. We are, as both Kant and God Himself would say, “ends in ourselves.” Furthermore, Locke links this directly to the evil that is slavery. He tells us that humans were not made “for one another’s uses,” because we are the “property” of God’s holy and transcendental use.
Locke, in effect tells us that slavery is an abomination. This is exactly what Locke did think of slavery, that it was truly evil. And what does Locke say of self-slavery? “Everyone…is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station wilfully.” He even uses the term “station,” like Thomas Aquinas or even our own John Paul II. He could not be more openly attacking suicide in the most blatant (today we would say “conservative”) ways.
Lastly, Locke does not let us get away with passively murdering people by letting them starve or die without sufficient medical treatment. We are ordered to “preserve the rest of mankind.” David Cash, for instance, certainly did not preserve that little black girl who his pedophile friend murdered in Las Vegas. Many “liberals” and “libertarians” defended that monster Cash, but Locke would not have. To withhold aid that a human needs to live is to commit murder, plain and simple. That is not Karl Marx saying that. That is John Locke, the father of democratic-capitalism saying that. I believe in free markets, only so long as they do not demand that a sick person be euthanized. What is more important is that is what Locke believed Madison wrote into the Fifth Amendment itself. The Fifth Amendment has in its very lines Locke’s “life, liberty” and property (as opposed to the “goods of another”). Locke through Madison ordered the Constitution to protect life howsoever unprofitable it gets in a hospital bed. No cost cutting villain on a hospital ethics board has the authority to remove the life support of any human being. To do so is to violate the Metaphysical Natural Right-State of Life-Liberty that Locke and Madison themselves believed in. The Constitution orders such doctors of death to be punished as slavers, and it is time for the United States Department of Justice to start exercising its rights.
Locke, however, is not through with condemning the slavery that is suicide. He writes later:
For nobody can transfer to another more power than he has in himself, and nobody has an absolute arbitrary power over himself, or over any other, to destroy his own life [emphasis added], or take away the life or property of another. A man, as has been proved, cannot subject himself to the arbitrary power of another [emphasis added]; and having, in the state of Nature, no arbitrary power over the life, liberty, or possession of another, but only so much as the law of Nature gave him for the preservation of himself and the rest of mankind [emphasis added], this is all he doth, or can give up to the commonwealth [emphasis added], and by it to the legislative power, so that the legislative can have no more than this. Their power in the utmost bounds of it is limited to the public good of the society. It is a power that hath no other end but preservation, and therefore can never have a right to destroy, enslave [emphasis added], or designedly to impoverish the subjects; the obligations of the law of Nature cease not in society, but only in many cases are drawn closer, and have, by human laws, known penalties annexed to them to enforce their observation [emphasis added].
Locke sees Hobbes’ world of absolute and arbitrary rule exactly for what it is. It is a world of slaves. Thus, he links the evil of absolute tyranny to slavery and then to suicide. And rightly so, for they all, as Rousseau would say, do their utmost to “annul” our very being, and are an affront to all human dignity and any just state. Precisely because I cannot have the right to “destroy myself,” so too I cannot give myself to someone else who may destroy me. This is exactly the “arbitrary power” James II, in his evil arrogance, wanted. Furthermore, the power we do in fact give up to the “commonwealth” is that which is only legitimate when it “preserves…mankind.” When a doctor murders his patient under the vile laws of Oregon, does he “preserve mankind?” Yet every time the law allows people to destroy other people or to destroy other people passively by letting them die, the law makes those victims the property of the victimizers. David Cash would have risked his life to save himself! Yet he would not do so for $5.00 in his wallet, nor would he do so for a little black girl. That girl was enslaved and then murdered by her oppressors and the state had an obligation to stop that conspiracy to commit slavery. Locke prescribes the answer to this evil culture of death that is taking over the United States and destroying it from the inside out. Natural Law can, by “known penalties annexed to” the violation of those Natural Laws, “enforce” Natural Law’s “observation.” The observation of Natural Law and the positive laws made in the pursuit thereof is the sole duty of any government on earth. This is the axiom that our Department of Justice should be following. They have been told by the Constitution itself that suicide is slavery and they not only have a right to stop it, they have an obligation to stop it.