CFP: Lockean Libertarianism

Roderick Long has a CFP up at his website for a workshop on Lockean Libertarianism at MANCEPT, to be held this September at the University of Manchester in the UK. I’ve heard great things about MANCEPT, and encourage interested others to submit abstracts to it. Details at Austro-Athenian Empire, via the preceding link.

Here’s the abstract for a paper I have in mind. The title alludes to the story of Jeptha and the Ammonites from the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible, which Locke mentions at the end of the third chapter of the Second Treatise. Comments welcome, including bibliographical suggestions, especially comments about work that’s relevant to the project but that I seem to have missed.

Israel and Ammon: Toward a Neo-Lockean Historiography of the Land Question in Palestine, 1917-1929

Locke’s theory of property rights finds its way into four distinct literatures:

(1) Philosophers and political theorists have assessed Locke’s arguments for validity, soundness, and cogency.

(2) Historians have situated Locke’s arguments within the broader, mostly Euro-American contexts in which it fits (e.g., Western political thought, Anglo-American political history, etc.)

(3) Libertarian theorists have tried to integrate neo-Lockean insights into contemporary libertarian theory, and/or tried to apply these insights to relatively contemporary policy issues, typically within a First World context.

(4) A relatively small minority of writers has discussed the bearing of Lockean theories of property on issues of rectificatory justice—some to defend Lockean theory, others to criticize it.

Call (1)-(4) as the Locke literature. Almost none of this literature discusses the topic of contemporary (i.e., twentieth and twenty-first century) land disputes in Israel-Palestine.

The historiography of Zionist-Palestinian land disputes may usefully be divided into three categories:

(5) Zionist partisans hope to produce a historiography of Zionist-Palestinian land disputes that vindicates the Zionist project in historic Palestine.

(6) Anti-Zionist partisans hope to produce a historiography of the same land disputes that de-legitimizes the Zionist project in historic Palestine.

(7) Historiographical neutralists aim to offer what they take to be an ideologically neutral account of the relevant history.

Call (5)-(7) the historiographical literature. For a variety of reasons worth exploring, both Zionist and anti-Zionist partisans regard Lockean theories of property as subversive of their ideological aims. Meanwhile, neutralists regard the adoption of any abstract theory, whether Lockean or otherwise, as subversive of the objectivity required for the historiographical enterprise.

In “Israel and Ammon,” I suggest that a neo-Lockean approach to the history of land disputes in Palestine offers a useful corrective to the problematic assumptions of both the Locke and the historiographical literatures. For purposes of the paper, I rely on the account of Zionist-Palestinian land disputes in Kenneth Stein’s landmark book, The Land Question in Palestine, 1917-1939, narrowing my focus to the years 1917 and 1929. Though Stein—in my terminology, a historiographical neutralist–doesn’t mention Locke, Locke’s theory is obviously relevant to the material he very lucidly presents.

Reading Stein via Locke (and vice versa) is therefore a useful dialectical exercise. By doing so, we come to see the extent to which the historiographical literature—including its putatively neutralist practitioners–relies on controversial normative assumptions about property; we’re also forced to confront the ahistoricity and ethnocentricity of the Locke literature as currently written, as well as its relative inapplicability to real-life situations. Both sets of problems, I suggest, need correction.

More generally, I conclude that Lockean ideas are of crucial relevance to historiography, but only in a modified form that facilitates their application to such issues. The abstract, ahistorical, and culturally bound features of the Locke literature need to be revised in the direction of general applicability; the normative (or anti-normative) assumptions of the historiographical literature need to be challenged outright. So conceived, a neo-Lockean historiography affords us a more integrated account of the relation between theory and practice, and yields valuable insights for Locke scholarship, political philosophy, and historiography.

Postscript: Here’s a related conversation taking place at Notes on Liberty, via Matthew Strebe.

5 thoughts on “CFP: Lockean Libertarianism

  1. Irfan,

    This is brilliant, and since I’m a Londoner with a mild-to-extreme interest in property rights and (neo) Lockean themes I’ll be in attendance.

    Though: why the specific focus on the period between 1917 and 1929? Don’t things heat up (quite literally, unfortunately) between 1922 and 1939 (e.g. race riots, Arab revolt)?


    • Thanks, I appreciate it. The 1917-1929 focus is somewhat arbitrary, and has more to do with what I can cover in a paper than with its political significance. Anyway, it’s what Stein focuses on in the first two chapters of his book: he picks 1917 for the Balfour Declaration and 1930 as the year of the Hope Simpson report (issued in 1930 but inclusive of 1929). He then treats 1930-33 as transitional, and 1933-1939 as the time when things heat up, but that was too much to cover in one paper.

      I’ve never been to England, so I have no idea how far it is from London to Manchester. But it will be cool to meet up, assuming everything works out.


    • Derrick,

      Unfortunately, it looks like I’ve had to withdraw this abstract from consideration. When I first submitted it, I thought I might be able to get away to England for a few days in early September, but it turns out I can’t: the semester starts in August this year, not September, so the workshop would have fallen in the second week of classes, not the first week, which is usually a pro forma half-week. So I’ve informed the organizers that I can’t do it.

      But I’ll try to write the paper over the summer anyway. I’m hoping to spend the summer in the West Bank, so I’ll be in the right place to write it.


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