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Locke and Rousseau: A Debate on Uncontacted Tribes

by Skittles

Locke and Rousseau: A Debate on Uncontacted Tribes

I clutched my binoculars tightly, surveying the Peruvian river bed as the tour boat chugged along the Amazon. It was hot and obscenely bright creating a mirage, and through the mirage a group of stout figures wavered through. They looked fierce and noble standing at the riverbed holding their spears and bow-and-arrows. The tour guide elaborated on the uncontacted tribe. “There are many, not just here.” He said. “But these tribes, they’re no good. They kill man because of no reason. He was their friend. He was helping them against the loggers trying to cut through the rainforest, but now they might be lost.” Baffled, I turned to my fellow scholars, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. They were huddled together and were in a heated debate. Each referenced back to their own published works “Two Treatises of Government” and a “Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men” respectively. Taking a pen and paper, I recorded their debate, eventually coming to my own conclusion that the government should be there to protect the rights of all the people of their land, including that right of property.

Locke believed life, liberty and property were the natural rights he attached to those living in the State of Nature, or perfect freedom and equality. It was to my surprise, then that he suggested that the government should not support the tribes, but the loggers. Locke states “the measure of property nature has well set by the extent of men’s labour and the conveniences of life: no man’s labour could subdue, or appropriate all; nor could his enjoyment consume more than a small part; so that it was impossible for any man, this way, to entrench upon the right of another, or acquire to himself a property, to the prejudice of his neighbor, who would still have room for as good, an as large a possession (after the other had taken out his) as before it was appropriated.”(22) If the loggers came in and cut down all the trees, there would only be one use of the land and in doing so, they kill the trees, the animals, and potentially the tribes that dwell there. Locke suggests that since men undeniably own their right to their own body, then any product of their labor should also belong to them. The rule of taking property, according to Locke, is that God’s intention was to have the children of his earth be happy. If a man, in the act of taking possession of land harms or leaves another unhappy, then that man will not receive that property. If God’s intention was truly to have his children be happy, then is it not safe to say, that by taking away the tribe’s land and possibly killing them off with disease will leave them unhappy. That was how Locke said humans could lose property, by wasting labor and not leaving enough for others. Locke, however, pulled in the effects of money on property, saying that since the loggers were not just using all those trees for themselves, but making a profit from them, then what they were doing was justified.

In response to Locke, Rousseau stated that the tribes were “noble savages” who will be corrupted if they get into contact with civilization. His views on property were quite different than Locke’s as he began to tell an anecdote about “the first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took it into his head to say, ‘This is mine,’ and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founders of civil society.”(69) Rousseau then went on to claim there should really be no property and that “Man’s first sentiment was that of his own existence.”(69) After lamenting on how corrupt the civilized man was, he then discussed that property and the individual right accompanied to it are combined to invent a community. This community he said was Peru, or any country in which the tribes lie in. It then surprised me that Rousseau and Locke found common ground, agreeing that “it is impossible to conceive of the idea of property arising from anything but manual labor….it is labor alone that, in giving the cultivator a right to the product or the soil he has tilled, consequently gives him a right…and thus from year to year…[and] is transformed into property.”(76) Even though Rousseau despised the idea of property, he at least found that the labor that the tribes put into their villages accounted for something. However, Rousseau seems to think that the tribes’ labor is insubordinate to the idea of property only being acknowledgeable if there is a lawful state so that it can protect their rights. Rousseau sees the loggers negatively as they are competing with the tribes and results in "rivalry and competition together with a secret desire on both of profiting at the expense of others. "(96) Rousseau ultimately believed in integrating the tribes into the civilized society so that they and the rest of the country could learn to live harmoniously under a democracy. Also the fact that he believed all those of a direct democracy should be forced to obey the laws in order to still reside in the state suggests that he’d like the tribes to conform to the rest of the society.

These tribes are the government's people too and just because they don’t partake in the developing society, it shouldn’t give anyone the right to wipe them out for no other reason but money. There is no doubt that the land is theirs. As of now, the only international law that can secure tribal peoples’ land rights is the International Labour Organization Convention 169. It recognizes and protects tribal peoples’ land ownership rights, and sets a series of minimum UN standards regarding consultation and consent. In short, contact should not be initiated by us. The tribes should come forward themselves, if they ever feel the need or desire to. It is not our choice but theirs as they have more to lose. If Brazil’s government is what Locke and Rousseau deem so civilized then why is it these uncontacted tribes pursue more loyalty and strength than the society does? In the end,my favor goes neither to Locke nor Rousseau.

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286 Reviews

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Reviews: 286

Sun Apr 27, 2014 12:31 pm
AstralHunter wrote a review...

Greetings, my name is James Hunt.

I am surprised that I actually managed to follow Locke and Rousseau's debate. It was rather long and stretched out, but since scientists, scholars and politicians often do that, I think it is appropriate.

I vehemently disagree with Locke, as making a profit from one's labour cannot possibly justify any wrongs the concerned party may have commited. It is just as good as saying a thief should have the right to keep the property he has stolen, since he had to plan how he would steal said property, actually steal it and then escape afterwards. The rest of Locke's explanation was lost to me in a sea of confusion, jargon and verbosity.

Rousseau, on the other hand, makes more sense, but I think it is wrong to force anyone to conform to what other people expect of them. If this were the case, there would be nothing left of individuality and the world would be extraordinarily drab. Can you imagine a world where everyone always agrees with one another and every person can do everything just as well as everyone else? I, for one, cannot.

I therefore agree with you, the author. Your sentiment is not only more sensible, but also better stated. Having said that, I discovered a single most significant error:

It was hot and obscenely bright creating a mirage...

This is a prime example of trying to use "big words" without understanding their correct definition. Obscene is an adjective meaning "offensive or outrageous to accepted standards of decency or modesty" according to Also, a mirage is an illusion which often occurs when one is in a desert and suffering from dehydration, causing the brain to hallucinate. I believe words such as extremely and haze, respectively, would be more suitable.

Other than the above-mentioned mistake, I found no other (there might be more within Locke and Rousseau's debates, but I dare not venture in there again, lest I never emerge). You have a decent understanding of the topic and your vocabulary is mostly appropriate. I congratulate you on an essay well-written, though I apologise if this review comes a little too late.

Rating for this text: three and a half stars (very good)

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401 Reviews

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Reviews: 401

Sun Apr 13, 2014 10:51 pm
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ThereseCricket wrote a review...

Hey there!!! Cricket here for a quick review!!!

Hmmm, I'm not liking either Locke or Rousseau.. lol, well I won't nitpick on content. I'll nitpick on structure and the like.

Well I was always taught that in a essay, you begin by writing a attention grabber that sums up what you are going to be talking about. I honestly think that you could start off with something a bit more exciting sounding. I didn't feel drawn in by the beginning right away, and in a essay, I think that is essential.

Next nitpick: Paragraphing

OK, so essay's have the attention grabber and then they have usually(usually) three body paragraphs, which presents you're ideas and arguments and the like. This one you did a fairly good job on it, except the third paragraph I think is too long. If you are going to be going over three paragraph's then I think you can split up that paragraph into maybe two new paragraph's. I felt kinda lost when reading it, because it was so long.

Granted of course, this is you're essay and everybody has different ideas when it comes to writing them, so feel free to ignore my suggestions.

lol, using big words in essay's are soooooo much fun!!! I love using big words!! Anyway, this is a super essay I think, and I'm not going to present my views on this subject as I really don't think you would want to hear them, and then clutter up the review with MY ideas. lol I don't think I agree with either of them though soooooo...

idk, I'm just rambling on... So I hope I helped!!!

Poems were like people. Some people you got right off the bat. Some people you just don't get - and never would get.
— Benjamin Alire Saenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe