Comparison Of Slavery


The two political philosophers had different conclusion on various subjects. Their beliefswere influenced by their assumptions on societal context and development. It is ontheir perceptions that several governments based their creed and principles. The two disagreed on slavery where John Locke defended the practice of slavery, even to the full extent of hereditary slavery while Rousseau defended freedom as being a basic human necessity (Locke & Wood, 2006, pg 76).

Although Aristotle is also quoted as supporting slavery, Rousseau finds issues with natural slavery which he explains in supporting the right to freedom for all people. The very statement was opposed by Rousseau, which according to him meant man is born a slave and not a free man (Rousseau, pg. 74).

Differing origins of political views

Although in the first part of the three parts on Treaties of Government, John Locke stated “...every man has a property in his own. This nobody has a right to, but himself...” , later he deviates from the conclusion and states that freedom is not always guaranteed, when the civil government is performing its functions. In defence of freedom, Rousseau noted that the source of slavery and departure from freedom emanate from differences in growth and development in both health and age; and that otherwise, from inception, naturally, all men are free and they should remain that way. The influence of democracy by Rousseau was democracy, which he defended vehemently.

The desire for labour to produce goods forced men to submit others into slavery, which deprived them of “free, good and healthy as they could in accordance with their nature” (Rousseau, 1987,Pg 65). This was the source of inequalities that fed the chain of slavery and misery to other fellow men.

On this basis, their conclusion differed from Locke’s, as slavery and democracy are two diametric perceptions. Locke noted that whereas slaves were entitled to rights, freedom was not necessarily one of them (Wood & Locke, pg. 87). This is the opposite view of Rousseau who challenged the chain and effects of slavery. In his view, denial of right to the right to freedom sometimes was equated to denial of right to life, as these slaves could be killed at times. Those captured during warring periods are forced to obey their masters, or get killed. Thus, they are forced to pay for their life and freedom, which are both a basic and a God-given right to all human beings. In concluding that the right “slavery and null”, Rousseau drew it from the fact that slavery and right are opposing words which cannot be used at the same time as slavesare denied the basic rights. Therefore using both words at the same time is nonsensical and void.

Support on slavery by Locke was variously supported from scriptural quotations such as Exodus 21, where captives during the war were used by others as slaves. Further, he argued that as much as people abided by the law, they were guaranteed freedom, but this right could be denied if they contravened the laws of the land. Slavery was a form of punishment that the government used to enforce law enforcement in the country, hence justifying the practice. He, however, did agree on the demeaning effects on the human beings who were reduced to servants of other people without any choice but to subserviently serve their masters. Slavery could also occur when people entered into wars with others, or denied themselves the rights to certain possession for different reasons.

This is where Rousseau picked and sought to find out why people were born free were so much in chain of freedom.He also observed that although it is possible for stronger people to subjugate others by force, they cannot alienate this natural right. Hence, only convention or culture can be used by people to deny themselves their rights, on expecting something in return, although this compensation can never commensurate the freedom that has been given up.The people giving up their rights do so for a reason and only they themselves can possibly give consent for their freedoms to be taken away.


Rousseau concludes that people can be free when they completely enslaved as is the case of modern people. He cites the case of Greeks, who did everything themselves, and in Sparta, where in some rare and unfortunate circumstances, people bought their freedom at the expense of others. In modern cases, the case of slavery can be found in having government representatives, who follow nothing but orders from their seniors. Locke observed that liberty and equality among all human beings were basic rights, and that it is God who made people to be under the monarch government. However, later he defended slavery, which attracted criticism from other political philosophers such as Rousseau.


Locke, J.&Wootton, D. (2006) Political writings.Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.

Rousseau, J (1987) Political writings.Indianapolis : Hackett Publishing

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