In a brief post, Gene Callahan continues his pious and hard-fought crusade against John Locke and his “juvenile philosophy.” The poor philosopher’s ghost would respond, but he is too busy homesteading land in Gehenna, and so the task has been outsourced to me.
Inasmuch as Dr. Callahan merely means to point out that few modern land titles can be legitimated on purely Lockean grounds, I see little to cavil at. But from this he draws the conclusion that any homesteading theorist should endorse land redistribution, which is a non sequitur. Surely one can accept the Lockean homesteading principle without making it the sole means of legitimization. On this view, the theft itself was clearly wrong (as it violated the homesteading principle), but certain other factors might still justify the present owner’s retention of it. (Was there a clear heir? How many times has the property changed hands, and what did the various buyers know? Did the heirs long ago abandon any claim to the land? Etc.) Indeed, how is the Lockean in a different position from any other property theorist who is not willing (say) to justify the theft of land from the American Indians, but is equally unwilling to terminate long-standing land titles?
Ultimately, the significance of the homesteading principle is not that it justifies most modern land titles (it doesn’t). Its significance lies in several other things that it does show: 1. A monarch cannot legitimately claim “property” in all the land located within his territory. 2. More broadly, unhomesteaded resources remain in the common possession of humanity until homesteaded. 3. Inasmuch as governments are not the source of property rights, it is coherent (though not necessarily correct) to argue that they were established for the purpose of securing pre-existing property rights.