ontempt of Court

Is government obligated to serve the people? - A fresh perspective on John's Locke philosophy.

Political Revolution is acceptable according to John Locke if the government becomes tyrannical. John Locke was an English philosopher from the seventeenth century, who is considered to be the founder of modern philosophy. John Locke wrote that if a Government becomes tyrannical, that is it the right of a citizen to revolt against authority. The Killdozer incident of June fourth, 2004 in Granby Colorado is an example of many taking John Locke's teachings and executing a non-violent demonstration of civil disobedience. Fellow Lake Land students are going to learn about John Locke's political philosophy and see it applied first hand to the Killdozer incident.

Killdozer was a nickname given to a homemade tank; ironically no-one was harmed in this incident other than the self-inflicted gunshot wound of the operator of Killdozer. The operator of Killdozer was a man named Marvin Heemeyer. What sparked Heemeyer’s rampage was a property rights dispute between Marvin, the city, and a cement factory. The tyrannical nature of the city government of Granby kowtowing to the significant money interest of the cement factory was an infringement on Heemeyer’s right to life, liberty, and property. As described by David Friedlander from life edited John Locke’s philosophy on life, liberty, and property are inalienable rights provided to us by our maker (Friedlander 2013). To better understand the motivations of Heemeyer’s actions there is going to be a dissection of on what life, liberty, and property meant in John Locke’s era and what they mean today.

John Locke stated that every man has the right to life, but what does life mean? Locke’s interpretation of life indicated that everyman has the right to live their life the way they see fit. In addition to being able to live life the way they see fit, there is an additional obligation, the life of a man belongs to God. Therefore, no man can own another man. Think about it, how can a man sell his life if it is not his to sell? That is why liberty follows life in Locke’s famous quote for the right to life, liberty, property, the right to life supersedes the right to liberty.

The right to liberty in Locke’s mind was enjoying the opportunity to lead one’s life without interference from others, including the government. A good example everyone can relate to is a nosy neighbor that always complains about what is going on in their neighbors’ household and tries to alter their behavior. Part of liberty includes creation, whether it be chiseling a block into a statue or planting crops and sowing the fields. Emphasis needs to be placed on liberty and right to earn a living. During the middle ages of the feudal system, it was illegal to hunt for nourishment in the forest. Think about that, all the land belonged to the king and so did all the critters in the forest. In Locke’s mind, liberty was the right to feed a family. However, there needs to be the prevention of stealing another man’s food.

The right to property comes after the right to liberty because the property may infringe on liberty. Property is more than just possessions; it is the fruits of one’s labor as mentioned earlier. Property is a mixture of labor resources that may result in tangible objects, but not always. Think about it as a barren land unoccupied by humans. Now imagine if settlers arrive on that barren land and use their labor and ingenuity as a means to cultivate the land. The settlers mixing their energy into the soil creates property. That is why property comes after life and liberty, as property may infringe on the previous rights. John Locke argued that it is government's responsibility to regulate these three natural rights as stated in the “Two Treatises of Government.”

The first treatises out of the two published by John Locke was critical of the divine right of kings. As summarized by Sparknotes, John Locke was explicitly targeting Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha. The Patriarcha was a publication that argued in favor of the divine rights of kings, and also stated that every man is born a slave to the king. Locke argued that it was impossible to be born a slave to a king as human lives belong to God (SparkNotes Editors). It would seem that Robert Filmer was just a puppet trying to justify the actions of a tyrant. The climate of Locke’s era was subjugation to a king as generations before he obliged. The exception was the atmosphere was gearing up towards industrial revolution, education was becoming standard, and the literacy rate was going through the roof. With the literacy rate rising, the spread of information was rampant due to the printing press. Locke’s fortunes were tied to his wealthy friends that valued his philosophy; such friends were Shaftsbury and Molyneux. Wealthy friends allowed Locke to focus on his passion for writing philosophy. Locke was able to view the nature of children and “tabula rasa” or “blank slates.” With that in mind, Locke was right when he stated all people are created equal as he attributed to natural law.

As Locke described the natural law, he used Native Americans as an example of human progress towards natural law. An article by Leonard P. Liggio describes this example of Natives Americans natural law. The idea is that Native Americans were the first to settle the land of North America. With mixing their labor into the soil, the area became the property of Native Americans. However, due to the nomadic lifestyle of native people, they did not invent a feudal system similar to Europe. The aboriginal people had no kings, and they were born free from any obligations to a government (Liggio). The natural law of the indigenous people of North America was formed from evolution. To settle, hunt, and cultivate the land was an inalienable right in the minds of indigenous people and Locke saw that as a right from God bestowed on to all humans.

Due to natural law, Locke saw no point in a government that subjugated the residents to the tyranny of a King. Locke went even farther than that and rationalized that government must work for the residents. The second treatises specifically target the role of government in society. Locke’s rationalization for the government was to arbitrate disputes of life, liberty, and property to prevent violent outbreaks from bitter disputes. For example, imagine the famous story of Solomon deciding the custody of a baby. Solomon used his wisdom to interpret the rightful mother of the child by threatening to kill the baby and split in two. He watched the reactions of bother mothers and noted their feelings. Solomon ultimately made the right choice and figured out who the rightful mother was ("Solomon The Wise I Stories of Solomon I Animated Children's Bible Stories| Holy Tales Bible Stories" 2014). Now imagine if the illegitimate mother had bribed Solomon to gain custody or murder the child. The rightful mother would be angry at two parties, the illegitimate mother, and Solomon. Then from a moralistic standpoint, who could argue that the proper mother does not have a right to violence in retaliation?

If the mother of the child was wronged by the state and her fellow neighbors, does she have a right to violence? John Locke claimed that a violent uprising might be necessary if the government becomes tyrannical. In the case of Marvin Heemeyer, he felt a demonstration of property destruction was essential to bring attention to the corrupt government of the city of Granby Colorado. A great video on the Killdozer incident by Qxir explained in detailed the events of what happened. Starting with how a reasonable man can be driven to do unreasonable things. Heemeyer moved to Granby, Colorado in the 1990’s; locals regarded him as hardworking and affable. Heemeyer soon set up a muffler shop in Granby shortly after moving into town. The trouble began in 2001 when the zoning commission approved the construction of a concrete factory, which in turn blocked the route into Heemeyer’s business. Heymeyer tried the reasonable approach at first, he began by appealing the decision, gaining signatures to a petition, and offering to construct a new road to his business out of pocket, but all were denied to him. To add insult to Heemeyer’s injury, the construction of the concrete factory cut off the sewage to Heemeyer’s muffler shop. When Heemeyer complained to the city about the lack of sewage due to the concrete factory, the city fined him for not having sewage (Qxir 2018). With all of that in mind, how can we argue that the city government of Granby was not Tyrannical?

The city government had violated two of John Locke's principles of Life, Liberty, and Property. The first principle the city government violated was Heemeyer’s property rights. The muffler shop that Heemeyer used to make his livelihood should have been taken into consideration when the city council approved the construction of the concrete factory, without providing a new road to the muffler shop he was effectively stripped of his property. Violation of Heemeyer liberty comes into his ability to make a living when Heemeyer offered to construct a new road to his business out of his pocket, denying construction of a new road is a violation of a human beings right to feed himself. It was evident to Heemeyer and the people that were around him, as was known that he was building a tank. The actual day the Heemeyer went on the rampage was limited to those that only wronged him. No persons were injured in the rampage other than Heemeyer, who committed suicide once the tank became stuck. It could be speculated that Heemeyer and his supporters before the incident had a silent nod of the head agreement. Beyond all this, Heemeyer believed that God approved of his rampage as it took a year to construct his tank. Everyone that knew Heemeyer also knew he was up to something to get his plight known, so Heemeyer took that as a sign that God was on his side.

The comment section of Qxir’s Killdozer video was split on which side was right. Half of the comments were pro Heemeyer, and the other half were anti-Heemeyer. Some of the more insightful comments came from the people that lived in the Granby during the shenanigans when the city council bulldozed over Heeymeyer’s rights. Those specific commenters argued that the concrete factory was pouring money into the town to buy favor the politicians. All of those crooked politicians could see were jobs and votes, which is not a bad thing in itself. However, even if the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, it does not mean you can start to violate the rights of the few. A little bit of fairness would have gone a long way in this case of the Killdozer.The city forcing the concrete factory to build Heemeyer a new road would have been ideal since they were the ones cutting off his old road. Letting the city make a new road would have been big business pushing their expenses off to the taxpayers but would have still been fair to Heemeyer. Thirdly, allowing Heemeyer to construct a new road out of his pocket would have been unfair to him, but at least it would avoid the seven million dollars of property damage that were caused later on from Heeymeyer’s revolt.

John Locke said the populous have a right to revolt a tyrannical government. If Locke were alive during the events that unfolded in Granby, Colorado, he would argue on behalf of Heeymeyer stating that property rights were being violated. Locke would go on to argue that property means more than just the road leading up to the muffler shop, it means Heeymeyer’s ability to make a living from his skills of muffler repair. Locke’s second argument on Heeymeyer’s behalf would be regarding the blocking of a new road being constructed to the muffler shop. Locke would say it is akin to caging an ape, violating the liberty of a man moving freely around his property. The third argument Locke would make is after the Killdozer incident and how Heemeyer took his own life. Locke would say that the government violated his right to life by taking away the right to liberty and property, as Heeymeyer felt there was no point to go on living as a slave to the state.


Rishabh Goswami is an undergraduate computer science student at Ashoka University. Rishabh previously worked with Mahmudabad Estate and currently working as a data analyst intern at Adobe Inc.

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