On Locke's Entanglements

Such attention to historical context matters. These complex debates over justice shaped the early modern world, and continue to shape ours... Liberalism arose in reaction to slavery. It sought inclusion, and defined rights with broad promises, albeit ones that could be opened to exclusions. Indeed, one could argue that the breadth of such promises made racism (and other forms of prejudice) necessary in order to once again justify hereditary hierarchies. But for many others, it opened wide promises of inclusion. The theory itself was one that strained for relative equality under the law for all those who could give meaningful consent. The similarity of these disputes to ones we conduct today becomes more apparent with such context. For example: do rights inhere in all human beings or only in citizens? Abstract philosophical debates emerged from real dilemmas but also helped to shape policies that affected millions of people’s lives. They still do.

Holly Brewer, “Does Locke’s Entanglement with Slavery Undermine His Philosophy?” - aeon.co/essays/does-lockes-entanglement-with-slavery-undermine-his-philosophy?