Slavery is so vile and miserable an Estate of Man, and so directly opposite to the generous Temper and Courage of our Nation; that ‘tis hardly to be conceived, that an Englishman, much less a Gentleman, should plead for't.
So begins the first of Locke's Two Treatises of Government. But this Englishman, gentleman, and self-styled ‘lover of liberty’ was not himself above pleading for slavery when it suited him. That plea has been an embarrassment to his admirers ever since. Locke attempted to legitimize slavery by portraying it as a form of punishment for crimes committed where no central political authority or justice system exists. If a victim of an assault is entitled to take his attacker's life in self-defense, Locke reasoned, he must also be entitled to take his attacker's liberty.