Role Of Property: Philosophers Of ?Glorious Revolution? In England Essay, Research Paper
The Role of Property
In the seventeenth-century, England was recovering from the “Glorious Revolution” and political thought centered on the issues of nature and the limits of government. Two great political thinkers, John Locke and Thomas Hobbes took a scientific approach to analyze government and focused on the state of nature and natural rights of individuals. Locke was particularly interested in property and governments role in the protection of property. He believed that God gave the world to men to use common, but also gave them reason to make the best use of it (Locke 17). According to Locke, the best use of the land and resources involved gaining property, using the word in a narrow sense. He also used the term ‘property’ in a broad sense, which he defined as people’s “lives, liberties, and estates” (75). A French thinker in the eighteenth-century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau basically agreed with Locke on the definition of property in a narrow sense, but took an opposing view to Locke’s regarding the effects property had on society. Rousseau was a Romanticist and believed that property was the first aspect of injustice. The opposing views of Locke and Rousseau are obvious in their respective works, Second Treatise of Government and Discourse of the Origin of Inequality.
Locke uses the term property in two ways in the Second Treatise of Government. Locke usually uses the term in a broad sense, which includes anything that belongs to a person. This includes their own life and liberty as well as their material possessions. In this sense, Locke calls these natural rights ‘property’. Under this definition, Locke says the main reason people leave the state of nature is the preservation of their property.
The second way Locke defines property deals with private property or possessions. Locke talks specifically about this narrow sense of property in a chapter of the Second Treatise of Government titled “On Property”. In this chapter, Locke says when man uses his labor to remove something out of the state that nature has provided this thing becomes his property (18). For example, if a man cultivates a piece of land, the food that he produces and the land will be his property. His labor “made a distinction between them and common” (19). Labor is necessary for nature to become any real use to humans (24).
Locke believed that the preservation of property was the main reason that humans left the state of nature and formed governments. He argued that natural things generally require great amounts of labor in order to be useful to humans. In order to gain property, a person must mix their labor with nature (18). Locke does not really believe there is a scarcity problem. He says that it is irrational to allow what we get out of nature to rot. “Nothing was made by God for man to spoil or destroy” (20). A person can only acquire so much before it spoils though, which is where money comes into play. By tacit consent of humans, money allows humans to accumulate great amounts of wealth, and also leads to great inequalities. Locke, however, believes that even with these inequalities, people were better off than they were with the inconviences in the state of nature.
Rousseau’s reply to the enlightenment was that reason leads to civilization and corruption. According to him, reason doesn’t really discern the order of nature- humans have to look elsewhere (their feelings and emotions). For Rousseau, men in civil societies are slaves. “It is impossible to enslave a man without having first put him in the position of being incapable of doing without another. This being a situation that did not exist in the state of nature…” (Rousseau 59). Therefore, Rousseau says that the first man who claimed a piece of land his own could have saved the human race from “crimes, wars, murders, …miseries and horrors” if he would only have realized that the earth belonged to everyone (60). It is ironic that Rousseau even uses an axiom of Locke’s in his argument, “where there is no property, there is no injury” (64). Rousseau applies this literally but it seems that Locke believes the advantages of society outweigh these injuries he mentions.
The preservation of property is one of Locke’s fundamental political principles. Unlike Aristotle, Locke doesn’t believe that the purpose of government is to make people moral. Locke is very concerned with the limits of government, such as making laws public and no taxation without consent.