In my prior post regarding Locke’s ideas on property, I attempted to establish that property is, by nature, common to all man and that it become personal or private only by labor that separates that property unto the individual. A couple of further quotes will help to drive home Locke’s thoughts and position here:
He that is nourished by the acorns he picked up under an oak, or the apples he gathered from the trees in the wood, has certainly appropriated them to himself. No body can deny but the nourishment is his. I ask then, when did they begin to be his? when he digested? or when he eat? or when he boiled? or when he brought them home? or when he picked them up? and it is plain, if the first gathering made them not his, nothing else could. That labour put a distinction between them and common: that added something to them more than nature, the common mother of all, had done; and so they became his private right. And will any one say, he had no right to those acorns or apples, he thus appropriated, because he had not the consent of all mankind to make them his? Was it a robbery thus to assume to himself what belonged to all in common? If such a consent as that was necessary, man had starved, notwithstanding the plenty God had given him. We see in commons, which remain so by compact, that it is the taking any part of what is common, and removing it out of the state nature leaves it in, which begins the property; without which the common is of no use.
Thus this law of reason makes the deer that Indian’s who hath killed it; it is allowed to be his goods, who hath bestowed his labour upon it, though before it was the common right of every one. And amongst those who are counted the civilized part of mankind, who have made and multiplied positive laws to determine property, this original law of nature, for the beginning of property, in what was before common, still takes place.
Thus we see that according to Locke’s concept of property, something becomes personal, private, or individual because of the labor that one exercises to take things out of the common stock, provided by nature or God, for his use.
The next paragraph of Locke’s treatise injects another “socialistic” sense into his concept of property. Not only can human beings only take from the common stock if “there is enough, and as good, left in common for others”, but also:
It will perhaps be objected to this, that if gathering the acorns, or other fruits of the earth, &c. makes a right to them, then any one may ingross as much as he will. To which I answer, Not so. The same law of nature, that does by this means give us property, does also bound that property too. God has given us all things richly, 1 Tim. vi. 12. is the voice of reason confirmed by inspiration. But how far has he given it us? To enjoy. As much as any one can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils, so much he may by his labour fix a property in: whatever is beyond this, is more than his share, and belongs to others. Nothing was made by God for man to spoil or destroy. And thus, considering the plenty of natural provisions there was a long time in the world, and the few spenders; and to how small a part of that provision the industry of one man could extend itself, and ingross it to the prejudice of others; especially keeping within the bounds, set by reason, of what might serve for his use; there could be then little room for quarrels or contentions about property so established.
Thus, within the philosophy of one of the principle founders of liberal economic thought (at least the one cited and credited therewith), there are present the following un-capitalistic concepts (some might call them socialistic — I prefer the term “natural”). These natural concepts of property are:
- Property is given by nature and God in common to all.
- Humans can take from the common, via their labor, for their sustenance.
- Individuals can morally and naturally (they are the same for Locke and the Idealist) take from the common property only if they leave enough and as good for the rest of humanity.
- Property is given us by nature to enjoy (not to hoard or accumulate).
- We cannot take from the common more than we have capacity to use.
None of these principles, except perhaps for the idea that one’s labor is what created private property, is consistent with current capitalistic principles. How, then did we get to the point where accumulation of property is considered the natural state of economics as most free marketeers will argue? That’s is for a subsequent post.