“Property, any object or right that can be owned. Ownership involves, first and foremost, possession; in simple societies to possess something is to own it” ( Funk & Wagnall’s. 1994). English philosopher, John Locke (1632-1704) believed that the only reason society degenerates to armed conflict and strife is because of a depletion of the essential ingredients of an individual or a community’s self-preservation.
Those ingredients, according to the Second Treatise include: the right to private property which is grounded in the exercise of the virtues of rationality and industry; the powers of government must be separated because virtue is always in short supply, but prerogative, which depends on virtue in judgment, must be retained by the executive because of the necessary imperfections of the rule of law; and, the right of resistance to illegitimate government presupposes the exercise of restraint and rational judgment by the people (Locke, 29-34).
For Locke, labor’s most valuable function is that it does more than simply define a division between what is private and what is public. He believes that it is labor that creates value and turns something that was fundamentally worthless into something of worth. For example, Locke presents the opinion that land without labor put into it is “scarcely worth anything. ” He also notes that, “nature and the earth furnished only the almost worthless materials as in themselves. It is labor, and thus the laborer “that puts the difference of value on everything. ” Locke answers the question of whether or not a person has a right to acquire as much as he wants.
The answer is a simple “no;” “As much as anyone can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils, so much he may by his labor 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. For example, he commented 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 (51). Government, Locke believed, is a trust of the individual. The purpose of that trust is the security of the individual’s person and property, and, perhaps most importantly, that individual has the right to withdraw his or her confidence in the ruling government when the government fails in its task.
Many of Locke’s political ideas, such as those relating to natural rights, property rights, the duty of the government to protect these rights, and the rule of the majority, were later embodied in the U. S. Constitution. For his time, Locke’s vision of labor as the “value added” to what is naturally occurring was relatively appropriate. In the 17th century, nothing of “value” existed without the input of labor. However, as civilization advanced and became more complex, so did issues of value, worth, and compensation.
It is difficult to make the necessary translation of his economic philosophy to modern language and meaning. His views on government, though have lasted centuries, remain appropriate and applicable to this day. In significant contrast, the German-born revolutionary, economist, and “founding father” of communism, Karl Marx (1818-1883) believed private property in capital goods contravened the nature of the human person. He based his rejection of such property upon his understanding of the natural law. This research paper was sold by The Paper Store, Inc. of Jackson, New Jersey.
Nor could Marx accept a system in which property was held by every individual, because the human person does not possess the “spiritual” strength to overcome greed; for Marx that could only come by reorganizing the model of production. Marx’s ultimate goal was to liberate the world from the evil of acquisitive materialism and lead the human race to a new freedom (Peterson 337). In the “Third Manuscript – Private Property and Labor” by Marx, written during the summer of 1844, he states: “The subjective essence of private property, private property as activity for itself, as subject, as person, is labor.
It, therefore, goes without saying that only that political economy which recognized labor as its principle and which therefore no longer regarded private property as nothing more than a condition external to man, can be regarded as both a product of the real energy and movement of private property (it is the independent movement of private property become conscious of itself, it is modern industry as self), a product of modern industry, and a factor which has accelerated and glorified the energy and development of this industry and transformed it into a power belonging to consciousness” (Marx PG).
He further condemns the private ownership of property and the government that supports such a system by saying: “ . . . he supporters of the monetary and mercantile system, who look upon private property as a purely objective being for man, appear as fetish-worshippers, as Catholics, to this enlightened political economy, which has revealed — within the system of private property — the subjective essence of wealth” (Marx PG) He reaches what he considers a “logical” conclusion: “for man himself no longer stands in a relation of external tension to the external essence of private property — he himself has become the tense essence of private property.
What was formerly being-external-to-oneself, man’s material externalization, has now become the act of alienation. ” Marx described true communism, which is the “restoration of man as a social, that is human being. ” Not only are the relations between human beings restored; so is the proper relation between the human being and nature. Communism is naturalism, which banishes alien spiritual beings from existence, and therefore humanism as well.
The human being once again finds itself at home in the natural world, as that from which it came, and as the arena of its creativity. Marx viewed communism as the negation of the negation (private property being the negation of human nature). Interestingly, he did not declare it as final. “Communism is the necessary form and dynamic principle of the immediate future but not as such the goal of human development — the goal of human society. “Communism is ultimately the positive expression of private property as overcome,” said Marx from his controversial days as newspaper writer to his death at age 65. It is a painful irony that the system that evolved into modern communism became the true “negation of human nature. ” In its efforts to maintain the collective the individual was lost. Individual human spirit cannot (apparently) remain lost, hidden, or locked away indefinitely.
The past twenty years have demonstrated how tentative the hold of communism actually was/is throughout the world. While Marx has often been denigrated for his philosophy, it was the perversion of that philosophy that caused. While the application of Locke’s idea of labor as the added worth of human hands shaping the natural world has changed significantly, it is still the philosophy that has most closely resonated to the way in which the greatest number of humans want to be governed.
Locke, John (1690) Two Treatises of Government: Chapter 5 – Of Property (http://wiretap.spies.com./library/classics/ locke2nd.txt)
Marx, Karl (April-August, 1844) Third Manuscript: Private Property and Labor (.cmn.edu/marx/1844-ep.mauscripts/1-property.labor.txt)
Peterson, G. Paul Karl Marx and His Vision of Salvation: The Natural Law and Private
Property, Review of Social Economy; 52(3), Fall 1994, pp. 377-90.