Locke’s Theory of Property and Praise of Capitalism & Rousseau’s Critique of Luxury

"Locke made extensive use of efficiency arguments in his economic and political writings because he valued wealth and economic growth as important human goals."

Locke’s Theory of Property and Praise of Capitalism & Rousseau’s Critique of Luxury

Article written by : Mukrian

John Locke and Jean Jacque Rousseau are the two most important and influential modern philosophers who have argued about capitalism, property, and progress. Each of them has different perspectives. Locke in his book, Treaties of Two Government, talks about the foundation of modern capitalism. Nonetheless, Rousseau has a different view of capitalism, and he is against progress in his book, Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, also known as the First Discourse. In this article we are discussing about Locke’s Theory of Property and Praise of Capitalism & Rousseau’s Critique of Luxury.

Locke says that It doesn’t matter where a person looks to find the origin of private property reason (rational capacity) or revelation (what God told man through prophets or the Bible). Both sources of guidance (reason and revelation) tell us that human beings need to continue their lives by taking meat, beverage, and other things from the world which is a common property for mankind. All mankind owns this planet. Humans are born with some basic natural rights such as liberty and property. However, an issue arises here, and the issue is how do we get private property?

According to Locke, there should be a way to make lands, food, and other things our private property. What we make by working will belong to us. For example, a person has a farm, and he plants rice. At this time, he is mixing land and labor. The person is making something new, and he is improving the land. This labor is the source of improvement of what God gave us. He also explains the limitation on private property. The answer is that people should not waste because it is a crime. The rest of the people should have something as well. Locke raises an important question, and he says when will something become a private property?

He says that, once the person picks up the thing, it will become his/hers. In the state of nature, a person does not need someone else’s permission that the thing he picks up is his property.
For example, a deer is common property, but once a person kills it, it becomes his property. However, there is a limitation, and he shouldn’t waste it. According to Locke, labor is the beginning of the property. It is the most basic kind of acquisition.

Moreover, he says that what about the unlimited acquisition?

Nothing was made by God for humans to spoil. The rule of not wasting is only applied for food, but what about money? Money cannot be spoiled. A person can get money in an unlimited amount. This is good because a person can have more and more without wasting.

At the beginning of the world, all of the things were common property, but private property comes in labor. If someone adds labor to his land or he picks up natural fruits, they become his properties. This does not justify an unlimited acquisition. Humans are supposed to work on things that have been given to them.

The property comes before human lives in society under government and law. It means that one of the functions of government is to protect property. This is why humans agree to have the desire to form a society. If there is political equality under capitalism, there will be economic inequality because there are poor and rich. This explains plenty of liberal democracy politics. All men are not equally rational, and all men are not equally hard working. It is just and fair for rational people to have more. This is good for everyone in society. Capitalism creates plenty by showing the value of labor. A day laborer in England is better off than the king of a large and fruitful territory in America because poor laborer will have better cheap clothing.

In North America, they just wore animal skins. Capitalist England would enjoy better food. North America did not tolerate unlimited acquisition of money because they lived in nature. Humans must labor and improve the world, and there are two kinds of people. The first one is Industrious and rational, and Locke admires them because these people are businessmen who invent things. The second one is quarrelsome and contentious people, but Locke doesn’t admire them. It is just for the “industrious and rational” people like a businessman who works hard to build a profitable business, to have more property than people who are “quarrelsome and contentious” like a soldier or a priest. This is because the industrial and rational businessman makes a greater contribution to society by producing more material goods for people to buy and use.

Nonetheless, Rousseau has a different opinion, and he shows the negative side of luxury. He says that it is rare to find human beings who have the capacity for independent judgment, and he is stating that he is such a man.

In First Discourse, he is attacking science, art, and technology. He says that human beings are worsened by the spread of art and science. Art and science make these senses of liberty silent that we have. Human beings have a sense of original liberty, but it can be removed in modern society. It makes someone to accept the chain of modern social life and forget original freedom. For example, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Persia were those empires that were conquered because they much cared about art and science. They lost their military virtues. For Rousseau, large size, empire, and monarchy are linked to luxury and highly developed art and science. However, a simple small republic is linked to virtue.

He gives an example of Rome and Greece. Rome conquered Greece militarily because they had military virtue. However Greek people conquered Rome intellectually, and this destroyed Roman military virtue.

Virtue goes well in less developed societies while in highly developed countries, there is more crime and bad behavior because people develop a taste for luxury and fine things. They spend a lot of time chasing after money and status. Highly developed art and science allow to corrupt society. The development of art and science is bad for moral and virtue, and they require luxury. It has more disadvantages than advantages because in modern science we are seeking truth, but it is hard to find. The reason is that we achieve a truth after we propose and reject a thousand false ideas, and all of these require a huge amount of money and time. Luxury and leisure time are taken away by art and science.

The evolution of art and science is bad for society. Society is harmed through luxury, time, and lots of virtue and morals. However, it is not bad for each individual like a wise man. Most common people will be harmed by the consumption of the products of art and sciences, but a few wise men like Rousseau and Socrates have the strength of mind not to be harmed by them. For them knowledge destroys virtue. Also, the spread of science and philosophy undermines faith and virtue because they spread skepticism and doubt.

According to Rousseau, the king of a native tribe in America is better off than a day laborer in rich and prosperous capitalist England. The reason is that he thinks that luxury undermines faith, morals, and virtue. Pursuit of money and luxury degrades our minds. Luxury debases taste .
In addition, he says that our paintings, arts, and statues have the wrong subject. They do not praise true men and truly heroic men. They promote men with bad morals. Also, he attacks modern technology like printing.

For example, Europeans did mistake not the Muslim world because the Muslims controlled the printing. Printing allows bad books to not die. People’s talents are directed to not where they are naturally good at but to where they find more status and prestige. A simpler society is better because it does not harm ordinary people, and genius will find a way.

To conclude, Locke and Rousseau have two different kinds of ideas. Lock supports progress and capitalism. In his viewpoint, money creates revolution in property. The crime is not greed, but it is wasting. As soon as a person makes money, he makes an agreement. Society must be based on money, and this is not bad. However, Rousseau is against enlightenment and devolvement. He blames all of these countries who brought back ancient philosophy books. He says that knowledge is dangerous, and humans did not know how to get an advantage from it.

Generally, the motives of artists and sciences are not pure search for truth but is a desire for status, fame, and money. The development of art and science requires corrupt morals.

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