Thursday, June 21, 2007

Does John Locke like proto-capitalism?

You bet your ass!

This is all referenced from John Locke's Two Treatises of Government. More specifically, Chapter five of book two.

Advocating for Proto-Capitalism
In cases such as these, where we lack a statement from the author one way or the other, on whether a given state is good or bad, it is a necessity to first determine what the base normative assumptions from which the author works are. In the case of Locke we see that he views that which is good for men, both specific men and men in general, as good, specifically in regards to the acquisition of those things which are necessary for sustaining and enjoying life. It is because of this that he sees the proto-capitalistic state as a good thing. That is to say that more resources is better and because Proto-Capitalism allows for greater resource production, Locke views it as good.
Locke’s normative assumption is not explicitly stated, not in the second book of his treatises at least. It is however implicit in a number of assertions throughout the chapter on property. This can be found first and foremost in his description of land which has been worked. He consistently refers to land which has been worked so as to increase production of food as “improved.” We first see reference to improvement in ¶32: “As much land as a man Tills, Plants, Improves, Cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is his property.” (Locke, 290) In this case he separates improvement from other labors which man can perform upon a tract of land, but in his later usage we find that he considers those things to be forms of improvement. Indeed, in the same paragraph Locke states, “God and his[man’s] Reason commanded him to subdue the earth, i.e. improve it for the benefit of life.”(Locke, 290) Clearly tilling and planting would be included under that improvement. Moreover, this is as close to an explicit normative assertion as Locke offer, and it makes clear that improvement is tied to benefiting life, by which he means men’s life, for Locke’s is a clearly anthropocentric philosophy.
On the other side of the coin we see Locke’s statement on waste. “So little, that even amongst us, Land that is left wholly to Nature, that hath no improvement of Pasturage, Tillage, or Planting, is called, as indeed it is, wast;” (Locke, 297) Here we see reinforced that Locke views the other things listed earlier as types of improvements. He also sees land which lies unimproved, left wholly to nature, as a bad thing, and thus that land should be cultivated to the extent that men can use it’s products. This idea of waste does bring up a caveat of Locke’s; letting things which benefit man go to waste once labor has been spent upon them it tantamount to robbery. “But if they perished, in his Possession, without their due use...he invaded his Neighbour’s share, for he had no Right, farther than his Use, called for any of them, and they might serve to afford him Conveniencies of Life.”(Locke, 295) So greater production is only good if those things produced are used, it is for this reason that Locke sees the proto-capitalism which he describes as a good thing. We see this view of wasting things which are necessary to life as bad again in ¶46.
In ¶42 Locke goes on to say that more men is better and that the role of the good prince is to encourage, or “incourage” as it were, and protect the process of improving land. In this is the beginning of his showing that he thinks proto-capitalism is good, because he follows this in ¶45 with the assertion that “yet there are still great Tracts of Ground to be found, which (the Inhabitants thereof not having joyned with the rest of Mankind, in the consent of the Use of their common Money) lie waste, and are more than the People, who dwell on it, do, or can make use of, and still lie common. Tho’ this can scarce happen amongst that part of Mankind, that have consented to the Use of Money.” Here he clearly thinks that the proto-capitalist state is necessary for the sort of improvements and increases in production which he views as good.
One could argue contrary to these views that he sees proto-capitalism as a bad because it ends up with wasted resources, and outcome which he clearly thinks is bad. However, to argue this assumes that he sees proto-capitalism as necessarily being wasteful, a contention for which there is a lack of evidence. There are those who would argue that proto-capitalism would be inherently wasteful, this is however not the point. One could also argue that the inequality in wealth is bad, but Locke states that money is not bad thing, nor is hoarding money. “Gold and Silver, which may be hoarded up without injury to any one.”(Locke, 302) So he is clearly not a critic of self-interest, if acquiring property is good and hoarding wealth is good, then what could be wrong with self interest in regards to property, especially in light of the fact that he sees the inequality as something which men have consented to?
It is clear that Locke thinks that increased production of those thing which benefit man, both necessities and luxuries, is a good thing. Further it is clear that he sees proto-capitalism as a good method for increasing that production. It is true that he might not think that the governments which arise from this proto-capitalism are universally good, but that is a function of the government not of proto-capitalism.


Fronde said...

Interesting to know.

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