Rousseau: Property is the Problem

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Just arriving at Rousseau with my students, and I am always struck by the force of his denunciation of property:

The first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. What crimes, wars, murders, what miseries and horrors would the human race have been spared, had someone pulled up the stakes or filled in the ditch and cried out to his fellow men: “Do not listen to this imposter. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all and the earth to no one!”

(This is at the outset of Part Two of the Second Discourse).

Locke of course agrees that the Earth was given in common to humans, but he insists we are commanded by God to make that common into property, by mixing our labor with it, because he believes that rational industriousness is the highest state humans can achieve.

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3 thoughts on “Rousseau: Property is the Problem

  1. I wonder, historically speaking, what would make Rousseau such an advocate for the common? Was it his patronizing idealization of the “noble savage”? Regardless, the power of his argument served Hardt and Negri will in Empire – they either begin or end the interlude on the Common (after the postmodernization of production chapter) with Rousseau, if my memory serves me right.

  2. Pingback: Rousseau – Property, Land, Territory | Progressive Geographies

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