Man the Maker versus Man the Taker: Locke’s Theory of Property as a Theory of Just Settlement
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Locke rejected Spanish justifications of colonization based on a right of conquest and tried to show how English settlement could be both just and orderly. His theory of property in the Second Treatise, though it aimed at defending property at home against confiscation from above or below, was also geared toward English colonization. Though Locke's argument began by justifying the natural right to property of indigenous peoples, it was extensively employed to rationalize indigenous dispossession in North America and Australia. This paper explains how Locke accomplished this through a rhetorical tour de force that skillfully elided two distinct but seldom distinguished theories: one of simple appropriation - a theory of Man the Taker; and the other of value?a theory of Man the Maker. These are conceptually connected by their common element, the efficacy of labor in rights creation. In the state of nature an individual's use of labor to appropriate part of nature's bounty defined the simple rights of Man the Taker. But labor can also add value (utility) to natural materials that in-themselves are of little value, simultaneously creating property rights in the improved material. In the case of land, industrious labor adds value by 'improving' productivity and creating the superior title of Man the Maker, trumping the simple occupation and use of unimproved commons. This was the basis of a theory of complex commercial civilization that, applied in the colonial context where occupied lands were regarded as 'waste,' allowed the just displacement of indigenous peoples.
Eighteenth Century Thought
Copyright 2007 AMS Press.This is the author-manuscript version of this paper. Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. Please refer to the journal's website for access to the definitive, published version.