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Mario Feit GOVT 520 Fall 2006 Locke, Rousseau, and Empire: The Re-Conceptualization of the Human With few exceptions, the causal relationship between the philosopher and events that follow him, remains mired in the historical discourse through which ideas inspire actions that determine the contours of history. While the philosopher retains no control over the use to which his work is put, he is credited and blamed for its consequences. The conceptual foundations of historical phenomena, such as imperialism, elucidate elements of the contemporary. The Age of Discovery (Fifteenth to Seventeenth Centuries) fired the European imagination with its promise of great wealth, and relief from regional tension and domestic social-pressures. The international setting in which John Locke (1632-1704) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) lived and wrote was characterized by struggle to re-develop fundamental political relationships and structures capable of sustaining trans-oceanic European empires, and reflective of the grand scales of space and human potential perceived following discovery of new lands, peoples, and technologies. Locke, the historical figure, contributed to the development of empire, and the philosophers Locke and Rousseau, engaged concepts relevant to empire. Locke’s treatment of property, labor, and man’s relationship to the state are seen in the intellectual foundations of British imperialism, and Rousseau extends the logic of state control for public ends. Without directly confronting the concept of an empire, their works
2 contribute to it its component ideas, and perhaps most startlingly through their shared discourse to re-conceive of the human. Discovery and understanding pursued each other between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries as philosophers developed new questions from discoveries and the formation of empires, and answered questions that contributed to the intellectual foundations of imperialism, in much the same way that modern ethicists inform and respond to discoveries in medicine and computing by considering their consequences for human life and politics. English colonization of North America presents examples of political innovation with lasting consequences that interact very closely with the works of John Locke and his contemporaries in London. Both settlers in search of greater liberty and investors in pursuit of profit found use for contemporary emphases on reason, the individual’s capacities and rights, and the significance of property. The religious settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (founded 1620) shared an appreciation for constitutional liberty with revolutionary actors such as John Hampden and Oliver Cromwell, and both their religious motivation and independence of commercial or official patronage was without precedent in the time’s imperialist expansion. The historian Carl Friedrich writes, “Sober, well-to-do men of middle age, to whom the spirit of adventure was entirely foreign, were contemplating a transfer of themselves, their families, their goods to new homes across the seas, there to found not a colony, but a commonwealth”* (Friedrich 287).
Historical Note: In a speech on the Mayflower, John Winthrop told the new settlers, “We are a company professing ourselves fellow members of Christ … The care of the publique must oversway all private respects … The end is to improve our lives to do more service to the Lord … that ourselves and posterity may be better preserved from the common corruptions of the world” (Friedrich 287).
3 John Locke is among the few philosophers who have participated in the projects about which he writes. As an advisor to the Earl of Shaftesbury, Locke was commissioned to write the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina (1669), which provided laws and institutions to guide and govern English settlers. Hsueh argues, “The Fundamental Constitutions stages … a specific type of civic republicanism” (Huseh 427). Three classes of land-holders are distinguished in the text, each with specific powers and functions within the colony and within the empire. For example, possession of fifty acres qualified a settler to vote and five hundred provided eligibility to sit in a colonial legislature; two classes of North American nobility are established according to landpossession; and all were subject to the Lords Proprietor who remained in England. Locke assigns each class a name and status not found elsewhere in the English systems of property and nobility to prohibit full incorporation of the colonies in the broader system of government. In addition to holders of land and titles, the Fundamental Constitutions assigns roles for serfs and slaves, and directs settlers to navigate complex relationships between Native Americans and Europeans for maximum benefit to the Crown. The document is seen as an indicator of the problematic, mixed process by which colonialism and modern constitutionalism were developed (Hsueh 426). It contains innovations - including representation and voting - found elsewhere in Locke’s treatises and his contemporaries’ works. However, property is selected over the individual or other measures as the unit of politics and enfranchisement; both the colony and the settler are conceived of as tools for wealth-generation; and the Indian is regarded as an unsteady ally at best. It is argued that, “The Two Treatises … ‘were written as a defense of
4 England’s colonial policy in the new world against the sceptics in England and other European powers in America’” (Hsue 433). Locke’s political ideas unfold from a particular image of the State of Nature, and the concept contains elements that must color understanding of all that follows from it. In the state of nature, men are free and equal (ST §4), and bound to a community by the Law of Nature described as reason (ST §6). Following Richard Hooker, Locke begins the explication of the Law of Nature with the principle of reciprocity (ST §5). He posits that among equals, reason engenders “mutual Love amongst Men, on which [Hooker] Builds the Duties they owe one another, and from whence he derives the great Maxims of Justice and Charity” (ST §5). The reciprocal standard is extended: And being furnished with like Faculties, sharing all in one Community of Nature, there cannot be supposed any such Subordination among us, that may Authorize us to destroy one another … Every one as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his Station wilfully; so by the like reason when his own Preservation comes not into competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest on Mankind, and may not unless it be to do Justice on an Offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the Preservation of the Life, Health, Limb or Goods of another (ST §6). While reciprocity produces a balance of each man’s power against his neighbor, and remains a principle of human behavior under law as well as nature, reciprocity alone also permits cycles of reparation for mutual offences that prohibit the ease and convenience possible under civil government (ST §13).
5 Locke’s Civil Government emerges according to principles he establishes in the portrayal of the Law of Nature, and together they provide the conditions for the development of property, labor, and a particular view of the state’s function. Freedom of Men under Government, is, to have a standing Rule to live by, common to everyone of that Society, and made by the Legislative Power erected in it; A Liberty to follow my own Will in all things, where the Rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, Arbitrary Will of another Man (ST §22). Under government, individuals concede their natural capacity to preserve themselves, as well as their natural liberty and equality in exchange for “the mutual Preservation of their Lives, Liberties and Estates” (ST §123) under a form Locke calls the commonwealth (ST §133). The powers of government are limited to those Locke determines are required to execute its limited ends according to the Legislative Power, but may extend absolute authority in government provided its rule is neither arbitrary nor destructive (ST §135). “The Legislative Power … in the utmost bounds of it, is limited to the publick good of the Society,” defined by its ability to retain the society’s consent and its capacity to protect property in all its forms (ST §135). Property is seen as the basis of each man’s participation in the life of the commonwealth. Locke explains that both reason and Revelation make natural resources available to man for his sustenance, support, enjoyment and comfort (ST §26), and that an individual’s labor transforms resources into property.
6 That labour put a distinction between them and the common. That added something to them more than Nature [had done] … The labour that was mine, removing them out of that common state they were in, hath fixed my Property in them (ST §28). Locke maintains that the earth contains enough raw materials for every person to cultivate property and sustain himself without impinging upon the right of his neighbor to his property. The political and proprietary franchises are linked by the community’s shared interest in citizens’ common material welfare, in the inter-generational stability conferred by the transfer of estates (ST §72), and the human-developmental component of property ownership. Each of these intersects critically with the individual’s relationships with family and state, in which the former prepares citizens for the latter. Parents’ control of children is seen as a private affair in which the state should not intervene, permitting the natural development of children’s faculties independent of the political bond in which they are not yet competent to consent and engage. Locke conceives of the family, in which the father protects children until they have grown able to administer their affairs and property, as analogous to the government’s protection of citizens’ lives, liberty, and possessions for their development and enjoyment, one following the other in a cycle that serves individuals’ and communities’ shared interest in property (ST §75). While Jean-Jacques Rousseau produces a distinctive image of the state of nature, it is used primarily as the basis for hypotheses concerning man’s course without society and government rather than as the basis for his political theory (DI 39). He criticizes earlier state of nature theorists for ascribing to the natural state unnatural vices produced by societies (DI 38). In the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Rousseau’s distinction
7 between natural and moral inequality indicates that the portrayal and normative assessment of politics are more properly the tasks of philosophers’ political inquiry, but the consideration of nature is significant to the extent that pre-political conditions might still be discovered or created. Rousseau’s state of nature posits individual men who are free, strong, virtuous due to their independence and ignorance, subject to natural inequalities of strength and intelligence, and free of moral (political) inequalities of wealth and power. In contrast to Locke’s natural man, who cultivates resources and associates with others, Rousseau conceives of a period before knowledge and technology permitted stable settlement, language, and families, in which natural man relied for his life on physical prowess and native intelligence. … What man would be so foolish as to tire himself out cultivating a field that will be plundered by the first comer, be it man or beast, who takes a fancy to the crop? … How could this situation lead man to resolve to cultivate the soil as long as it is not divided among them, that is to say, as long as the state of nature is not wiped out? (DI 47) Without the comforts and temptations of settlement and society, natural man retains a native dignity and virtue. As the increased capacities for comfort and contrived manners distinguish man’s life in society, their cultivation takes precedence over the maintenance of virtue and vigor. As in Locke’s image, society and government remedy the danger and inconvenience of the state of nature, but security (of property and lives) is only the impetus for change in Rousseau’s image (SC 147). Without effort to curb their effects, security and property come at the cost of corruption and social decline.
8 Whereas Locke’s commonwealth exists to protect lives and property, Rousseau finds the force and stability to generate and protect property as basic qualities of a state, and that the strongest, most just state engages the body politic for their mutual development. Under the social compact, Each of us places his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will; and as one receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole … This act of association produces a moral and collective body composed of as many members as there are voices in the assembly, which receives from this same act its unity … its life and its will (SC 148). The relationship between man and state is characterized as an interaction (as opposed to the Lockean exchange) in which the action of one done with regard to the other adds value to the shared enterprise. Each exerts a formative and empowering influence on the other, but the state remains subordinate through the power of the general will to place the decision-making function in the hands of a political body of equals (SC xvi). The resulting sovereign power derives its legitimacy and solvency from the tacit, constant commitment of the citizenry. Similarly, departure from the state of nature exerts a change in the individual. It substitutes justice for instinct in his behaviour and gives his actions a moral quality they previously lacked. Only then, when the voice of duty replaces physical impulse and right replaces appetite, does man, who had hitherto taken only himself into account, find himself forced to act upon other principles and to consult his reason before listening to his inclinations. His faculties are exercised and developed, his ideas are broadened, his feelings are ennobled, his entire soul is elevated (SC 151).
9 Entrance into society is not merely functional, but transformative; it is the process by which men become most distinctly human. Whereas Locke views property (which produces convenience and comfort) as important ends of the political endeavor, Rousseau places property and luxury in tension with virtue in the life of the republic. In the Social Contract and the Letter to Count Wielhorski, the principal diversion from virtuous pursuits and public welfare is luxury. Luxury is subject to only moderate prohibitions against waste in Locke’s treatises, but Rousseau believes it is a sufficiently strong cause of corruption to warrant a systematic response that begins in his choice of regime. The republican form requires a cohesive community of identity in which citizens’ attentions are centered upon public service and the public good. Rousseau refers the political observer to Moses, Numa, and Lycurgus, who built strong nations by cultivating their peoples’ peculiar virtues (GP II§2) to encourage attachments to each other and their native lands instead of uniting them through laws and the common pursuit of property (GP II§6). Institutions and laws should act on the culture to make luxury contemptible and the nobler pursuits of learning and public or military service esteemed (GP III§13). Rousseau maintains that the state in which citizens are committed to one another and remain focused on pursuing the public good is best positioned to rebuff foreign incursion and enjoy stable, prosperous conditions. Rousseau proposes the general will as republican government’s mechanism for decision-making and legitimacy-conferral. The sovereign is understood not as one individual, with the interests and weaknesses suggested by the term, but as the association between the public and private individuals (SC I §7). The sovereign is guided
10 by the general will, defined as the general interest understood in isolation from “the sum of private wills” (SC II §3). The general will, like the laws its produces, takes as its object issues of general public concern, and it exerts a coercive force on each individual to identify his interests with its enactment. The social compact … tacitly entails the commitment … that whoever refuses to obey the general will will be forced to do so by the entire body. This means merely that he will be forced to be free (SC I §7). The sovereignty is not composed of relationships between inferior and superior parties (SC II §4). Therefore, it does not regard classes of people, but perceives the individual as an agent of the public good composed of identifiable and changeable qualities. In the context of the republic, the objective of the general will is often to conduct public affairs with prudence and integrity according to laws which unite natural rights with conventional duties (SC II §6). However, the image of the human developed to make the general will effective is adaptable to the power relationships and objectives of empires. References to foreign peoples in Locke’s Treatises on Government and Rousseau’s discourses produce tools to excavate their contributions to imperialism’s intellectual foundations. Without explicitly addressing European governments’ capacity to govern states extending beyond the Old World’s coasts to encompass unmapped lands and unstudied peoples, Locke and Rousseau each acknowledge that unknown lands and peoples are necessary components of the social and political realities Europe had to confront to manage empires and account for the world as it was known. The lessons of the state of nature and the centrality of property in Locke’s treatises feature in his discussion of foreign peoples. Accounts by European travellers of foreign and newly
11 discovered places often emphasized the novel and horrific. For example, European arts and letters had long since developed archetypes of foreigners (i.e. the despotic Oriental, the lascivious Moor, the clever Jew, the servile African) and deployed them as common sets of symbols to evoke dread, disdain, and laughter. Locke recounts a graphic story of cannibalism in Peru from a popular book by the Spanish writer Garcilaso de la Vega, in which children are reared and overfed for consumption by fathers (FT §57). Locke’s use of reason, property, and the commonwealth form must be brought to bear upon the exotic to understand how foreign elements are regarded in his politics, and to uncover his contribution to the intellectual foundation of empire. Locke’s conception of property is opposed by Rousseau for its influence on the republic, but Rousseau extends its implicit image of the human as a subject of state action who is manipulable for state ends to reconceive of the human in a manner reflected in historical relationships between colonizers and the colonized. Locke’s concept of the right to property favors European colonists’ right to appropriate foreign lands. Just as Locke posits moral equality and equal capacities for reason, humans share an equal but conditional right to property. The right is contingent upon the completion of labor, and limited to prohibit waste and comfortably sustain one’s self and dependents. He explains, Every man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body has any Right to but himself. The Labour of his Body, and the Work of his Hands, we must say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the State that Nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his Labour with, and joyned something to it that is his
12 own, and thereby makes it his Property … It hath by his Labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other Men (ST §27). However, no means are provided to arbitrate between cases in which claims for property compete. The prerequisite for possession is labor completed; the standard for possession in cases of equal labor is value imparted, measured by productivity resulting from labor (ST §40); and in the case of land, early arrival and productive use secure possession against competing claims. While Locke grants that natural resources cultivated and used by native peoples (i.e. North American Indians) are naturally theirs (ST §30), he submits that unused resources are common between men. The formula positions Indians, whom he says lack the physical comforts and attire of the poorest Englishmen for failure to labor upon and develop North America, as competition for Europeans inclined to cultivate land and extract resources more for profit than for sustenance (ST §41). Locke’s system for classifying people and meting out justice favors colonists who claim rights to land. The law of nature states, “Every Man hath a Right to punish the Offender, and be Executioner of the Law of Nature.” However, Locke notes, I see not how the Magistrates of any Community, can punish an Alien of another Country, since in reference to him, they can have no more Power [(i.e. through the engine of the Legislative Authority)], than what every Man naturally have over another (ST §9). It is not through the mechanism of the commonwealth that remittances and reparations are obtained by citizens for crimes committed by aliens, but through the natural law, by which individuals have limited power to exact justice in the mode of reciprocity against
13 those who have acted without reason, and therefore committed an act of war against mankind (ST §11). By the Fundamental Law of Nature … one may destroy a Man who makes War upon him, or has discovered an Enmity to his being, for the same Reason, that he may kill a Wolf or a Lyon; because such Men are not under the ties of the Common Law of Reason, have no other Rule, but that of Force and Violence, so may be treated as Beasts of Prey (ST §16). By Locke’s estimation, only the determination that a person is without reason is needed to place him in a class below humans, and therefore outside the protection of the civic bond. Foreigners and those who are deemed sub-human inhabit the same unprotected class of actors. Should they be accused of some offence against the commonwealth or one of its members, they are legitimately subject to its judgment and violence. In the case of the Carolina territories, the Earl of Shaftesbury obtained royal warrants to confer the status of English counties on the settlements and associated lands. In the Lockean model, the laws of the commonwealth were thereby extended across the Atlantic, and the American native became the foreigner. Colonialism is anathema to the Rousseauean republic. The cohesion and closely articulated culture of Rousseau’s small political community finds its opposite in the imperial relationships between mother countries and distant colonies, and it is made vulnerable by dialectic processes through which empires and colonies mutually influence each other. The pursuit of wealth threatens the material equality and simple habits of the stoic-minded republican; exotic materials and ideas imported from distant outposts present unacceptable competition for republican nativism; and the commercial advantage
14 of colonial imports threatens domestic labor and craft, which assume cultural significance for the nativist that transcends simple market values. Rousseau’s appreciation for simple living and closeness to man’s natural virtues produces romantic images of newly discovered foreigners that engender a desire for their protection from colonial incursion. His theory of politics conceives of foreign rule as neither legitimate nor beneficial for either party. He asks, Will setting one’s foot on a piece of common land be sufficient to claim it as one’s own? … How can a man or a people seize a vast amount of territory and deprive the entire human race of it except by a punishable usurpation, since this seizure deprives all other men of the shelter and sustenance that nature gives them in common? When Nunez Balboa stood on the shoreline and took possession of the South Sea and all of South America in the name of the crown of Castile, was this enough to dispossess all the inhabitants and to exclude all the princes of the world? (SC 152) Rousseau gives great credit to historical figures who claimed leadership of peoples (i.e. Persians, Macedonians), and ascribes to the contemporary habit of claiming lands (i.e. England, France) a practical consideration: “In holding the land thus, they are quite sure of holding the inhabitants” (SC 152). Even Locke is not immune to the romantic image. He allows that, He that will impartially survey the Nations of the World, will find so much of their Governments, Religions, and Manners brought in and continued amongst them by these means, that he will have but little Reverence for the Practices which are in use and credit amongst Men, and will have Reason to think, that the Woods and Forests,
15 where the irrational untaught Inhabitants keep right by following Nature, are fitter to give us Rules, than Cities and Palaces (FT §58). However, neither foreigners’ hypothetical wisdom nor their natural capacities for selfgovernance overcome the primacy of property in Locke’s system of politics. John Locke is among the first contributors to a framework of ideas that facilitate empire. In contrast to ancient empires of identity (i.e. Persian, Greek, Roman, Islamic), in which a dominant nation extended its cultural footprint, the European model of empire leads diverse European states abroad to extract much-needed resources (Scammel 53). Between the fifteenth and twentieth centuries, Europeans exerted varying levels of cultural influence over the peoples they dominated, but held networks of colonies at an arm’s length from Continental systems of government. The colonies were subject to empires but not meaningfully integrated states within empires. Lands and peoples abroad were sources of raw material. Despite Rousseau’s rejection of Locke’s model on the grounds that property alone will not sustain political communities, and that possession consists of more than claims based upon labor or productivity, Locke and Rousseau co-author a view of man’s relationship with the state that threatens to hamper progress toward the goal of human emancipation that defines the Enlightenment. In a culture for which reason distinguishes the human faculties, Locke’s fluid and conditional classification of humans according to reason defined by threats to property broadly conceived renders human identity tenuous, brittle, and subject to vagaries of power akin to the state of nature from which the community emerged. As both Locke’s commonwealth and Rousseau’s republic remain legitimate and viable according to their authors’ terms, provided they perform the
16 necessary protective functions and remain within the boundaries of sovereign authority (respectively), the citizen is bound to them with no practicable alternatives. Locke explains, The Power that every individual gave the Society, when he entered into it, can never revert to the Individuals again (ST §243). Within inescapable structures, the definition and use of the human is subject to political and social construction. Rousseau’s declamations against colonialism and traditional modes of oppression do not preclude the development of a new repressive tool. Taken in the context of the Social Contract, the general will is an abstraction intended to facilitate republicanism’s participatory and democratic ends, and nullify private will. In isolation, the general will assumes new life. The images of man as a willing component and subject of a body composed of equals strip away elements of his individuality related to agency and independence. The complementary image of man as a mouldable figure, comformable to the needs and objectives of the state (articulated by the general will) calls attention to Rousseau’s hallmark innovation: the human machine. It is not surprising that the author of Confessions and Emile disaggregates the human in his diverse qualities and identities to redevelop him for political ends. The Social Contract uses the coercive force of the general will to bring the citizenry into accord on common purposes, and the republican form employs its power to cultivate virtue and suppress vice. Outside the social compact, the disaggregates human retains his utility in other systems and for other functions. Whereas John Locke participated directly in the development of English colonialism, Rousseau’s hand is more subtly seen in empires’ use of the re-conceived
17 man. For example, upon the dissolution of the East India Company in 1773, the British Raj cultivated Anglicised cadres and established systems of rewards to promote their success and emulation. The Empire accepted some elements of Indian identity and discarded others according to its practical needs. Just as Rousseau submits that education is the means to refashion countrymen into citizens (GP 4§2), Western education was promoted throughout the empires with the belief that native peoples will be served well by modern education, but also that it will make them serve better. Indeed, Japanese educators have read Rousseau’s Emile since English pedagogues presented it as a model in early in the twentieth century (Rousseau xx). The circle of late eighteenth century industrialists and intellectuals that called itself the Lunar Society and counted Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgwood among its members also encouraged the idealist Thomas Day to attempt the model of child-rearing outlined in Emile on two adopted girls with degrees of moderate success (Porter 376). “The old fantasy – or for some, nightmare – of making a fully fledged social person from mere raw matrials or the logical consequence of the Lockean vision of the human being as a tabula rasa, capable of unlimited programming, was [engaged in the early nineteenth century]” … (Porter 375). The potter Wedgewood explained that, “His aim in running his works … was to ‘make such machines of Men as cannot err.’ The workforce clocked on in the morning: man was driven by mechanical time” (Porter 375). His model is famous as a template for Industrial Age mass-production in Europe and its Asian colonies. Contrasting theories of property in Locke’s commonwealth and Rousseau’s republic produce similarly configured relationships between man and the state. The
18 resulting concepts of property ownership and the human create an argument for the legitimate possession of land and repression of foreign peoples by empires. In each model, the needs of the community for conditions that lead either to property or virtue precede individual wills, and institutions are in place to exert formative influences on individuals’ characters for the production of citizens. The citizen is understood to possess productive potential, as well as capacity to contribute to the life of the community, or to threaten its well-being in some punishable manner. Rousseau follows Locke by disaggregating the human’s characteristics and capacities, and emphasizing his malleability, setting the age of empire to which they each contribute on a course to utilize people in ways that do not parallel discourse of emancipation that characterizes their era.
Citation Key FT = The First Treatise ST = The Second Treatise SC = On The Social Contract DI = Discourse on the Origin of Inequality GP = Letter to Count Wielhorski: Considerations on the Government of Poland
Works Cited Friedrich, Carl. The Age of The Baroque 1610-1660. New York: Harper and Roe Publishers, 1952. Hsueh, Vicki. “Giving Orders: Theory and Practice in the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina.” Journal of the History of Ideas Vol. 63:3 (2002): 425-446. Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government. Ed. Peter Laslett. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Porter, Roy. Flesh in the Age of Reason. London: Allen Lane Publishers, 2003. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract and Other Later Political Writings. Ed. Victor Gorevich. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Basic Later Political Writings. Ed. Peter Gay. Trans. Donald Cress. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1987. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Confessions. Ed. P.N. Furbank. London: David Campbell Publishers, 1992. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Emile. Trans. Barbara Foxley. London: Dent Publishers, 1984. Scammel, G.V. The First Imperial Age: European Overseas Expansion c. 1400-1715. London: Unwin Hyman Ltd., 1989.
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