Staying on the topic of property is likely to prove a very productive one and towards this end, I would like to provide two broad models of property distribution which I believe nicely illustrate the gulf between liberals and non-liberals.
The first model of property is one in which property is conflated with possession. Each individual, or corporation, in society owns property which was produced from some process irrespective of governance. Marxism, political liberalism, anarcho-capitalism they all hold this conception of the origin of property. In this conception of property, the state is obviously secondary.
The second model is one in which possession and property are different things. Possession is mere holding of something, whilst property is the legally recognized right to usage, possession, enjoyment etc. No political theory really deals in this area. There is a reason for this.
Beginning with the first model, we can make a point that I think follows from this conception of property, and that is that governance in this conception is merely an organisation among corporations and individuals. The primary organisation for sure, but still merely an organisation among society. To draw this out further, we can note that this is the underpinning of social contract theory. All in society do not need governance, or rather, the sovereign to exist per se, but they wish to have governance to ensure organisation is kept. This is taken to logical extremes by anarchist of all flavours, and anarcho-capitalists are great examples. This is not new of course, and this forms the very basis of Hobbe’s theorising. The solution is that all must enter a covenant and surrender rights that they hold by not being under governance, in exchange for the security provided by collectively submitting to a government (of course this gets weakened for a more Utopian conception as we shall see.)
Now, I have taken some criticism for my claim in a previous post that Moldbug’s theories regarding sovcorp are the anti-thesis of Hobbes, but I hold that it is clear that the covenant theory of governance is fundamentally an anarchist concept of society. What is striking is that Hobbe’s theorising leads to a necessary conclusion of government as being a mere organisation among others which don’t need it. He manages this by working on first principles (the state of nature) which willfully ignores historical record which undermines it. He even cites his ideas regarding property which directly refutes his theorising on covenants (social contracts):
All Private Estates Of Land Proceed Originally
From The Arbitrary Distribution Of The Soveraign
In this Distribution, the First Law, is for Division of the Land it selfe: wherein the Soveraign assigneth to every man a portion, according as he, and not according as any Subject, or any number of them, shall judge agreeable to Equity, and the Common Good. The Children of Israel, were a Common-wealth in the Wildernesse; but wanted the commodities of the Earth, till they were masters of the Land of Promise; which afterward was divided amongst them, not by their own discretion, but by the discretion of Eleazar the Priest, and Joshua their Generall: who when there were twelve Tribes, making them thirteen by subdivision of the Tribe of Joseph; made neverthelesse but twelve portions of the Land; and ordained for the Tribe of Levi no land; but assigned them the Tenth part of the whole fruits; which division was therefore Arbitrary. And though a People comming into possession of a land by warre, do not alwaies exterminate the antient Inhabitants, (as did the Jewes,) but leave to many, or most, or all of them their Estates; yet it is manifest they hold them afterwards, as of the Victors distribution; as the people of England held all theirs of William the Conquerour.”
This is historically accurate, and based on record (especially in the case of England) and would no doubt have been considered common sense at the time of Hobbes. He then puts forward his celebrated covenant theory as shown in his famous passage:
“Nature hath made men so equall, in the faculties of body, and mind; as that though there bee found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body, or of quicker mind then another; yet when all is reckoned together, the difference between man, and man, is not so considerable, as that one man can thereupon claim to himselfe any benefit, to which another may not pretend, as well as he. For as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others, that are in the same danger with himselfe.
And as to the faculties of the mind, (setting aside the arts grounded upon words, and especially that skill of proceeding upon generall, and infallible rules, called Science; which very few have, and but in few things; as being not a native faculty, born with us; nor attained, (as Prudence,) while we look after somewhat els,) I find yet a greater equality amongst men, than that of strength. For Prudence, is but Experience; which equall time, equally bestowes on all men, in those things they equally apply themselves unto. That which may perhaps make such equality incredible, is but a vain conceipt of ones owne wisdome, which almost all men think they have in a greater degree, than the Vulgar; that is, than all men but themselves, and a few others, whom by Fame, or for concurring with themselves, they approve. For such is the nature of men, that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned; Yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves: For they see their own wit at hand, and other mens at a distance. But this proveth rather that men are in that point equall, than unequall. For there is not ordinarily a greater signe of the equall distribution of any thing, than that every man is contented with his share.”
In Such A Warre, Nothing Is Unjust
To this warre of every man against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be Unjust. The notions of Right and Wrong, Justice and Injustice have there no place. Where there is no common Power, there is no Law: where no Law, no Injustice. Force, and Fraud, are in warre the two Cardinall vertues. Justice, and Injustice are none of the Faculties neither of the Body, nor Mind. If they were, they might be in a man that were alone in the world, as well as his Senses, and Passions. They are Qualities, that relate to men in Society, not in Solitude. It is consequent also to the same condition, that there be no Propriety, no Dominion, no Mine and Thine distinct; but onely that to be every mans that he can get; and for so long, as he can keep it. And thus much for the ill condition, which man by meer Nature is actually placed in; though with a possibility to come out of it, consisting partly in the Passions, partly in his Reason.
Now the problem you have with these passages is that Hobbes isn’t making any sense. The first passage makes sense, as does Hobbe’s acknowledgement of the difference between possession and property (he specifically acknowledges property is granted by the sovereign) but the covenant theory then undermines this because it makes government an optional state of affairs and places this possession as an individual matter. These individuals who all have possessions individually secured (or not very secure, but still on the scale of existing) could just as easily have bilateral contracts recognising property as put forward by anarcho-capitalists, or set up a constitution to which they all referred to…you get the point – why do they need to agree to a sovereign like a king? So it is not surprising given this that no one pays attention to Hobbe’s theories on property at all and only care about his covenant. His ideas on property as stated in the first passage don’t fit his covenant theory. Instead, Locke is taken as the guiding star and he took Hobbes incoherence on this matter and pushed it to full (and vastly more coherent regarding the covernant) crazyness because Hobbes was maintaining an incoherent unprincipled exception in asserting property comes from the sovereign whilst putting forward the anarchist covenant theory – how can the state grant something which it doesn’t possess in the first place? It is an organisation among organisations. To do so it must be granted this possession (from all these individual actors who possess everything collectively) to then disperse, which is what Hobbes drives at when he says:
Attributing Of Absolute Propriety To The Subjects
A Fifth doctrine, that tendeth to the Dissolution of a Common-wealth, is, “That every private man has an absolute Propriety in his Goods; such, as excludeth the Right of the Soveraign.” Every man has indeed a Propriety that excludes the Right of every other Subject: And he has it onely from the Soveraign Power; without the protection whereof, every other man should have equall Right to the same. But if the Right of the Soveraign also be excluded, he cannot performe the office they have put him into; which is, to defend them both from forraign enemies, and from the injuries of one another; and consequently there is no longer a Common-wealth.
And if the Propriety of Subjects, exclude not the Right of the Soveraign Representative to their Goods; much lesse to their offices of Judicature, or Execution, in which they Represent the Soveraign himselfe.”
In effect, we should act and allow the sovereign total control (even though we don’t really have to) so that we can have a “commonwealth.”
I am unable to conclude that Hobbes is doing anything more than running himself in a circles. He has set up an elaborate piece of fabrication based on first principles which are easily debunked. Has there ever existed a society of individuals each able to individually maintain possession, who then pool this possession with a sovereign and abide by all of their rules? Why are we even reasoning from this point? What are we talking about here?At this point, we need to place Hobbes and Locke in their time and place to get a footing. Wiki of all places does this for me, and if I can get the mainstream discourse to make my point against it, then all the better for me. The passage is from Locke’s entry on the state of nature page:
“John Locke considers the state of nature in his Second Treatise on Civil Government written around the time of the Exclusion Crisis in England during the 1680s. For Locke, in the state of nature all men are free “to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature.” (2nd Tr., §4). “The state of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it”, and that law is reason. Locke believes that reason teaches that “no one ought to harm another in his life, liberty, and or property” (2nd Tr., §6) ; and that transgressions of this may be punished. This view of the state of nature is partly deduced from Christian belief (unlike Hobbes, whose philosophy is not dependent upon any prior theology).
Although it may be natural to assume that Locke was responding to Hobbes, Locke never refers to Hobbes by name, and may instead have been responding to other writers of the day, like Robert Filmer. In fact, Locke’s First Treatise is entirely a response to Filmer’s Patriarcha, and takes a step by step method to refuting Filmer’s theory set out in Patriarcha. The conservative party at the time had rallied behind Filmer’s Patriarcha, whereas the Whigs, scared of another prosecution of Anglicans and Protestants, rallied behind the theory set out by Locke in his Two Treatises of Government as it gave a clear theory as to why the people would be justified in overthrowing a monarchy which abuses the trust they had placed in it”
So we see, both Locke and Hobbes with their state of nature theorising place possession (Hobbes) and then possession and property (Locke) as being anterior to the state and they are working in a period of time in which certain sections of society became sufficiently powerful to push this conception because it suited them, not because it was right, or makes sense when placed under scrutiny. Which is why it is understandable why Marx would put forward his base and superstructure concept, and why the modern state is tied in with the bourgeois – it has a giant lump of truth in it. As England was collapsing into outright oligarchy with sham monarchs as figureheads, conceptions of society formation based on anarchistic foundations (liberalism) took form.
So if we take the action of dismissing both Hobbes and Locke as being confused nonsense that only succeeded because of historical contingency (the collapse of England into oligarchy and the usefulness of this theorizing along with this) then we have two tasks. One is to rework the first model I outlined in which the sovereign is one amongst many, and who is tasked with specific roles and given specific rights as part of a social contract. The first task is to justify the necessary status of the individual as pre-societal in the face of overwhelming, crushing evidence to the contrary. The second is to then develop an explanation why these individuals (which requires rejection of biological and anthropological evidence by the way) engage in societal behaviour. The third task is to then ask yourself why you are doing this given task one and two make no sense.
The other option is to have a look at model two again. What if both possession and property are a function of the sovereign and that this is not only observable in historical records, but resolves a great deal of conceptional confusion around the area of property in political thought?