Property in Second Treatise of Civil Government and Robinson Crusoe
Both John Locke's Second Treatise of Civil Government and Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe deal with the question of property. In these two texts, the following questions arise: when does common property become an individual's property; and what factors make the appropriation of property justifiable or not? These questions may be answered by looking at each author's political views, followed by how they are incorporated in their work. Locke outlines the procedures for the transition of property to private ownership, while Defoe details the way Crusoe appropriates property (i.e., food, accommodations, and slaves) during the course of his stay on the deserted island. However, in order to really examine the question of ownership, it first must be established how property was viewed during Locke's and Defoe's eras.
Property was "a revolutionary force in the seventeenth century" (Larkin 56). A dictionary from that time period distinguished an individual's property by "its independence from others' control, defining it as 'the highest right that a man hath or can have to anything, which is no way depending vpon any other mans courtesie'" (Harris 224). Property was widely distributed in England during Locke's life (Larkin 57). Since it was natural to associate political authority with property during the seventeenth century, Locke's theory of property was "seated with a view to politics" (Harris 226; Larkin 57). His Treatise of Civil Government was written after the civil war of 1642 (Larkin 57). Referring to property as that which individuals have "in themselves, and also in goods," Locke expressed the view that "the supreme power cannot take from any man any part of his property without his own consent" (Larkin 58). According to Paschal Larkin, the principle of Locke's Second Treatise of Government was to "discuss the origin, foundation, and limits of civil authority; his treatment of property was merely incidental" (Larkin 59). But even though the topic came up incidentally, Locke had much to say about it. He dedicated an entire chapter in his Treatise to discussing property and its importance in the laws of nature and government.
Throughout Chapter V of his Second Treatise,
Locke uses the term 'property'…to connote that something is one's own, either inclusively or exclusively. That is, anything which is in any sense one's own is one's property. This seems to be the conventional seventeenth-century use of the term (Tully 112).
Locke argues that "natural reason…tells us, that men, being once born, have a right to their preservation" (Locke 352). After establishing this principle, Locke continues to surmise that God "has given the earth…to mankind in common. But this being supposed, it seems to some a very great difficulty how any one should ever come to have a property in any thing" (Locke 353). This puzzling question may have different answers that...