Rousseau and Private Property

Land and private ownership has been the reason for many wars and debates throughout history. There are various people whom believe that land should be used as private property, Rousseau, Jefferson, and Smith, and others whom believe land should only have public use, Marx and Engels. Rousseau believes that land should be used for private property and that it is necessary within the social contract to demonstrate the status of citizenship. Rousseau’s The Origin of Civil Society describes how horrendous life would be if we were in a state of nature because of the brutish lifestyle that we would have to endure.

In the civil state we have given up many of our freedoms that we would have in the state of nature to ensure that we live a peaceful and civilized manner. He believes that an aspect of the civil state would then include ownership of private property. He states, “All men have a natural right to what is necessary to them” (70). It is apparent then that he means that in the civil state all men have the right to own private property because of the necessity man has for land. He understands that the right of private property would then entail that they would have to follow the rule of “first occupancy” (70).

Rousseau understands the flaw of weakness in this idea of “first occupancy,” (70) but he supports this idea by stating, “First occupancy [… ] is guaranteed to every man enjoying the status of citizen” (70). If the right of private property is given to man by a mutual understanding then it is obvious that private property if essential to mankind and its citizenship. His most important idea of his civil society is that ”as owners they are trustees for the common wealth.

Their rights are respected/by their fellow citizens and are maintained by the united strength of the community [.. .]” (71). In this quote Rousseau is stating that private property allows the owners to be in power of what is occurring in the society and that they are held together as a community by the land that they own. It is seen as when the people have private property they want to ensure that the land is being used to the best of its abilities and by doing this they are then concerned how others are using their land,

which creates a community and a society. It is apparent then that private property is nothing but advantageous to the good of the commonwealth. Opponents to Rousseau’s ideas believe that private ownership is disadvantageous, and in actuality it is harming the commonwealth. Famous opponents to private property are Marx and Engels, whom wrote the Communist Manifesto which describes a constant class struggle between the proletariats and the bourgeois; Marx believes part of this class struggle is caused by private property owned by the bourgeois.

In this class struggle the proletariats feel as though they are treated unfairly because they are the basis of the forces of production, but will never be treated equal enough to own land. At this time land was only available to the rich people, such as the aristocrats and the bourgeois, due to the availability and cost of the land. This feeling of being wronged will result in a revolution, and the present social order will be destroyed. Therefore, as Marx states “The communists can sum up their theory in one motto: abolition of private property” (75).

In Engels, Principles of Communism, he argues that the industry is corrupted by the competition of individuals; therefore, the industry needs to be controlled by the society itself. Engels believes “private ownership cannot be separated from [.. .] competition, hence private ownership will have to be abolished and in its stead there will be a common use of the instruments” (146). His belief is comparable to Marx whom considers private property to be the cause of competition between the two classes; therefore, it causes the reoccurring theme of the class struggle.

He states that the land should be utilized as public land, and should not be owned by any one person, which will avoid this competition altogether. Engels also states, “The private property has become a fetter and a barrier in relation to the further development of the forces of production” (www. marxists. org). He again refers to the fact that private property causes trouble within the community, and ultimately affects the development of the forces of production, combination of means of production with the human labor power.

The workforce is based on these forces of production and because land is affecting this crucial aspect of the commonwealth it is necessary to abolish it in order to avoid any more tribulations. Finally, he states “the abolition of private property has become not only possible but absolutely necessary” (www. marxists. org). He feels that private land ownership is such a problem that due to the possibility available it is to be abolish private land. These two opponents have such a strong argument against the issue of private property and have demonstrated how private property is armful to the commonwealth.

Their argument is understandable because many wars have been caused by the issue of ownership of land however, abolishing all private property does not seem as though it would be beneficial to the good of the people. Famous supporters of Rousseau’s ideas about private property include Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith, whom both feel that private property is fundamental and essential in order for a community to survive. In the Declaration of dependence, Thomas Jefferson states all of the complaints that the people have against the king in which the root of these complaints are in the land.

The people want to have complete control over the land and no longer want the king telling them how to use the land. Land is of great importance in people’s life because of the impact that it can have on one’s living. The people feel so strongly that land is vital to their living that they are willing to start a war. He makes a strong example of the importance of land, and demonstrates clearly that the abolition of private property would be impossible to achieve. Adam Smith, an economist, also makes a strong demonstration on how important land is.

He explains that the land is the basis of all wealth and that power is within the ownership of the land. He demonstrates this in his book, Of the Natural Progress of Opulence, in which he states, “man will chuse to employ their capitals rather in the improvement and cultivation of land, than either in manufactures or in foreign trade” (213). He believes that land is the most important aspect of a person’s wealth and happiness because land is a permanent and essential investment.

He shows that every part of life is based around private property, and if you do not own property then you will most likely migrate towards a person or place that has private property, inh order to achieve wealth. These two famous supporters demonstrate vividly how Marx and Engel’s view is neither valid nor strong enough to be applied to modern life. In conclusion, Rousseau’s idea of ownership of private property is an extremely important one to understand because of the great importance it plays in modern day life.

Private property ownership is seen by Rousseau as a natural right for man to have and in affect is necessary for mankind. Though private property has been seen as a negative aspect of mankind in history, Rousseau achieved a persuasive argument on the positive of private property and its advantage for the people.

Work Cited Blunden, Andy. “Principles of Communism. ” Marxist. org Internet Archive. 2002. Marxist. org. 1 March 2006; Engels, Friedrich. “Principles of Communism. ” The Communist Manifesto. Ed. L. M. Findlay. Toronto, ON: Broadview Press, 2004.

137-56. Marx, Karl Friedrich Engels. “The Communist Manifesto. ” The Communist Manifesto. Ed. L. M. Findlay. Toronto, ON: Broadview Press, 2004. 59-94. Jefferson, Thomas. “The Declaration of Independence. ” A World of Ideas. Ed. Lee Jacobus. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002. 78-81. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. “The Origin of Civil Society. ” A World of Ideas. Ed. Lee Jacobus. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002. 53-72. Smith, Adams. “Of the Natural Progress of Opulence. ” A World of Ideas. Ed. Lee Jacobus. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002. 211-16.