, Volume 49, Issue 2, pp 131-138
Date: 19 Jan 2012

Locke and the Sober Spirit of Capitalism

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Leo Strauss discerned in Locke’s doctrine of property “the classic doctrine of ‘the spirit of capitalism.’”

Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), 246.

C. B. Macpherson concurred, arguing that Locke “may well be said to have written the title-deeds of the liberal bourgeois state.”

C. B. Macpherson, “Editor’s Introduction” in Second Treatise of Government (Indianopolis: Hackett, 1980), xxi; C. B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive individualism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962), 194-262. For an alternative assessment of Locke’s doctrine of property, one that agrees with traditional limitations on acquisition see James Tully, An Approach to Political Philosophy: Locke in Contexts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

These are indeed high compliments to Locke given by two of his sharper critics. Yet, among the admirers of capitalism Locke remains a relatively unimportant philosopher. This is understandable. It is also ...