We condemn the war and support Ukraine in its struggle for democratic values.
We also encourage you to join the #StandWithUkraine movement by making a donation at this link
John Locke and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Ideologies on Property

Political ideologies refer to a series of beliefs about how human beings behave, interact with others and acquire knowledge. This paper examines the political ideologies of two philosophers, John Locke and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon on property.

Background on Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and John Locke  

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) was a self proclaimed anarchist, who grew up in South West France with skepticism on the roles of intellectuals in social movements. His assertion that “property is theft” and “property is freedom” in his pamphlet “What Property is?” (1840) will form a basis of the argument in this paper. On the other hand, John Locke (1632-1704) was a very influential political philosopher. His main works were based on human rights like rights to liberty, life and property. According to Locke, ownership of property is a right which must be promoted. He argues that the role of the government is to ensure the stable and comfortable enjoyment of a person’s rights, liberty and property.  

Political Ideologies on Property

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Proudhon argument that organization without government structures was not only possible but a preference confirmed his atheistic ideologies. His philosophy was based on social and political ideologies and rested on two tenets. First, he believed that labor should be the basis for any society’s social organization and, secondly that all systems of government were repressive. In fact, Proudhon simply implied that communalism was not achievable since it destroyed freedom by depriving individuals of their livelihood control. Rejai (1994) argues that communalism uses the cooperation of individuals to attain the goals of the community as a whole. In his view, a perfect society would be made up of self-supporting peasants who had control over their livelihood. The peasants should have the opportunity to own land and possess all the tools required in production and trade. This would reduces exploitation and promote mutual benefit.

The term “property is theft” used in his pamphlet “What Property is?” refer to a capitalist case where capitalists gained control over others by controlling their homes, land or livelihood through the exploitation of their labor. According to Proudhon, property, unless based in actual occupancy and usage was theft. Eccleshall et al (2003) support this assertion when they argue that capitalism has failed to combine equality and liberty in wealth creation.


Proudhon’s schools of thought is termed as mutualism since he was not opposed to free market, the support of workers associations’ and mutual banking. In real sense, his opposition was on capitalism which he referred to as a system of wage labor which is exploitative contrary to the definition adopted by the non-anarchists as a free market economics. He is actually for a socialistic mode where there is redistribution of wealth or abolition of private property to overcome inequity (Eccleshall et al., 2003). His mode of governance is that of a mutual bound contract between the communities and societies with arbitration replacing the courts of law.

John Locke 

For John Locke, his school of thought is based on opposition to authoritarianism, both on the individual person and institutions like the governments and the church. He wants every person to use reason in search of truth and property other than simply accepting the opinions of those in authority. Through this, individuals would optimize their material and spiritual welfare. John Lock’s Social Contract Theory explains the role of the government. Contrary to Proudhon belief of the government as bad and exploitative, Locke argues the roles of a legitimate government are to execute the law of nature and to judge the subject’s case. For Locke, legitimate government is instituted by the express permission of those to be governed.

Moreover, Locke’s political theory on property is that the legitimate government must protect private property. He argues that each individual has an equal right to own property and absolute liberty to act as they wish without any disturbance. This kind of argument is supported by a belief that each individual has a faculty of reason and the actions of every human agent are governed by the self-evident laws of nature. Locke defines private property as any improvement in the natural world as a result of application of an individual’s labor. Thus the resultant product of application of human effort is regarded as a personal property for person has an exclusive right to his or her own body and actions. However, he asserts that the earth and everything on it is a public property as it belongs to all humanity.

Capitalistic Wealth Accumulation

The principle of appropriation by investment of labor as outlined by Locke can be extended even to the control of the earth’s resources as well. For instance, people who till the land thus improving its productivity acquire a property interest in return for their time and effort. He argues that the ploughed land belongs to the individual even if the land was a public property. The above argument presents Locke as a defender of capitalistic wealth accumulation. This can be expounded by three reasons.

Reasons for Capitalistic Wealth Accumulation

First, he sets a restriction that one can only possess as much as he can use before the property gets spoilt. For example, he argues that a bare piece of land that is owned by all, but tilled by an individual belongs to the individual since he has added value to the land.

The second set restriction is that as one acquire any property then the individual must leave enough and “as good for others”. This is called the sufficiency restriction. Locke assumes that the world is possessed by all and that individuals can only possess property if they can show that they would add value to the property. But then this restriction may not apply to other unlimited resources like water or in case where land became scarce then there would be no universal consent.

The final restriction is that one may only appropriate property through his / her own efforts or labor. Locke believed that just like God has property rights with regards to human beings because he is the maker, so should human beings have property rights with respect to what they have labored on. The main point of concern is whether human beings should have absolute property ownership as God does, and to distinguish between creating and making. However, critics have argued that it is only creating that generates absolute property right but not making. Thus the third restriction fails to hold water since it is only God who has absolute right over his creation.

Principles of Locke’s Capitalistic Ideologies

Locke’s Capitalistic ideologies can be explained by three principles. These are the relative egalitarianism on the assumption of the basic human rights; communalism, since the welfare of the society as a whole is regarded; and the communal ownership of wealth and property. Consequently, he agitates for liberalism that stresses individual rights but places boundaries on governments to defend these rights and the private property (Rejai, 1994). In fact, liberalism means equality and social welfare (Rejai, 1994).

Similarities and Differences in Locke’s and Proudhon’s Ideologies

Both John Lock and Proudhon talks about the liberty of human beings. They both believe in fundamental human dignity, and that individuals in a given society are bound together by a system of moral reciprocity. They believe in the ability of each one to successfully perform a given task and to acquire property. They collectively seem to value socialism as an important tool to societal progress although they differ in approaches. Whereas Locke’s approach is a purely socialistic society under a legitimate government, Proudhon’s approach is that of mutual benefit.  Rejai (1994) argues that socialistic ideologies tend to value the welfare of the society as a whole. It recognizes the cooperation of individuals in attaining the communal aspirations.

A few differences emerge in the ideologies presented by these two scholars. First, Locke believes in social organizational structure which begins from the family. He argues that although each individual is capable of enforcing the natural law in defense of property interests, there is a requirement that all individuals voluntarily surrender this right to the community as a whole through the legitimate civil society. Locke actually presents a rather democratic system where the will of the majority prevails. Thus, the decision expressed by the majority regarding property interests must be accepted as determinative.

However, Proudhon is opposed to legitimate government structures. Instead, he agitates for equality and liberty in resource and property interests. Eccleshall et al (2003) stated that democracy should embody equality, community and liberty since it is grounded in the free choice of the individual. On the other hand, Proudhon’s ideologies are opposed to both democracy and centralized government. He summarizes his argument by stating that workers are able to attain their won liberation through organized economic actions but not legislative reforms.

In conclusion, the two scholars have presented two different political ideologies with regards to property interests. While both Proudhon and Locke talk about property ownership bestowed on individuals Locke bestows control of the same properties to a legitimate government. The role of the government, according to Proudhon is to deprive citizens of their efforts, property and labor. Instead of centralized system of government, he proposes a federal system between communities and societies held together by mutual interests.

Order now

Related essays