State, class and property

39a97-1337728550-indignados-protest-in-front-of-the-la-caixabank-barcelona_1230279There is something refreshingly honest about classical political thought that much contemporary political theory – particularly liberalism – tends to obscure. In particular, classical political theorists tended to be much more straightforward in their assessments of the relationship between class, property and the state. Here are some interesting quotes from some of the heavy hitters in the canon:

‘Yea that kingly power in the laws appointed the conquered poor to work for them that possess the land, for three pence and four pence a day; and if any refused, they were to be imprisoned; and if any walked a-begging and had no dwelling, he was to be whipped; and all was to force the slaves to work for them that had taken their property of their labours from them by the sword, as the laws of England are yet extant. And truly most laws are but to enslave the poor to the rich, and so they uphold the conquest and are laws of the great red dragon.’

Gerrard Winstanley, A New Yeer’s Gift for the Parliament and Army
‘The great and chief end, therefore, of Mens uniting into Commonwealths, and putting themselves under Government, is the Preservation of their property.’
John Locke, Two Treatises of Government
‘Such was, or should have been, the origin of society and laws, which gave new fetters to the weak and new forces to the rich, irretrievably destroyed natural liberty, established forever the law of property and of inequality, changed adroit usurpation into an irrevocable right, and for the profit of a few ambitious men henceforth subjected the entire human race to labour, servitude and misery.’
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality
‘Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.’
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations           

 State, class and property

‘Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class. An oppressed class under the sway of the feudal nobility, an armed and self-governing association in the medieval commune; here independent urban republic (as in Italy and Germany), there taxable ‘third estate’ of the monarchy (as in France), afterwards, in the period of manufacture proper, serving either the semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy as a counterpoise against the nobility, and, in fact, corner-stone of the great monarchies in general, the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.’

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto

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