I can’t be the first one to have spotted this, but I’m teaching Locke tomorrow, and on my nth reading of Second Treatise chapter 5, it suddenly occurs to me that the assumption commonly attributed to Locke as the starting point of his discussion of property in the Second Treatise is much more puzzling than I had previously realized. Locke says that revelation makes clear that God gave the world “to mankind in common.” But how can that be, if God gave the Promised Land to Israel?
Sec. 25. Whether we consider natural reason, which tells us, that men, being once born, have a right to their preservation, and consequently to meat and drink, and such other things as nature affords for their subsistence: or revelation, which gives us an account of those grants God made of the world to Adam, and to Noah, and his sons, it is very clear, that God, as king David says, Psal. cxv. 16. has given the earth to the children of men; given it to mankind in common.
The Scripture passage Locke cites, Psalms 115:16, has absolutely no bearing on the issue of whether God gave the world to men or mankind in common. Its point is simply that the sublunary world belongs to humans by contrast with the heavens, which belong to God: “The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s: but the earth hath he given to the children of men” (KJV). That God gave the earth to “the children of men” doesn’t tell us which children he gave what parts of it to, and certainly doesn’t entail that he gave all of it to mankind in common. Anyway, it’s hard to think of a more inapt text for the world’s being given in common to mankind than one reporting the thoughts of one of the chief beneficiaries of its not being given in common to mankind, King David.
Initial appropriations are either legitimate or not. If appropriation-by-divinely-sanctioned-conquest is legitimate, God cannot have given the world to all of mankind in common. He gave it to some at the expense of others. But if the acquisition of Canaan is not legitimate appropriation but conquest, and “conquest may be called a foreign usurpation,” (ST, 197) are God and Israel foreign usurpers? A dilemma.
Supposing those options aren’t exclusive: if the Canaanites initially appropriated Canaan by Lockean strictures, but the donation of Canaan to Israel is rectification for the past grievances they suffered in Egypt, are divinely-sanctioned property rights so weak that Canaanite property rights can be overturned because of Pharoah’s depredations against the Hebrews? Or is the claim that the Israelites get Canaan because of grievances they suffered in Canaan at Canaanite hands? When was that?
The matter is under investigation.