Moral Economy in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Locke’s Second Treatise of Government

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Moral Economy in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Locke’s Second Treatise of Government

James Joyce on Robinson Crusoe: “…the man alone, on a desert island, constructing a simple and moral economy which becomes the basis of a commonwealth presided over by a benevolent sovereign” (Liu 731).

Issues of property and ownership were important during the 18th century both to scholars and the common man. The case of America demonstrates that politicians, such as Thomas Jefferson, were highly influenced by John Locke’s ideas including those on property and the individual’s right to it. Readers in the revolutionary era were also deeply interested in issues of spirituality and independence and read Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Both Locke and Defoe address the issues of property, private ownership, and property accumulation, connecting them with the notions of individual and political independence. Although they appear to converge, their philosophies vary greatly on these topics. Several scholars conclude that both Defoe’s and Locke’s ideals support the development of a moral economy although neither express this desire directly.

Locke theorizeds extensively on property, privatization, and the means an individual can use for increasing his property. Initially, in the state of nature, man did not own property in the form of resources or land. All fruits of the earth were for the use of all men,“and nobody has originally a private dominion, exclusive of the rest of mankind, in any of them, as they are thus in their natural state” (Locke 353). In this state, people could appropriate only what they could make use of. It was unfair for one person to take more than he could use because some of that natural commodity would go to waste unless another man might have made use of it for his own benefit (360). Locke felt that God gave the bounties of nature to the people of earth and they, by default, should treat these bounties rationally. This rationalistic theory discourages waste.

According to Locke’s theory, a commodity becomes the private possession of an individual who labors for it. Thus it is no longer a direct gift of nature: [A man] “that so employed his pains about any of the spontaneous products of nature, as any way to alter them from the state which nature put them in, by placing any of his labour on them, did thereby acquire a propriety in them” ( 360).

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