Imperialism

The great waves of European expansion that began in 1492 were characterized by fundamental ideological and material transformations in people’s relations to land. In his Second Treatise of Government (1689) the English philosopher John Locke, who owned plantations in both Ireland and the American colonies, wrote, “He who appropriates land to himself by his labor does not lessen but increase the common stock of mankind” (Locke 1988, 293). Later in the Treatise, Locke explicitly references the Native Americans as an example of people who, appearing to him to do no labor, consequently fail to develop the Earth according to god’s plan and therefore can stake no legitimate claim of ownership to the land on which they live. Locke’s argument was central to the creation of private property and, more broadly, to the process of enclosure of communal lands that unfolded in the British Isles and in England’s far-flung colonies …

This essay may be found on page 139 of the printed volume.

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