John Locke's theory of property has been the subject of sustained contention between two major perspectives: a socioeconomic perspective, which conceives Locke's thought as an expression of the rising bourgeois sensibility and a defense of the nascent capitalist relations, and a theological perspective, which prioritizes his moral worldview grounded in the Christian natural law tradition. This essay argues that a closer analysis of Locke's theory of money in the Second Treatise can provide an alternative to this binary. It maintains that the notion of money comprises a conceptual area of indeterminacy in which the theological universals of the natural law and the historical fact of capital accumulation shade into each other. More specifically, the ambiguity of the status of money enables Locke to navigate an antinomy within the natural law such that he establishes a relation of necessity between the divine telos and accumulative practices.
(Online publication February 17 2011)
Onur Ulas Ince is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Government at Cornell University.
I would like to thank Burke Hendrix, Isaac Kramnick, Susan Buck-Morss, Jason Frank, and Sinja Graf for their support and thoughtful comments. I would also like to thank several anonymous reviewers from the Review of Politics for the constructive feedback they provided on the earlier drafts of this essay.