Human beings have always been relentless in their pursuit of property. In many occasions, the amount of property that an individual possesses defines his stature in the society (Ostrom & Hess 6). It is for this primary reason that humans have since time immemorial devised various means and ways of acquiring property. There are two main types of property. These are private property and public property. Greater interest is however shown in private property. As mentioned, human beings have always desired to as much private property as possible and over time, some philosophers have attempted to explain how the desire and pursuit for property affects the nature of humans and the society in general. Karl Marx and Thomas Hobbes are renowned philosophers who have explored this issue. Although the two philosophers offer slightly contrasting views on the private property and its effect on human nature, there are however some similarities in the views of the two philosophers.
Karl Marx holds the opinion that the desire for property is essentially the utter cause of all human ills and evils (Peterson 377). According to Marx, in the pursuit of private property, humans try to establish their power over each while at the same time seeking to satisfy their selfish needs. Marx contends that an increase in personal propertyis accompanied by an extension of power dominance by a group of humans who own the property over another group that does not own the property (Peterson 378). Because of the huge desire for property as a way of satisfying one’s own selfish needs and establishing power over other humans, the emergence of a new product in the market essentially represents an opportunity or potentiality for humans to plunder and swindle each other.
Karl Marx contends that the only way to resolve this situation is through the overthrowing of capitalists. Workers should overthrow the business class (capitalists), and private property should subsequently be abolished. Each individual by their own nature would inadvertently be compelled or obligated to work for the common good (Peterson, 380). In such a situation, the common good would exceed individual rights. Karl Marx is also of the opinion that this situation would render government unnecessary, and it would consequently wither away.
Karl Marx is against the capitalist system which creates different and unequal classes in the society. Capitalism is characterized by intensive desire and pursuit of personal property. Marx postulates that private property is the consequence or the result of alienated labor. It is the product of a worker who is estranged or alienated from himself. This notion is based on the idea that laborers who belong to the working class essentially produce products that are not theirs and the compensation that these workers receive for creating a particular product is always lower than the real value of the product. Karl Marx argues that in their pursuit for private property, the capitalists hire the laborers who they then exploit. In the end, however, they are the ones who benefit from the products created by the laborers. According to Karl Marx, this is hugely improper and the laborers should lay sole claim to the products that they produce - a product should basically belong to the person who created it (Peterson 383).
According to Karl Marx, there are two categories of people in the society, the property less and the property owners. Marx contends that all of private property is gained illegally and in many occasions, it is usually the by-product of abuse and exploitation of the working class who Marx states are helpless “victims”.
The exploitation of the working class by the capitalists leads them to be alienated from their own being. Under the capitalist system characterized by capitalists with intense desire to acquire private property, the working class are essentially led to fully accepting the notion that their labor belongs to other people and through this, they are both alienated and estranged from their own being (Peterson 385). Even though the laborers receive some compensation for their labor, this compensation is nevertheless inadequate mainly because the value they receive is way much less that than the true value of the commodity that they have produced. This is how the capitalists gain profit. The gaining of profit by the capitalists further fuels their desire to acquire even more property. As their desire is fuelled, they become even meaner and devise new ways for exploiting the laborers so that the laborers can produce more commodities that once again almost exclusively benefits the capitalists.
In Marx’s opinion, capitalism constitutes injustice. For this injustice to end, the society must be allowed to own all of the property and this property must consequently be used to benefit all rather than a just a few people. Profits from institutions such as factories, businesses and lands deserve to go to the entire society and not just the private owners of production means (Peterson 378).
According to Marx the capitalists and the laborers in one way or another represent similar human self-alienation. However, the capitalists feel affirmed and satisfied in the self-alienation. They experience the alienation as a foundation of power and consequently view it as part of the normal human existence. On the other hand, the laborers or the workers feel devastated in this self-alienation (Peterson 380). They see it as a form of impotence and as inhumane. This class feels deprived and undignified. According to Marx, this feeling of indignation is aroused by the contrast that exists between human nature and the real life situation of the laborers. Human nature dictates that one retains what acquires through one’s sweat, but the real life situation of the laborers is quite different. Under the rules of private property, instead of retaining the commodity that they work so hard for, they are forced to sell the commodity and indeed their labor to the capitalists in the society who only give them meagre compensations that can barely sustain them (Ostrom & Hess 89).
Therefore, in simple terms, Karl Marx is of the opinion that private property is the cause of all evil and wickedness in the society. The allowance for people to privately own property makes them become greedy. In the quest to acquire more property, they abuse and exploit others. To eliminate this situation, the law of private property should be eliminated and all property should be owned by the entire society and all the benefits that accrue from the property should be enjoyed by the entire society and not just to a privileged few (Ostrom & Hess 93).
Hobbes contends that human beings are entitled to private property because of the laws of nature, but the pursuit of private property however, makes humans self-centered and selfish (Lopata 210). Here, it appears that Hobbes is in agreement with Karl Marx whereby he shows that the pursuit of property has a very huge negative effect on human nature.
In regard to owning property, Hobbes however gives a very different proposition to that of Marx. First, he acknowledges that sovereignty is indivisible. Sovereignty supersedes all individual property rights. In a time of war, for example, property does not exist (Lopata 210). Individuals might, for example, agree to subdivide a piece of land between them but without the presence of coercive power, either party could at one instance go back on the agreement whenever it feels convenient. In addition, outsiders might come at any time and using their power take over the land.
Therefore, according to Hobbes, property can only exist after a sovereign power has been created (Lopata 210). This sovereign power is charged with the responsibility of enforcing contracts. The opinion of Hobbes is that property is the creation of the state. The existence of a state ensures that people respect each other’s property and in doing this, they acquire the right to own property themselves (Lopata 212). The state or the government has the power to ensure that this takes place in the form of contracts. This would not be the case if the state were not in existence. There is nothing to stop powerful people from taking over the property of people who are considered to be weak in the society. Through the state, every individual is made aware of the goods and the property that he or she may enjoy without expecting the interruption of the molestation of others.
Hobbes describes a very graphic outcome that emanates from the self-centered trait that possesses humans in their desire and pursuit of private property. He talks about a war whereby humans are fighting against each other and because of this, most live in continual fear as well as in danger of a violent death in the hands of their fellow humans who are in in pursuit of their property (Lopata 214).
Simply put, Hobbes primary belief that ownership of property is a fundamental right of every individual. Unfortunately, this is not a right that can be effected like other common rights. This is because of human nature to be greedy, self-centered and selfish. Property ownership is associated with high status and when one individual sees another with property, he instantly desires that property and in the absence of an institution such as the government, there is nothing to stop that individual from taking over the property of another (Lopata 217). Therefore, although Hobbes might agree with Marx that private property is the source of all evil in the society and causes human beings to be abusive, exploitative, self-centered and selfish, he is of the opinion that the only way to ensure that humans do not act out their feelings and infringe harm on others is by the establishment of a strong government structure. In fact, a government is the only way people can be prevented from destroying each other in the pursuit of property.
The discussion above shows that property is the primary cause of all evil in the society. The desire for private property ownership drives humans to great levels of cold-heartedness. Humans may go as far as killing one another in order to acquire property. Other go the lengths of abusing and exploiting their fellow men to acquire this property or to increase the one that they already have. To solve this problem Karl Marx advocates that private property ownership be banned, and all the property be owned by the society. Hobbes, on the other hand, proposes the establishment of a strong government to enforce property ownership contracts to ensure that people respect each other’s property.
Lopata, Benjamin B. "Property theory in Hobbes." Political Theory 1.2 (1973): 203-218.
Peterson, G. Paul. "Karl Marx and His Vision of Salvation: The Natural Law and Private Property." Review of Social Economy (1994): 377-390.
Ostrom, Elinor, and Charlotte Hess. "Private and common property rights." (2007).