Environmental Ethics

Volume 46, Issue 1, Spring 2024

Private Property and the Environment

Carl PiererOrcid-ID
Pages 27-45

The Nature of Property
Locke and Labor in the Anthropocene

The recent accumulation of environmental crises poses a radical challenge to the conceptual organization of the modern Western political imaginary and the history of political thought by unsettling its ontological understanding of ‘nature’. Specifically, to the extent that they rely on such troublesome understandings, this means the central notions we use to orient ourselves politically, such as labor, can no longer straightforwardly serve this purpose. This paper has argued a paradoxical return to Locke against Locke, and the insight into the entanglements of labor, property, and nature this enables, can provide us with a way of holding together the complexity of this predicament. The first part recovered from the critical scholarship on Locke of the past 50 years the manifold ways in which Lockean ideas about labor are caught up with specific assumptions about colonialism, gendered hierarchies, and nature. The second part argued no singular conceptual reconstruction of labor can do justice to its hybrid character, which the present predicament has revealed. The third part argued, by recovering what the Lockean heritage has obscured, the critical scholarship gives us a way into the knotty problems of the organization of labor and the structure of the political collective.