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4 The Rise of “Economic Man” Niccolò Machiavelli broke with the Middle Ages when he sub­ ordinated faith to the interests of the prince and the civic republic. Martin Luther’s emphasis on the freedom of individual conscience reserved con­ siderable power to political authorities, who were responsible for organiz­ ing civil society around the external needs of a community of faith. Much the same was true of Thomas Hobbes’s demonstration that civil society ex­ isted because of the activity of a single point of sovereign power and that it rested on the advantages that flowed to its individual members. None of these three transitional figures had to rely on celestial forces to apply the general standards that made it possible to identify and pursue particular goals. If political power mitigated the destructiveness of uncontrolled com­ petition, it also made possible the many benefits of civilization that were not rooted in the immediate struggle for existence. Classical theorists ob­ viously placed far more emphasis on the state’s role in organizing civil so­ ciety than did most medieval thinkers, but both traditions agreed that the essential distinction was between civilization and barbarism. Early modern theorists preserved this element of earlier traditions. For John Locke, civil society made it possible for people to organize a public life of free­ dom and prosperity for the first time. Echoing the views of many En­ lightenment figures, Adam Ferguson’s civil society developed ethical sen­ timents and cultivated virtue in a way that was impossible in “rude” so­ cieties. Far more aware of the economic determinations of civil society than most of his colleagues, Adam Smith was confident that it could be organized around individual advantage in such a way that the blessings of civilization would flow to all. Even as they provided the theoretical foun­ dations for modern notions of the individual, science, reason, democracy, and freedom, all three men articulated the characteristically modern claim that the material processes of social life were fast becoming the constitu­ tive forces of civil society. 83 84 | The Rise of “Economic Man” Rights, Law, and Protected Spheres Writing in defense of England’s Glorious Revolution, John Locke initially targeted not Hobbes but the Court argument that sovereignty was a form of property that could be handed down from monarch to monarch, a position the Stuarts had long used in support of their claims to absolute power. The Crown’s position was derived from Robert Filmer’s attempt to base political power on paternal authority, but Locke went deeper and argued that the state’s unlimited power would undermine the very security it was designed to protect and would make civil society impossible. Hobbes had failed to understand that self-preservation no longer required the commanding po­ litical power of a sovereign but could now be identified with the simple pro­ tection of property. His purely “political” theory did not grasp that eco­ nomic forces could organize civil society if allowed to function in condi­ tions of freedom and in the presence of a state with limited powers. As powerful as Hobbes’s state appeared to be, said Locke, it could not provide a sufficiently strong foundation for civil society. Locke’s theory of property moved the discussion of civil society to an en­ tirely new level. If citizenship could be based on ownership, rational indi­ viduals would have no interest in disorder as long as they were left to go about their business in peace. Some of this was prefigured by Hobbes, but Locke’s claim that legitimacy rested on the state’s ability to protect a set of prepolitical natural rights took theories of civil society into new territory. Hobbes required obedience if the sovereign kept the peace, but Locke estab­ lished an economically determined sphere of property, rights, and private desire that could now be theorized apart from the enforcement power of the state. The earth had originally been given to all humans to enjoy, and Locke began with the familiar position that everyone had a right to draw individ­ ual sustenance from what nature had to offer. This natural-law presumption of an original condition of common ownership framed his counterintuitive drive to anchor civil society in a natural right to private property and indi­ vidual appropriation. “But I shall endeavor to shew,” he announced, “how men might come to have a property in several parts of that which God gave to mankind in common, and that without any express Compact of...


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