Thomas Hodgskin argues for a Lockean notion of the right to property (“natural”) and against the Benthamite notion that property rights are created by the state (“artificial”) (1832)

Thomas Hodgskin

Thomas Hodgskin sends a series of letters to one of the most influential Benthamite reformers of the period informing him that his theory of property is incorrect and dangerous to liberty and that he should adopt a more Lockean notion of property rights

I look on a right of property—on the right of individuals, to have and to own, for their own separate and selfish use and enjoyment, the produce of their own industry, with power freely to dispose of the whole of that in the manner most agreeable to themselves, as essential to the welfare and even to the continued existence of society. If, therefore, I did not suppose, with Mr. Locke, that nature establishes such a right—if I were not prepared to shew that she not merely establishes, but also protects and preserves it, so far as never to suffer it to be violated with impunity—I should at once take refuge in Mr. Bentham’s impious theory, and admit that the legislator who established and preserved a right of property, deserved little less adoration than the Divinity himself. Believing, however, that nature establishes such a right, I can neither join those who vituperate it as the source of all our social misery, nor those who claim for the legislator the high honour of being “the author of the finest triumph of humanity over itself.”

Thomas Hodgskin is hard to categorize. The socialists like to claim his as one of their own because he was sympathetic to the workers and worked hard lecturing to them on economic issues at the Mechanics Institutes. Yet he cannot be classified as a “socialist” because of his firm and explicit support for free trade (he worked for The Economist in its most radical free trade phase) and bravely defended Lockean notions of property rights when the utilitarian Bethamites were sweeping all before them. This 1832 book is one of the most explicit defences of what he called “the natural right to property” in direct opposition to the government defined and enforced “artificial right to property” which he believed began the slippery slope to statism.