The issue of scarce resources in society sparks impassioned discord. Land, labor, and capital have regularly been identified as problems throughout history. More’s Utopia and Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origins and Foundations of Inequality among Men are two works that identify the ownership of land, or property as a problem. But interestingly enough, both authors distinguish property as a problem that affects the happiness of society. By suggesting that the equal allocation of goods is the only path to the welfare of the public, More presents the problem of property and its solution; he argues that property cannot be equitably and justly distributed or the affairs of mortal men managed so as to make them happy unless private property is utterly abolished (47). Rousseau, on the other hand, presents the problem of property in response to an essay question on the origins of inequality among men; he presents a conceptual solution in claiming that the earth itself belongs to no one (109). Their shared reproach of property is far from insignificant: More craftily uses the topic as a segue for Book 2, where he describes distinct conditions that reflect a happier state. Rousseau commences his Part Two espousing the avoidable consequences which property introduced to man. Rousseau and More address the same problem, yet offer different solutions that would help to create a happier state. Perhaps, then, we should suspend all critiques of the individual solutions for the more intriguing problem, namely, which solution is more successful. Put differently, which solution suggests conditions that depict, in turn, a reflection of the happier state for the greatest number of people?
I assume in this paper that man, under the condition that property supplanted, enjoys a happier state. Both thinkers defend their solutions on this premise. Additionally, I will only qualify the conditions most consequential to happiness, which consist broadly of property, behavior and laws. While I concede that restricting my investigation to these facets alone limits us from appreciating the brilliance of all conditions suggested, I maintain that in doing so I am reasonably able to uncover the following: While More describes a happier state whose laws bring pleasure, not only is his central idea grounded in logic which contradicts other ideas within his overall solution, but he categorically fails to create a happier state for the greatest number of people, because the island of Utopia is exclusive to its own citizens. By contrast, Rousseau suggests conditions grounded in logic which reflect a happier state for the entire human race, albeit his solution exists in the past. Since both of their solutions stem from how they individually supplant the problem of property, it is the most appropriate starting point for this investigation.
The alternatives to property suggested by both authors are integral to this investigation. They help create the conditions which reflect a happier state. More replaces the problem of private property by instituting communal property in Utopia. He carefully responds to the objection that people cannot live comfortably where everything is held in common (48). In essence, he challenges himself to defend this condition in the context that Utopians live happier than Europeans. Instead of immediately addressing this counterargument, however, he insists that the customs and institutions make these conditions possible. Given the preceding logic, More clearly regards Utopia’s customs and institutions as the most significant conditions which create a happier state. For example, the houses in Utopia are built so there is nothing private anywhere, for every ten years the citizens exchange the houses (57). Perhaps then, the customs and institutions which bring communal property to fruition are more relevant in our investigation of More’s solution than communal property itself.
By contrast, Rousseau presents the concept of property as the origin of a series of developments which led to civil society (109-114). The idea that man lived in a time before the concept of property was established in effect deletes the problem of property. In other words, Rousseau supplants the problem of property with an irrefutable concept., as Rousseau suggests, it was during this time, “[…] between the indolence of the primitive state and the petulant activity of our own pride, must have been the happiest epoch and the most lasting” (115). Ultimately, the conditions which the savage man lives in help to create a happier state.
It would be unfair and irresponsible of me to accept this claim without further consideration. To qualify his second and more important claim, however, we must – and indeed will – examine these two extremes more in depth in their relation to a happier state. The conditions both authors suggest adequately supplant property, but do not offer a reliable means to gauge which would help create a happier state for the greatest number of people.
By examining the behaviors of individuals who live without private property, we can gain a more exact understanding of what each author constitutes as happiness. More claims that the Utopians believe that the most important part of human happiness consists of pleasure (81). Thus, More believes the Utopians live more happily, because they have more pleasure. And since More also claims that the very essence of humanity is to restore pleasure in other’s lives, Utopians, therefore, live to make others happy (82). Likewise, these customs ostensibly create a happier state, and provide the means by which it can sustain itself.
Rousseau, for his part, argues that the most significant human custom is that of the faculty of self-improvement, which is to say because man is always seeking to improve his status, he progresses throughout developments in history (88). Ultimately, the primitive man without any sort of property progressed towards the happiest epoch, that of the savage man, as well as away from it to the epoch of the civil man. The main implication that Rousseau’s logic poses is that this innate human behavior leads man to leave those conditions which help to create a happier state. In other words, the happier state, as he argues, is temporary and its corrosion is inevitable. Compared to More’s happier state, Rousseau acknowledges a happier state which is destined to progress into an unhappy one.
Conceptually speaking, Rousseau’s conditions create a fleeting, happier state while More’s conditions create a permanently happier one. Surely this implication weakens his solution. On the other hand, Rousseau does offer a rebuttal in suggesting that the savage man is governed by pity (100). Pity drives the savage man to desire that other men not suffer. Certainly, as Rousseau defines this condition, man desires for others to be happy. In other words, pity is a natural emotion that governs man and is a condition which reflects a happier state.
A parallel emerges from this logic in Rousseau’s discourse, namely, on the subject of pride. Both authors detest this behavior and suggest that it undermines happiness or the conditions which help to create a happier state. More states that there is no room for pride in the Utopian scheme, and that pride is the reason why other nations do not adopt Utopian laws (68&142). Rousseau, for his part, indicates that man in the happier state is consigned by nature to instinct alone (89). Instinct, we can reasonably conclude, serves the purpose of laws. Alas, I have proven up to this point that the behaviors which reflect a happier state are contingent upon their individual solutions to the issue of property. In examining the behavior customs in both happier states, it has become clear that the laws which institute these conditions bring happiness to fruition.
More explicitly lays out laws as conditions which sustain a happier state, while Rousseau suggests instinct as a condition in a happier state. Pride undermines the ability of other nations to introduce the laws which bring a happier state, according to More. More’s conceptual logic is circular; while his conditions plausibly create a happier state, they are implausible conditions since they exist as nothing more than concepts.
Rousseau, on the other hand, suggests a condition, for the savage man, in which the “maxims” and “institutions” which result from property do not exist (121). Once again, it seems as if Rousseau’s solution to supplant the concept of property has fewer implications on all of the conditions which he suggests help to create a happier state. Rousseau also suggests that a lack of commodities makes men unhappy, yet possession of them does not make man happy (110). Thus, private property is what prevents the conditions which reflect a happier state.
Property nevertheless presents the problem of a scarce resource, for which More and Rousseau have offered solutions. In doing so, they create conditions which ostensibly create conditions that help create a happier state. These conditions rest on conceptual logic tied throughout property, behavior, and laws. However, More’s conditions frequently prove inconsistent with his overall vision. Similarly, his conditions only serve to create a happier state for an exclusive group of people.
On the other hand, the solution Rousseau offers is not necessarily flawless. First, given the fact that mankind cannot travel to the past, a happier state is unachievable. And his logic is knotted together in paradoxes. Yet still, Rousseau is more successful in suggesting conditions which help create a happier state. Allocating a scarce resource, like property, to make man happy has proven conceptually daunting. How appropriate it is then indeed, that this general study of economics came later to be called the “dismal science” by the late Thomas Carlisle.