Critical Reflections on Ownership

Critical Reflections on Ownership

Critical Reflections on Human Rights and the Environment series

Mary Warnock

In this thought provoking work, Mary Warnock explores what it is to own things, and the differences in our attitude to what we own and what we do not. Starting from the philosophical standpoints of Locke and Hume, the ownership of gardens is presented as a prime example, exploring both private and common ownership, historically and autobiographically. The author concludes that, besides pleasure and pride, ownership brings a sense of responsibility for what is owned and a fundamental question is brought to light: can we feel the same responsibility for what we do not, and never can, own? Applying this question to the natural world and the planet as a whole, a realistic and gradualist perspective is offered on confronting global environmental degradation. Critical Reflections on Ownership examines the effect of the Romantic Movement on our attitudes to nature and is a salient commentary on the history of ideas.

Chapter 5: Common ownership 2: some more modest forms

Mary Warnock

Subjects: environment, environmental law, law - academic, environmental law, human rights, legal philosophy


Common ownership has frequently been discussed, and indeed practised, in contexts narrower than the global revolutions that Marx had envisaged. For Marx had a general theory of human nature, namely that what distinguishes man from other animals is that he alone produces what will meet his needs, while all other animals rely on finding it. And this theory requires that all the producers of goods, the workers, should regard themselves, worldwide, as one society, owning together both the means of production and what is produced. If such a change in perspective were to be achieved, the relationship between one human being and another would be radically changed, and the whole existing structure of political power thrown into the melting pot. We have seen that the post-revolutionary Paris utopia-writers did not have anything so radical in their sights when they thought of the possible future. Some of them had followers who set up small communes, especially in the USA, within which everything was held in common for the benefit of all. Many of these had a specifically religious basis, and sought to avoid the supposed corruption of man’s sense of duty towards God, nature and fellow human beings by returning to a primitive way of life, everyone, man, woman and child, contributing to the life of the self-supporting, essentially agricultural, community, as little reliant on modern technology as possible, and owning no personal property.

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