Associate Professor Andrew Poe with a beard and glasses

Agora Speaker Series 2023 - Associate Professor Andrew Poe

Sources of Possession: A Reading of Locke’s Second Treatise of Government

How are we affected by property? The right to have and hold property is thought to be foundational to bourgeois legal subjectivity. But the ways in which changing conceptions of property affect new forms of political subjectivity is still too little theorized. In an attempt to make sense of affective instabilities in the original theorizations of bourgeois legal subjectivity, this paper turns to early modern languages of possession. I aim to show how competing rhetorics of possession – including “spirit” possession and possession of property – complicate the model of the bourgeois legal subject as merely the “property holding” possessive individual. I argue that an aporia results from a blurring of these multiple languages of possession – a confusion, which is both foundational to the bourgeois revolution, but also a pathway towards its critique. This commingling occurs in a mixing of sacrifice and possession; one made most evident in John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. In a counterintuitive reading, I draw on Roman and Hebraic resources to show how Locke develops a theory of possession. This reading counters C. B. Macpherson’s famous reading of possessive individualism, showing how a multiplicity of possessions are at play in Locke’s thinking and the ways in which these possessions work to develop a more insurgent politics.