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How to Write a History of Liberalism?

One of the more recent developments of the neoliberal era is a new international "land grab." In 2009, the International Food Policy Research Institute was estimating that in the period from 2006 through the middle of 2009 foreign investors had sought or secured between 37 and 49 million acres of farmland in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, concentrated in areas that combined poor integration into international markets with weak land tenure security, easy accessibility, and relatively dense populations. By early 2011, estimates suggested that 115 million acres of farmland and forestland-85 million acres in Africa alone-had been bought or leased by investors. As of 2012, although the rate of acquisition was slowing, the Land Matrix database had registered reports of negotiations and/or agreements for around 500 million acres, 175 million of which had been confirmed through triangulation or cross-referencing. The biggest surge in acquisitions occurred in response to a spike in food prices in 2007-08, but the general trend has been sustained in response to rising demand for food, timber, biofuels and water, as well as concerns about food security. The rationale for capital-starved nations or regions to accept such investments is that the influx of capital will promote development. But setting aside the fundamental issues of rent-seeking and corruption, there remains the fraught question of how this rush to make huge swathes of land available to industrially organized agriculture is going to impact various groups, including smallholders, that already stake claims to a complex skein of legal and prescriptive rights (however unenforceable) over such lands.1

Given large concentrations of capital, expanding levels of consumption, and regional concerns about food security, it is not surprising that Indian investors have participated prominently in the land grab. But South Asian nations have long been familiar with the issues surrounding the confrontation between major capital investments and tribal and smallholder claims to control land. The Narmada Dam in western India is perhaps the best-known instance of such a confrontation. More recently, in 2007 and 2008, in the Indian state of West Bengal, the long-regnant Left Front government led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, used eminent domain powers to take possession of farmland for large industrial developments in new Special Economic Zones (SEZs) located in Nandigram and Singur. These efforts led to violent clashes between villagers and the police and party cadres. They also led to a most peculiar alignment (though in no sense alliance) between disaffected leftist intellectuals and the aggressively populist and anticommunist leader of the Trinamul Congress, Mamata Banerjee. Both condemned the expropriation of peasant property that the Left Front government (previously responsible for substantial land reform legislation) was effecting in the name of an aggressive policy of state-sponsored developmentalist capitalism. There is a strong case to be made that the CPM's development policy was precisely the wedge that in 2011 led to their electoral loss, after 34 years in government, to the Trinamul Congress.2

In all of these cases, questions about process, implementation and compensation, about environmental costs, about the conflict between the general utility of developmental policies and their disutility to particular groups and individuals (especially the poor and socially marginal), about the desirability of large-scale capitalist production, about the peculiar attachments of smallholders and tribal groups to local environmental resources and the particular challenges of displacement and transition for such groups, and about neoliberal developmental regimes and the future of leftist political visions, have understandably proliferated.

Of course, the battle over the control of land, whether waged legally, politically or violently, has as long a history in South Asia as elsewhere. It is not in its most general features a peculiarly modern struggle. Controlling land and its product has long been of enormous importance to producers as well as to dominant lineages, local gentries, states and state-agents. But that should not preclude the recognition that such struggles assume historically specific contours and historically specific stakes. Modern capital's impulse to directly control production processes, the privilege it accords to the productive capacities of labor, and the fundamental role that labor assumes as a social relation under conditions of its predominance, together generate quite particular kinds of political and economic projects and quite particular possibilities of normative judgment.

From this perspective, what is so striking about the conflicts in Bengal, as in so many other cases where smallholding agriculturists have been displaced in the name of large-scale capital investments, is that the critique of capitalism as a property regime has been undertaken in the name of property. Sure enough, many leftist intellectuals, deeply critical of the neoliberal developmental policies in which the CPM had been dabbling, lined up alongside the populist Trinamul Congress to denounce capital in the name of property rights. What normative assumptions undergird this defense of property across otherwise quite disparate political impulses? What conception of property made possible the convergence of right and left around a defense of petty proprietorship? I believe that there is a longer history to this possibility. It is to be found in a history of arguments about the rights of smallholders that turned on appeals to claims about the property-constituting powers of labor. These arguments emerged in colonial debates in the middle of the nineteenth century and proliferated in Bengali agrarian society itself in the course of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Seen in the light of this history, the key to these questions lies in the contradictory impulses buried at the heart of liberalism, and especially in the ambivalent place that claims about the property-constituting powers of labor have held in liberal political and political-economic thought.

In the face of what appears to be a global resource crunch, the question of how to frame claims to property has become ever more urgent. In such a context, it is worth recognizing that there is a history to the debates over how to frame claims to control environmental resources and how to specify the legitimate bases on which such property has been and should be constituted. Such debates have never been reducible to pro- and anti-property arguments; nor have they been confined to the modern West. This book is a history of the process by which property became available as the standpoint for a specifically liberal critique of capitalism and colonialism. I do not primarily mean by this a history of why some groups of people ("petty bourgeois" and "kulaks" in classical Marxist terminology) might have found it convenient or useful to assume the standpoint of property for a critique of capitalism. I mean rather a history of the kinds of arguments that were available for identifying property as a plausible standpoint for a critique of domination and exploitation; a history of the conditions of possibility for the emergence of those kinds of arguments; and a history of what kind of dynamics their embrace set in play once they had been adopted as the basis for articulating the claims of diverse social interests. We are thoroughly familiar, thanks to the rich historiography on classical republicanism, with arguments that pitch (landed) property against commerce and credit.3 But the anticapitalist potentialities of republican ideology should not blind us to the generative ambivalences that have characterized liberalism's relationship to capitalism. We cannot afford to forget that the history of liberalism is much more than the prehistory of neoliberalism.

In some ways, other dimensions of liberal ambivalence have assumed striking prominence in recent scholarship. Thinking about the history of liberalism in empire has been one way of approaching questions about the status of universal norms in a world characterized by cultural differences. Such questions have assumed ever greater attention at a historical conjuncture when neoliberal thought and policy have intersected with a partial redistribution of global economic and political power as a result of the rise of the BRIC nations. The terms in which this conjuncture has been conceived have roots in an earlier period when developmentalist imaginations intersected with processes of decolonization. Fueled by a critical insistence on the deep roots of neoliberal politics in a longer history of European imperial preeminence, the historiography of liberalism's ideological trajectories in relation to Britain's imperial projects and territories has flourished in recent years. This literature has developed a refined sensitivity both to liberalism's alignments with the history of European imperial political and economic power, and to the subtle exclusions buried in the apparent universalism of its commitments. Such emphases have generated some exemplary analyses of the conceptualization of empire in classics of liberal political thought. They have also renewed attention to the politics of liberalism in colonial contexts and to the effects of such contexts on liberal political thought in turn. Liberalism has been plausibly implicated, with enormously varying degrees of necessity and contingency, in the conceptualization, institutionalization and legitimization of hierarchical practices of subordination on the basis of race, gender and other categories of difference; in the exploitative reordering of colonial economies, along with the political institutions that had previously organized them; in the constitution of new regimes of colonial governmentality; in the annihilationist violence against the nomadic aboriginal populations of the settler colonies; and in a vast assault on indigenous epistemological and ethical norms.4

This interest in the history of liberalism in empire has also generated new insights into the process by which liberal ideas came to be embraced and debated by non-Europeans in the colonies. Histories of liberalism in India, whether celebratory or condemnatory, have often turned on accounts of the development of political projects that bound the indigenous embrace of liberal norms and commitments to engagement with imperial institutions of governance and education. The most straightforward way to tell a history of liberalism in colonial South Asia is in terms of the diffusion of ideas and texts-the very story that was at the heart of Macaulay's famous Minute on Education. A familiarity with liberal arguments was of course most quickly and readily available to those best positioned to encounter them-that is, among those literate in English. Just as political theorists and intellectual historians have attended so carefully to the complex textual evidence represented by major liberal intellectuals in Britain, so too can the intellectual history of South Asia be construed through readings both close and wide of the most articulate sections of that region's populations. An emphasis on intellectual diffusion has much to be said for it. Liberalism did, in some sense, come from Britain to South Asia as a set of already elaborated arguments. To concede that is not necessarily to imply that South Asians could only be passive recipients of those ideas: as C. A. Bayly has recently demonstrated, South Asians showed considerable creativity in reworking such arguments in terms of their own different intellectual traditions and in relation to their own different local circumstances, thereby giving South Asian liberalism its own history, with its own trajectories and its own dynamics, even as it participated in a global conversation about "the Good Life."5 It is not, therefore, the case that a diffusionist history has to be a Macaulayan history of derivativeness.

It has not only been intellectual historians who have embraced this kind of diffusionist approach. The history of liberalism can be thought about in terms of a top-down dissemination that tracks the intrusion of colonial institutions into indigenous cultural worlds.6 Some important studies that we might cluster as broadly Foucauldian in inspiration have pursued the institutionalist approach in imaginative new ways, in order to reach more deeply into the domain of the social in colonial South Asia than an older literature had. These studies seek to grasp the deeper purchase of liberal concepts on the organization of everyday life and the justification of political and social norms, while maintaining an eye to the circumstances of their reception. From this perspective, colonial liberals articulated their legal and political projects of colonial governance in complex circumstances where the transparency of the universal concepts that liberalism assumed was radically compromised or complicated. This interruption of liberal thought generated unanticipatable and original responses to liberal arguments on the part of colonial administrators and intellectuals, as well as on the part of South Asians themselves. Crucial to this approach has typically been an emphasis on the role of law as a mediation between colonial discourses of rule and governance and indigenous social and political norms and practices. Insofar as it impacted everyday practices more powerfully than any other colonial institution, it was law that best accounted for the power of liberal ideas to affect the normative assumptions of a wide range of indigenous agents.7

These arguments serve in many ways as the point of departure of this book. I too think that the deeper impact of liberal concepts on colonial society needs to be better understood. I too think that the law has been a crucial mediating institution. And I too think that the elaboration of colonial liberalism was impacted by its interaction with the complexities of colonial contexts. Yet the story my book tells is substantially different in emphasis. It suggests that the role of colonial contexts in shaping colonial liberalisms was not only one of interrupting liberal universalisms and of demarcating spaces of exclusion and exception. It suggests that colonial contexts could, under some circumstances, resonate with projects of radicalizing and extending liberal commitments as easily as with circumscribing them. As such, colonial contexts should be understood as potentially the basis for an account of the embrace of liberal norms, not only of their strategic deployment, refraction, transformation, displacement, compromise and delimitation.8 This in turn implies the need for an account of how practices in indigenous society constituted the conditions for a reception of liberal ideas in social spaces in which one might not readily expect to find them-without thereby succumbing to a naïve conception of the transparent universality of the appeal of liberal norms.

This book is therefore fugal in conception, if not in presentation. It juxtaposes a narrative about the elaboration of a liberal argument about property in legal debates in colonial Bengal to a narrative about the development of claims to proprietary rights in Bengali agrarian society. It argues that from the middle of the nineteenth century, under circumstances of the deepening commercialization of social relations in the countryside, one trajectory of political argument in rural Bengal came to be premised on what we might think of as specifically liberal norms articulated through a discourse of property. It was precisely at a moment when a new Toryism was in ascension in British imperial thought and policy, and when racial-cum-civilizational difference and hierarchical authority assumed renewed emphasis, that some liberals began to identify agrarian Bengal as historically organized around liberal norms.9 This, I argue, must be understood in relation to the generativeness of a crisis in later Victorian liberal thought. This generativeness pointed not only towards the retrenchment of liberal universalisms, but also towards the radicalization of liberal aspirations. But it must also be understood in relation to demands emerging from the Bengali agrarian context itself. This book insists that an adequate conceptualization of the liberal arguments that some colonial officials espoused must therefore be matched by an adequate conceptualization of the circumstances under which liberal arguments could be endorsed by some people in the rural hinterland. This latter conceptualization should be mounted with the same degree of ambition and rigor as the former; and it should aim to grasp the fit between the two histories, not just their episodic moments of intersection.

How did it become possible to conceive of the smallholding society that predominated in agrarian Bengal as having developed historically in response to the binding authority of liberal norms? How did this become possible for educated liberals in colonial civil society, and how did it become possible among rural Bengalis? I focus this inquiry on the history of the concept of property. Property is by no means a necessarily liberal idea or institution. But arguments about what property is, what ought to count as property, and who is entitled to make claims to various kinds or degrees of ownership, were central to the process by which actors on both sides of the colonial divide began to appeal to liberal norms when they attributed specific rights and obligations to different kinds of people. Such arguments were specifically embraced in nineteenth-century Bengal to vindicate smallholding property as the cornerstone of an agrarian society based on the recognition of labor's property-constituting capacity. They were correlatively invoked to challenge the economic preferability of large estates, the power of the state to create proprietary rights, and the rationality of the market as a distributive mechanism. At the very core of such claims were "Lockean" arguments about the normative force of the property-constituting capacities of labor. To the extent that they embraced the crucial Lockean claim that legitimate property was constituted by labor, agrarian political movements in Bengal criticized existing social and political institutions without appealing to normative frameworks radically alien to the normative universe in reference to which those institutions had been constructed.10 The invocation of the property-constituting powers of labor defined a new kind of political movement in the countryside. While deeply hostile towards the political agendas of certain self-consciously liberal voices, this new kind of politics nonetheless itself relied on certain radically liberal normative presuppositions. We need to be able to understand how this kind of agrarian politics became possible and why it was compelling.

By focusing on the particular constellation of the concepts of labor, wealth and property that I am calling "Lockean," I believe it is possible to make better sense of the broader and deeper processes that led to the increasing power of liberal norms in colonial Bengal. In the process, I seek to broaden the framework within which the history of liberalism in empire has been seen. In focusing on Bengal, I do not intend to suggest that this is an exceptional history. On the contrary, I assume that, for all its specificity, similar kinds of processes were most likely at work in many other places in the subcontinent and elsewhere.11 Beyond the history of elite figures that intellectual history has emphasized and the history of the institutional mechanisms that Foucauldians have focused on, there is a social history of the movement of liberal concepts through the empire. That is what this book is about.

Ultimately, the history of liberal thought can only be adequately understood if it takes into account what we might call "vernacular" histories of liberalism. By "vernacular" here I mean less the question of language (though I shall indeed turn to Bengali sources in the final chapter of this book) than the histories of the movement of liberal concepts beyond the rarified domains of self-conscious political theory or jurisprudence into wider worlds of normative social and political discourse. Michael Freeden argued long ago that an adequate history of liberalism would have to proceed from a recognition that "political thought is to be found at any level of political action, on different levels of sophistication." The "formulation of politically significant ideas" therefore emerges out of wider circles of engagement and debate, not merely "the coherent speculation of isolated men."12 But vernacular histories cannot be limited to the narrow social domains of the metropolitan and colonial literati-or even of politically articulate metropolitan plebeians.13 Agrarian Bengal is, I suspect, the last place most historians and political theorists would think to look for the history of liberalism, unless in the form of projects of colonial and capitalist domination. Yet recognizing the vernacular history of liberalism in a place like agrarian Bengal radically challenges our understanding of the history of liberal thought by forcing us to rethink both its political trajectories and its social location.

Debate rages among political theorists and intellectual historians about the degree to which liberal thought has been structurally implicated in the history of European racial, colonial and capitalist violence, and about the possibilities of redeeming it from whatever degree of implication in such histories it might have had. Yet the debate as it has unfolded has been largely contained within a world of reference defined by intellectuals occupying a remarkably narrow range of social spaces (even when such spaces defy the division of metropole and colony). My argument is that we cannot understand the liberalism of elites without understanding the plebeian liberalisms that have haunted it, and that we have not properly understood liberalism anywhere if we cannot grasp how it was possible for it to ground the political aspirations of agrarian Bengalis. I argue that we cannot even recognize, let alone understand, the embrace of liberal normative commitments by agrarian Bengalis until we grasp liberalism as a form of political argument that is capable of generating a critique of domination and exploitation from the standpoint of property.

Finally, I argue that we cannot understand the appeal of liberal claims as the basis for construing and articulating determinate agrarian interests in Bengal in these terms without recognizing the ways in which liberal norms were constitutively bound to practices of commodity exchange. There can be no adequate conceptualization of the history of forms of liberalism anywhere until the reality of those forms' capacity to travel-not just horizontally across geographical space, but vertically through social space-has been taken into account. Such an account requires a form of conceptual history that recognizes the entailments that link concepts to each other and to historically specific social practices. In this sense, the history of liberalism must be thought of as part of a global intellectual history, not because liberalism's movements track the secondary elaborations or transformations of an already constituted ideological framework, but because liberalism's capacity to travel tells us something about what it always must have been, and must always have entailed, as a set of normative commitments. In this sense, to write a history of "Lockeanism" as I do in the following chapters is not to depart unproblematically from a parochially "Western" origin. It is rather to transform retroflexively our understanding of liberalism's conditions of possibility.

Locke and Property

When I call the idea that property is constituted by labor "Lockean," I do not primarily mean that it is a set of theoretical arguments and problems bequeathed to theoretical posterity by John Locke's writings. There is of course a real tradition of Lockeanism in this provenantial sense, but it is not the Lockeanism that matters to the history with which this book is concerned. Rather, this book is about a Lockeanism that is "Lockean" only in the sense that it happened to be John Locke who, in the process of elaborating a theory of property as part of a radical intervention in the extended exclusion crisis of the late 1670s or early 1680s, grasped something profound about the new forms of social interdependence that were beginning to assume fundamental significance in seventeenth-century England.14 I work from the supposition that Locke's theory involved serious reflection on his contemporary social realities. Consequently, the history of Lockeanism necessarily exceeds the comparatively minor question of intellectual provenance. We might expect to find Lockean conceptions of property even where Locke himself was unknown, insofar as reflective historical subjects confronted the opaque forms of practice to which Locke's theory had spoken; that is to say, insofar as they had confronted questions about the normative significance of newly emergent practices that were coming to organize social interdependence.

To the extent that Locke developed fundamental insights into the possible normative implications of such practices, attending to the specifics of his arguments is a way of thinking about how the idea of the property-constituting powers of labor relates to other dimensions of liberal thought. This is a set of relationships on which hangs the answer to the not insignificant question of why we should consider this theory of property a particularly "liberal" argument at all, let alone an especially significant one. If my supposition that the coherence of this argument is bound to particular practices of social interdependence is correct, then it should further follow that the sets of relationships that Locke establishes between the argument about property and other dimensions of liberal argumentation should tell us something important about the practical ecology within which liberal norms have come to assume their power, their coherence, and their persuasive force. Crucial here is the fact that Locke's identification of labor's property-constituting capacity made visible the basic conceptual space out of which both liberal political theory and political economy would be elaborated.15

Locke had set his sights on the theory of Sir Robert Filmer that Adam, who had been given unlimited authority over his family and over the earth itself, was the first king. Kingship was therefore a form of authority inherited from Adam. In Filmer's account, the king was endowed with a form of political authority that was indistinguishable from paternal authority, and therefore absolute in its rights over both his subjects and the lands in his kingdom. The king therefore possessed both imperium (political authority) and dominion (possession of the soil).16 In contrast, Locke argued that Adam's succession was broken, or in effect that all men were the heirs to Adam. Government was therefore better conceived in terms of the relationship between brothers, each the master of his own (patriarchal) household, rather than one between fathers and their dependents.17 Men were thus originally juridical equals in the state of nature, each with rights of mutual recognition. Upon what practical basis did this mutual recognition stand, and what cause would such individual householders have to unite under the superordinate authority of government? Locke's answer to both these questions in the fifth chapter of the second treatise was property.18

God had given the earth to mankind in common. Having withdrawn from Adam the spontaneous bounty of Eden, God had also condemned him and all his progeny to labor, as the means to sustenance and in the service of God's providential purposes. The necessity of labor, however, was evident to natural reason even in the absence of biblical authority. In laboring, Locke argued, man mixed a part of himself, in which he had an indisputable natural property, with the earth, thereby rendering that element of nature on which his labor had been expended into a compound of nature and himself. By natural right, no other man could partake of this portion of nature without unavoidably partaking also of the labor of another, so that that portion of nature was effectively removed from the common stock and became the property of the one who had first appropriated it. This right was not unlimited. The individual was entitled to withdraw from the common stock only such resources as he was able to make use of before spoilage. That limit applied not only to the fruits of the earth, but to the land itself. Legitimate withdrawal from the common stock did not represent any real infringement of the rights of others to appropriate nature for their own purposes, so long as there was more land to appropriate, as in America. And since ten acres of land brought under cultivation was at least as productive as one hundred uncultivated, "he that incloses [ten acres of] land . . . may truly be said to give ninety acres to mankind."19

But what was to prevent a man from infringing through theft or violence or fraud on another's property once established? Under natural law, it was only conscience and the capacity of each to defend their own. So it suited the convenience of all such property holders to come together and form a contract according to which they would be bound together in a civil society. In civil society, all men were subject to a common rule of law whose purpose was to defend the rights of property in general. Civil society was thus, as John Dunn puts it, "the state liked: the non-pathological state."20 It was the state insofar as the state was properly performing the functions that were normatively defined for it by the conditions of its coming into existence, that is, the universal protection of the natural rights of property. Where the law failed to provide this, or where the magistrate ceased to serve as a neutral arbiter, civil society could no longer be said to exist, and men were released from their obligations to political authority. They returned in fact to the pre-contractual condition of the state of nature, in which only natural law, rather than the positive law of human legislation, remained authoritative.

I think there are good reasons to describe this Lockean argument about property as "liberal," even if Locke could not possibly have conceived of himself in such terms. What made Locke's argument about property "liberal" most fundamentally, for my purposes, was his insistence that the grounding of property in natural law rendered its normative claims prior to those of constituted political authority. Property therefore provided the fundamental regulatory norms that governed the legitimate exercise of political authority. It provided grounds for positing freedom itself as a principal norm organizing political life. If we understand liberalism to be premised on a political commitment to the extension of personal liberties, there is no reason to think that the primordial sanctity of property is a necessary element of every liberal political theory. Seen from this perspective, Locke's theory of property was never necessarily the center of gravity of liberal argument, which could traverse a wide range of problems including the consent of the governed, the rule of law and constitutionalism, the role of representation in government, the right to freedom of conscience and of expression, and a whole range of projects of social reform and social intervention. Each of these concerns can be linked to the theory of property, but liberal arguments did not always, or even often, concern themselves with that particular vector of justification. Nonetheless, Locke's attribution of a fundamental normative priority to property, and hence his insistence that liberal norms preceded political authority, was something more than merely one more variant in a long list of liberal family resemblances. The Lockean theory of property could never be said to be the essence of so nebulous and hyperplastic a tradition of political thought as liberalism. But it is nonetheless something more than an optional add-on.

The refusal to derive rights from the structure of constituted political authority characterized liberal arguments long after many of the constitutive elements of Locke's intellectual universe had ceased to be plausible. For example, Locke's nonhistoricizing imagination, in which the state of nature and civil society were eternally present as normative frameworks, would be superseded in later liberal thinking by an assertively developmental historical imagination, to which even a more historicized conception of the transition from a state of nature to civil society would come to appear naïve. Yet when it came to normative judgments about the state, it was precisely the kind of normative framework that Locke had articulated that later liberals also brought to bear. Adam Smith still wrote as if the normative foundation of government was the preservation of property in general. In the absence of that implicit normative reference to a social contract for the preservation of property, it is hard to make sense of his critiques of monopoly, his pro-commercial suspicion of the role of merchants in government, his emphasis on the commensurability of private interests with the common good, or his defense of the state's public functions. Locke's appeal to indisputably theological conceptions of natural law and natural right would be the object of dismissive contempt from utilitarians. Yet James Mill found himself citing Locke's authority approvingly on the key dictum that "it is for the sake of property that government exists."21 Mill clearly understood himself to be denying the possibility of grounding rights in any kind of pre-political space; but his capacity to justify the regime of legal rights he advocated relied on the pre-political logic of political economy, which itself represented an elaboration, as I shall suggest below, of the implications of Locke's theory of property. Mill effectively replaced Locke's theological notion of natural law with the science of political economy, a new kind of natural law to which the state remained normatively answerable and that reformulated the state's function of universally protecting proprietary rights. Given, as we shall see, that Locke's theory of property already was at its core a theory of political economy, this was much less of a leap than it might at first appear. John Stuart Mill would further highlight the link between Locke and his father's commitment to political economy when he specified that political economy only justified the state's role in preserving rights of property when property was the fruit of labor. He thereby brought the right to own land into the realm of legitimate political intervention precisely to the degree that the earth's product was partly the result of natural fertility-a disaggregating move in turn made possible by the calculation of proportionality using political economic principles.22 The "new liberals" of the late nineteenth century might seem to be a more intransigent exception to the Lockean impulse. They argued that rights, including property rights, were constituted within the collective life of a community. They therefore treated property relations as subject to intervention whenever it was deemed that such intervention would promote broader conditions of personal liberty. Yet they were nonetheless "liberals" because they took personal liberty to be a fundamental normative principle governing the ethical life of the state. Seen in these terms, the intervention into property rights could itself be premised on Lockean first principles, including the premise that political norms ultimately derived from the property-constituting powers of labor-as I shall suggest in chapter 3.23

None of this is to deny, then, that liberals placed an enormous amount of importance on, and maintained a primary interest in, systems of positive law, whether legislative or customary, as the practical vehicles of liberty. Nor is it to suggest that liberals were necessarily committed to democratic political forms as the best means to preserve a liberal state. Thomas Paine famously developed Lockean premises in