Setting, Legislation, and Historical past: The usufructuary ethos

H-Setting just lately posted a evaluation by Jay David Miller of Erin Drew’s The Usufructuary Ethos: Energy, Politics, and Setting within the Lengthy Eighteenth Century (U. Virginia Press, 2021). Some excerpts from the evaluation:

Erin Drew summarizes the core precept of the early trendy set of concepts she calls “the usufructory ethos” as follows: “What you will have is ‘yours’ solely in a partial and momentary sense” (p. 47). Nowhere did this precept present itself extra clearly than within the determine of the owner, who commanded energy over tenants and by extension the land itself, however who was additionally, theoretically, sure by obligations to each subordinates and superiors. The idea of “usufruct”—which originated in Roman regulation however was closely mediated via Christian theology—addressed the paradoxical nature of the owner’s energy by stipulating that the rights related to possession have been circumscribed by far-reaching and interconnected obligations “that linked not solely previous, current, and future however [also] people, nonhumans, and God, in addition to the social, political, and pure worlds” (p. 2). Drew argues that recovering the historical past of the usufructory ethos in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Britain modifications the way in which we perceive the human relationship to the atmosphere on this period and will inform how we think about it immediately.


After tracing numerous iterations of the usufructory ethos via the writings of John Howe, Richard Allestree, Thomas Adams, Matthew Hale, and Thomas Tryon, Drew concludes chapter 1 with the extra acquainted John Locke. Locke’s significance to the examine lies in the truth that the idea of property articulated in his Second Treatise on Authorities (1690) each depends on the idea of usufruct and undermines it in ways in which foreshadow its gradual recession. Whereas the Second Treatise accommodates usufructory provisos towards waste and spoilage, Locke included these primarily as a manner of defending particular person property rights, reasonably than stewarding assets that correctly belong to God for the sake of others. Moreover, Locke’s financial principle, by which the fruits of labor are abstracted into capital, rendered considerations about waste and spoilage out of date, as did his assumption that the European “discovery” of America opened up a limitless provide of land. By figuring out these options of Locke’s thought, Drew illustrates how the usufructory ethos would come underneath rising stress as commerce and colonization got here to outline the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 

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