REDEEMING the revolution

The Storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution

In Kathryn Yusoff’s book A Billion Black Anthropocene or None, the author seeks to critique and work through the categories of geology to show the way it hides and naturalizes the exploitation and oppression of black and brown folks around the world. Throughout this critique, Yusoff makes a variety of claims about modern liberalism. Two of which I take issue with. The first is her view of private property. Yusoff associates private property with the “inhuman” and with geology. This is because “geology is often assumed to be without subject (thinglike and inert)” (Yusoff 19). Furthermore, Yusoff often describes the acquisition of property as an “extractive” process that “enacts colonialism” (20). However, when one examines the views of the classical liberal philosophers a different vision of private property emerges. According to John Locke for instance, a man’s private property comes from the fact that “the labor of his body and the work of his hands, we may say, are strictly his. So when he takes something from the state that nature has provided and left it in, he mixes his labour with it, thus joining to it something that is his own” (Locke 11). Thus, property is not merely something that is inert that one extracts out of the ground. It is not inhuman; it is an extension of the human. It is an extension of the individual since all private property contain a piece of their labor in it, in other words, a piece of themselves. Yusoff’s description might apply to the way private property functions in the 21st century, but she is wrong to attribute this to the liberal tradition. Underlying this mistake is Yusoff’s approach to critiquing modern liberalism, mainly through a rejection of liberalism. On the one hand, Yusoff wants to go “beyond liberal individuation”, but on the other hand, all of Yusoff’s critique rely on pointing out the hypocrisy of liberalism, reinforcing liberal values. To truly go beyond liberalism requires not a rejection of the liberal tradition but a redemption of its revolutionary potential. It will require the completion of the work started by the liberal tradition. As Karl Marx once wrote “our task is not to draw a sharp mental line between past and future, but to complete the thought of the past […] it will becomes plain that mankind will not begin any new work, but will consciously bring about the completion of its old work” (Marx par. 11).

  1. Locke, John. “CHAP. V. Of Property.” Second Treatise of Civil Government, https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/politics/locke/ch05.htm.
  2. Marx, Karl. “Letter from Marx to Arnold Ruge.” Marxists Internet Archive, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/letters/43_09-alt.htm.
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