The Pathos of Politics (28) John Locke

John Locke

The rule and standard for all law-making is the public good. ~ John Locke

In anticipating the direction in which sociopolitical thought was headed, English philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) was a widely influential. His fame gave him credit to nascent trends which he helped accelerate.

The Age of Enlightenment was an intellectual movement in the 17th–18th centuries to reform society via rationality, challenging concepts rooted in tradition and faith. Ironically, Enlightenment thought placed indomitable faith in the idea of progress. Its proponents promoted empirical science, skepticism, and intellectual exchange, in opposition to superstition, intolerance, and abuses of power by the church and state. Locke was one of the powerhouses in this so-called Age of Reason.

Government has no other end but the preservation of property. The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. ~ John Locke

Classical liberalism as a political creed was hatched by Locke. Though there had been many socialists before Marx, there were no libertarians before Locke.

The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on Earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but to have only the law of Nature for his rule. ~ John Locke

Locke asserted that people had a right to their own paths, rather than imposition by authority. Locke challenged the divine right of kings, and proposed self-governance: for and by the people.

Every man has an immortal soul that is capable of eternal happiness or misery. Its happiness depends on his believing and doing the things that he needs to believe and do if he is to obtain God’s favour – the things that are prescribed by God for that purpose. ~ John Locke

Locke’s logic was based upon his belief in a moral relationship between individual and God. Since life was a gift from God, all were equal before God.

God having made man such a creature, that in his own judgment, it was not good for him to be alone, put him under strong obligations of necessity, convenience, and inclination to drive him into society, as well as fitted him with understanding and language to continue and enjoy it. ~ John Locke

Hence, the natural condition of man was of freedom. Locke’s insistence that there was a higher, natural law over the law of the state became an integral part of modern democratic theology.

Locke may have had his head in the clouds, but his political feet were on solid ground. His take on “why men enter into society” was so mundane as to hit conservative bedrock.

The reason why men enter into society is the preservation of their property. Where there is no property there is no injustice. ~ John Locke

Locke never considered the rather obvious implication of that last statement: “where there is no property there is no injustice” – that private property is the root of injustice, and thereby the material wellspring of evil.

Locke’s political philosophy enthralled 19th century utilitarians. It echoed in the Declaration of Independence by the American colonies: “with certain inalienable rights.”

There is irony in this. Locke opposed the English colonies in the New World, as it risked depleting England of good people. He also presciently feared that the colonies would become independent of the mother country and compete with it.

To love our neighbor as ourselves is such a truth for regulating human society, that by that alone one might determine all the cases in social morality. ~ John Locke

Like many who followed in his philosophic footsteps, Locke was so optimistically idealistic as to sink into the swamp of naïveté. His stance that the state of Nature was of perfect freedom and equality ignored the altricial dependence in which we all exist from birth into adulthood, as well as disregarding the interdependence extant in society in his day.

Idea is the object of thinking. ~ John Locke

Locke’s mental world of abstractions provided self-comforting thoughts that had no connection to the subjection and hardscrabble existence that most people lived in, which invariably goes beyond impacting the quality of society to actually defining it. Like his characterization of politics, Locke’s accounting of economics was utterly fictional.

All wealth is the product of labor. ~ John Locke