Sunday, November 11, 2007

Feser, Edward. "Are We All Lockeans Now?" TCS DAILY October 18, 2007.

Still, that doesn't mean that the Lockean attempt to combine the old and the new, the religious heritage of the West with modern conceptions of reason and political freedom, is unproblematic. If the president's effort to transplant the Lockean ideal in the Middle East seems to have come a cropper, there is nevertheless a sense in which in the West itself, "we are all Lockeans now," and have been for some time. Locke's conception of individual rights, government by consent, religious toleration, and scientific rationality has swept all before it in the centuries since he wrote, to such an extent that the average modern Westerner, whatever his political or religious affiliation, finds it difficult to understand that anyone ever believed anything else. And yet modern Westerners are also very deeply divided amongst themselves over questions of morality, politics, and religion - including over the appropriateness of giving politics the sort of theological foundation Locke does. This is no accident; for these tensions exist at the very core of Locke's thought, and in building the modern West upon it we have incorporated those tensions into its very foundations. Liberals and conservatives, religious believers and skeptics, can all find in Locke much to like and much to dislike; and if the debates between them often seem intractable, that is precisely because they all have an equally strong claim to the Lockean legacy. A consideration of that legacy is therefore in order if we are to make sense of the so-called "culture wars" between traditionalists and progressives, "red-staters" and "blue-staters." To understand Locke is to understand ourselves. . . .

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