February 6, 2006


Folk Beliefs Have Consequences (Arnold Kling, 23 Jan 2006, Tech Central Station)

Seventeenth-century philosopher John Locke's theory of government influenced America's founders. It has become deeply embedded in our culture. Beliefs that Locke helped to encourage include:

-- individuals have inalienable rights
-- those who govern have obligations to the governed (and not just vice-versa)
-- government's rightful powers are limited, not absolute [...]

The differing consequences of Locke and Marx are not an accident. Under folk Locke-ism, each individual has moral standing. We all are endowed with rights, and we all are obligated to follow the law.

This is a hilariously inept essay insofar as it traces to John Locke what Locke, the Founders, and Americans trace to God and Judeo-Christianity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 6, 2006 6:50 AM

Kling's a secular libertarian, it's in his partisan interest to refer his reader back to Locke and no farther. Just as a matter of professional courtesy one might expect you to approve of that sort of thing, not that you ever do it yourself. How was your vacation, by the way?

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 6, 2006 10:29 PM

Yes, the implicit admission that his philosophy has no foundation without Christianity is fatal to its claims.

Posted by: oj at February 6, 2006 10:34 PM

Yet it still has adherents. Go figure.

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 6, 2006 10:36 PM

Not enough to matter. The escape from God makes especially little sense if you still want to stay on the Right.

Posted by: oj at February 6, 2006 10:42 PM

Of course it makes sense; in fact, all it does do is make sense, in the same way that it makes sense not to smoke crack and not to sniff glue. Now make sense does not necessarily mean appeal to Orrin Judd, and it does not necessarily mean lead on to electoral victory either. You have pupils the size of dimes for Jehova; the Left has pupils the size of dimes for revolution, or the environment, or mankind, or whatever Jehovah-substitute they're on about this week. It makes sense not to have pupils the size of dimes, even if it means not being part of a ruling party. There are worse fates in life.

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 6, 2006 11:55 PM

I remember being amazed when I read Locke's treatises on government. In those few hundred pages, he refered to God hundreds of times, Adam dozens, and even Eve makes an appearance or two. Even more amazing (to me), I've had people tell me (with a straight face) that Locke didn't actually believe it, rather they "just wrote that way" back then. Okay, whatever.

Posted by: Bret at February 7, 2006 12:53 AM

Of course he did.

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 7, 2006 12:56 AM

I've always thought that Hobbes had more in common with Locke than his namesake.

Posted by: Gideon at February 7, 2006 4:06 AM

How would you see with pupils that big except in the dark? That makes no sense.

Posted by: oj at February 7, 2006 7:29 AM

Since pretty much all political thought through history up until the 18th century or so derives from religion, you wonder why it took so long for religion to derive individual rights. Nothing derives from God, everything derives from experience.

Yes, OJ, religion has been stumbling in the dark throughout history for a better way to organize society than killing infidels (some religions are still stumbling). Locke propounds a theory that allows religion to do a 180 degree turn, and we're to believe that it was all there to be derived from God from the beginning.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at February 7, 2006 9:41 AM

The American religious covenant tradition that was so crucial to the development of a uniquely American constitutionalim was present on these shores before Locke.

There's no doubt Locke influenced American thought later, but one could make the case that later Americans borrowed from Locke to help justify (theoretically) institutions that were already being developed.

One more interesting tidbit is that one method of transmission of Locke's thought was political sermons during the Founding Era. Neat, huh?

Posted by: kevin whited at February 7, 2006 9:57 AM


Never read him, have you?

The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina : March 1, 1669

No man shall be permitted to be a freeman of Carolina, or to have any estate or habitation within it, that doth not acknowledge a God, and that God is publicly and solemnly to be worshipped.

Posted by: oj at February 7, 2006 10:59 AM

You didn't read the footnotes to your link, did you?

3 This article was not drawn up by Mr. Locke, but inserted by some of the chief of the proprietors, against his judgment; as Mr. Locke himself informed one of his friends, to whom he presented a copy of these constitutions.

No matter, I am well aware that Locke's vision of inalienable rights were very alienable if you didn't agree with his view of religion, which was that you'd better be religious. That's not religious freedom, it's just mushy theocracy.

But he did put the Anglosphere on the road to eventual religious liberty. It doesn't make sense to supress only one heresy while you're letting all the others off the hook. If a Protestant is going to live with Catholics and Jews and Mohammedans, then it isn't much of a stretch to live with unbelievers. As you like to point out, revolutionaries never follow their idea to its logical conclusion.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at February 7, 2006 11:14 AM

To the contrary, it is an unacceptable stretch. Monotheists share a morality--atheists have none.

Locke opposed Establishment of a sect, but believed in establishment of religion.

Posted by: oj at February 7, 2006 11:32 AM

Well, you're just living in the wrong times then. We're past that stage.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at February 7, 2006 11:50 AM

Ha! The thing is it worked. We are the most conformist society on Earth as witness your insistence, and Kling's, on standards you can't even derive.

Posted by: oj at February 7, 2006 12:21 PM

oj wrote: "Monotheists share a morality--atheists have none."

Hmmm. It's disconcerting to know that you and Osama share a morality.

Posted by: Bret at February 7, 2006 1:57 PM


Well, he''s dead, but note that the most recent messages al Qaeda has put out represent a scramble to get back in line with the morality of the Muslim world because deviating from it has devastated their popularity? That's why Eurabia will be a better place than today's Europe.

Posted by: oj at February 7, 2006 2:02 PM

Yes, they must scramble to get back to the age old Muslim tradition of respect for inalienable individual rights, including life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and freedom of expression. How did they ever convince themselves to devaite from the true path?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at February 7, 2006 2:19 PM


They were corrupted by rationalist revolutionaries in the West. Qutbism isn't Islamic.

Posted by: oj at February 7, 2006 2:28 PM
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