Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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John Locke on our present troubles

I’d like to read the estimable David Foster’s response to this piece.

Discussions - 4 Comments

Dr. Foster has written an outstanding essay, that can broker no objections.

The other piece while also being correct makes too much of Locke’s saying that atheists cannot keep bonds and covenants. While this may perhaps have a small grain of truth(locke does say this...), it is in a certain sense incorrect. I am not sure if Locke himself believed it, or if he felt that the more important goal of toleration of his view on toleration would be compromised without the comment. For if religion is responsible for maintaining toleration in its adherants it would follow that those without God and thus without religion would not have a fellowship with an institution that would provide such attachments. On the other hand if there is to be a seperation of church and state, or a seperation of Mosque and state, and thus freedom of religion at all one must believe that atheism must itself be allowed for if not it would seem that the provision that all belief should be founded on the "inward persuation of the mind" would be compromised by force. Locke’s liberalism which the author correctly points out is based on "His Liberalism is based on the natural independence of the human mind. It is ultimately a psychological theory" would be denigrated otherwise. All that is required would be a Millian (John Stuart Mill) or other atheism that contains within its philosophical position a strong respect for toleration.

In a strange way, the downfall of Locke’s view on Toleration may have been this very exception which may have prompted Mill to write on Liberty, which with many subsequent perversions has left us crippled by toleration in the way we are today. Ideas have consequences. In any case the second author is somewhat disinginuous, and the wrong-headedness of his view will I hope become apparent.

To say that "Locke would not have believed in insulting publications or in violent response" completly fails to assertain the context of the printed material. Locke may very well have been against insulting publications that deride God and religions that are themselves tolerant. But a publication of an idea in graphic form clearly showing a spade to be a spade is something entirely different. By which I mean the depiction is ment to show us that the God of Islam is a threat, concretly speaking the terrorists are happy to strap weapons to children, but they do so in the name of Allah, hence the bomb in the turban of The Prophet.

What is being "provoked" by the printing of these depictions? Bombings, killing, violence, kidnapping, and the general destruction of private property. The weapon is fear, and the respect the muslims seek is that required to a king or a Don Corleone. The genius of the Enlightment has been ever since Locke a commitment to the freedom of men to question the moral claims of others. Reason has always settled the question. But Freedom isn’t free, and this is the proper context in which to claim that one cannot give up security for Freedom. For if we do it is security bought at the price of forever shutting off from inquiry any criticism of Islam.

So I ask, how can the author of the second article be serious about John Locke? He says: "AS USUAL, the great John Locke got it right." In the middle of the article he correctly identifies the guiding concept when he says: "Locke did not believe in using force but in “the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God. Such is the nature of the understanding that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force”. His liberalism is based on the natural independence of the human mind. It is ultimately a psychological theory." Then the author closes by saying that Locke would not have believed in "insulting publications." Clearly he got Locke right but failed to apply him to the situation.

Happily his opening statement and the essay of Dr. Foster are correct. As Usual the great John Locke got it right.

I am not quite satisfied with my handling of the objection within Locke that atheist are not to be trusted because lacking belief in God one lacks a source of inward persuation towards keeping covenants and bonds.

As Dr. Foster says: "The state understood in this way must tolerate or permit differences of religion. Interestingly, it was on this basis that Locke may have been the first philosopher in a Christian country to argue openly for the toleration of Muslims. The Lockean argument is also the theoretical basis of James Madison’s argument (in Federalist 10) that multiplying the number of sects is the best way of containing the most harmful consequences of religious faction."

This is probably true, but if the Lockean argument is the theoretical basis, the Humean argument sharing a very similar epistemological base spells out part of Federalist 10 itself, "On the Idea of a perfect Commonwealth."

David Hume says: "We will conclude this subject, with observing the falsehood of the common opinion, that no large state, such as France or Great Britain, could ever be modelled into a commonwealth, but that such a form of government can only take place in a city or small territory. The contrary seems probable."

And, "Such consuming plagues may arise as would leave even a perfect government a weak prey to its neighbors. We know not to what length enthusiasm, or other extraordinary movements of the human mind, may transport men, to the neglect of all order and public good. Where difference of interest is removed, whimsical and unaccountable factions often arise, from personal favour or enmity."

David Hume was an atheist, despite the persecution he endured for the sake of his intellectual coherence, he could have just as easily have been more mum on the issue like his good friend Adam Smith.

Hume was not an atheist; that is entirely too dogmatic a position for someone of his philosophical persuasion.

Some might call the Left’s war to make the United States completely secular intolerant.

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