Misunderstanding Locke in America

Source: Law & Liberty
by Larry Arnhart

“In America’s Philosopher: John Locke in American Intellectual Life, Claire Rydell Arcenas gives us a meticulous and comprehensive intellectual history of John Locke’s reception in America, from the early colonial period to the end of the twentieth century. For that reason, anyone who wants to understand the history of Locke in America will have to study her book. There are, however, some flaws in her main argument. Arcenas argues that Locke’s Second Treatise of Government did not create ‘the Lockean liberal tradition in America,’ as Louis Hartz famously called it. … does ‘Lockean liberalism’ have any discernible meaning? Of course, Locke himself did not use the term ‘liberalism,’ because this English word as a label for a moral and political idea did not come into use until sometime around 1820. But if the word has any meaning, we can ask whether it applies to Locke’s teaching.” (09/21/22)