more locke than ever


My purpose here is to consider the place of John Locke in American political life. I will follow the wisdom of George Carey in explaining why Locke forms the foundation of part of us, but not all of us. Our founders had a complex view of human nature, in which Locke played his part. But we—especially our intellectuals—have become more Lockean over time, coming to believe in effect that our founders lacked our theoretical greatness because their view of liberty was not as expansive or individualistic as ours. We have come to accept too uncritically the view that our nation has progressed historically by embracing principled individualism more consistently over time. Carey writes as a conservative American, and he distinguishes his conservatism from the progressivism he finds in neoconservatism. This does not mean that he is simply a traditionalist. He is one of the most astute and meticulous defenders of The Federalist Papers, a set of essays that, among other things, defends the innovation that was the American Constitution. He sees that the American solution is strong on institutional remedies for destructive factional strife and is in some ways, in the interest of success, a bit weak on virtue. But that weakness is mitigated by our federalism; the cultivation of virtue, according to our founding thought, was to be left to our states and churches, and the scope—including the moral reach—of our national government was originally quite limited.

more from First Principles here.