Locke on Government

  • R. F. Atkinson


Professor O’Connor, despite his notably austere conception of the scope of philosophy, so far unbends in his book on Locke (1952)1 as to include some discussion of his subject’s views on politics and religious toleration. The Locke he presents with characteristic lucidity and verbal economy is the relatively liberal and egalitarian apologist for 1688, no doubt writing tracts for his times, but doing so with such intellectual fertility that his works transcend the circumstances of their composition, and consequently largely merit the influence they have had on constitution makers and upholders of human rights in many times and places. The question that arises is, however, how much of this picture can survive the explosive growth in Locke studies since O’Connor wrote. Apart from Macpherson 1962,2 with his Marx-inspired interpretation of Locke as the prophet of capitalist individualism, the writers who have most impressed me at least are Laslett (1967),3 who explains the circumstances of the composition of the Second Treatise, and Dunn (1969) and Ashcraft (1987), who emphasise Locke’s religiously motivated egalitarianism, as indeed does the more eccentric work of Andrew (1988).4 From the latter works particularly, emerges a new Locke: historically more authentic, much more a religious thinker, argumentatively more coherent, but less timelessly universal in his appeal.


Tacit Consent Narrow Sense Chapter Versus Political Society Religious Toleration 
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    D.J. O’Connor, John Locke (London: Penguin, 1952).Google Scholar
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    C. B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism (Oxford University Press, 1962).Google Scholar
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    John Locke (Peter Laslett ed.) Two Treatises of Government 2nd edition (Oxford University Press, 1967).Google Scholar
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1991

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  • R. F. Atkinson

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