Wednesday, November 30, 2022

America's Philosopher: John Locke in American Intellectual Life (Claire Rydell Arcenas)

John Locke is considered by many historians as one of the leading philosophical voices of The Enlightenment and early thinkers of classical liberalism. His insight and philosophy into politics and social thinking has had strong resonance to Americans throughout the nation’s history, although those ties to the country have occasionally ebbed and have often morphed. Claire Rydell Arcenas discusses America’s relationship to John Locke in America's Philosopher: John Locke in American Intellectual Life.

America’s Philosopher tracks the history of Locke’s influence through American political and philosophical thought. Locke helped shape the first constitution of the Carolina colony in the 17th Century, and his views held sway in print journalism throughout the 18th Century as America gradually developed its independent streak. Locke’s thinking shaped much of 19th and 20th Century academia as well before present day historians looked to the past in a different light based on Locke’s views on colonialism and equality. Despite those views, Lockean thought still runs strong in America’s general appetite for individual liberty, property rights, and limited government. While Locke was often a champion of liberal values based on his time, his views now often are championed by those of the libertarian right.

The author does a good job in the brief pages of this text to highlight Locke’s guiding role in America. Her argument that Locke’s story reveals how Americans have gradually nurtured and maintained a functioning democratic society is important to note in light of today’s attempts by some to paint democracy as being in peril or at risk of doom because of our political enemies. While Locke may not agree with the current state of political heat in America, he would strongly advocate for our elected government to consent to the governed, and not the other way around, no matter the branch of government. This was a point that I felt was left hanging at the end of the book and could have strengthened a pretty strong account of Locke’s relationship to our nation and how his thinking should help us in the years to come, even if the man behind them was rather imperfect.